Satellite broadband guide
By Dan Howdle | Thursday, December 22nd 2022
If you're looking into whether you can get internet through a satellite dish, chances are you're either getting awful speeds from standard broadband and/or fibre, and you've already looked into the possibility of full fibre or 4G or 5G home broadband instead.
If not, we suggest you do before continuing to investigate satellite broadband as it does come with some significant drawbacks, which we will talk about later on. If an internet satellite dish is your only remaining choice, however, then please do read on. We'll begin by defining exactly what constitutes 'satellite broadband'.
What is Satellite broadband?
Where a standard or fibre broadband connection arrives at your home through some sort of cable, be that telephone, cable or fibre optic, and mobile broadband arrives wirelessly via your mobile network, satellite broadband (as its name suggests) delivers internet via satellites orbiting the Earth, allowing you to get internet in remote areas.
Satellite broadband is not to be confused with satellite TV deals from Sky. Sky Broadband uses the same cables as every other provider to deliver its internet packages, and it is only the TV element which is broadcast via satellite. To be 'true' satellite broadband, it must adhere to the following criteria:
- Is delivered by a specialist provider and installer – You won't find a direct satellite internet service offered by providers with household names. It is a specialised, niche service and as such is delivered by specialised, providers such as bigblu (recently acquired by Eutelsat), konnect, Freedomsat or the increasingly popular Starlink, owned by SpaceX founder Elon Musk
- A dish on your home – Satellite broadband requires a dish to be fitted to the exterior of your home. This is not to be confused with a TV dish from Sky. If you have Sky TV and also want satellite broadband you'll need two separate dishes
- A paid subscription – You will need a contract to receive satellite broadband. You cannot simply buy a dish off the shelf, point it upwards and hope for the best. Your provider will provide your dish and install it for you – you will then pay monthly for your service. This means you won't have to choose the best satellite dish or compare satellite receivers. It's all done for you
- A connection to a satellite in orbit – Your dish must have a clear view of the sky, and although that amounts to a lot of options in terms of placement, it's worth finding out which direction the dish will need to point to get an idea of where on your home it will have to be placed
Do I need satellite broadband?
Satellite broadband is very niche, and few people opt for it in the grand scheme. There are a number of factors as to why this is, but the number one reason is that most of us can get a decent fibre connection that is more capable and costs a lot less. Or failing that a mobile broadband connection to a 4G or 5G network. Here is when you might need satellite broadband and when you probably don't.
When you need satellite broadband
If you live somewhere so remote that not only can you not get a decent fixed broadband service, but you also cannot get a reliable 4G or 5G mobile signal either. Satellite broadband is expensive, and requires complex, specialist installation, so it really should be your last resort.
When don't you need satellite broadband
If you're looking for a connection for your caravan, camper or boat, satellite broadband in this context is unworkable, although Starlink does offer satellite broadband for camper vans. There are types of satellite broadband out there for seafaring vessels, but the ones we are talking about here require a dish in a fixed location. If you need an internet connection for a narrowboat or houseboat, a caravan or camper, mobile broadband is generally the best option.
Pros and cons of satellite broadband
There are some positives to talk about with satellite broadband. But you'll note that in the following list we're only covering the downsides. Because the upsides are rather obvious and will fit in a sentence: With fast satellite broadband, you can get average download speeds of 30-50Mbps, a reliable connection for which you can pay monthly, and it doesn’t matter whether you live in an isolated barn conversion, farm house, or treehouse, as long as you're not in the shadow of a mountain cutting off the required portion of the sky from line of sight.
- Comparatively expensive – How much does satellite internet cost? Well, this depends on the satellite provider you choose, but it will inevitably cost a lot more than a fibre package offering similar speeds. The installation cost in particular tends to be much higher, and packages often come with data limits
- Slower than fibre – When it comes to download speed, high speed internet via satellite is about the same as an mid-level fibre package between 30 and 50Mbps, although Starlink speeds can go up to 200Mbps. A 30Mbps connection will allow most households to do what they want however, as long as you don’t want to stream in UHD
- Many satellite broadband packages limit data – Though there are some that won't actually cut you off at your limit, but rather slow your connection to a crawl, the majority of satellite internet access carries data limits. Streaming Netflix and the like will make short work of these limits, and of course the more you need, the more you pay. An example package costs £30 for 10GB per month – that's roughly two movies worth of data. The installation and set-up cost averages £500 but can be as high as £2000 if you choose a high-performance dish with Starlink
- You need a dish on your home – If the country home aesthetic is important to you, you may have to weigh up how much you care about a satellite dish being bolted onto it, although satellite broadband dishes can be less obtrusive than a classic Sky TV dish
- High latency – Because you're beaming to a satellite and back again, anything that requires low delay (or latency) is pretty much off the cards, especially online gaming. Streaming on satellite internet, using social media and so on will all be fine, however
Alternatives to consider before signing up
The expense and other drawbacks of satellite broadband mean it really should be the last resort. That's not a slight on the largely excellent satellite broadband providers out there, by the way. They themselves ask 'Have you checked you can't get 4G?' on their own websites more often than not. More, it's a warning that the technology is inferior at doing what it does compared to a fibre or 4G/5G connection.
Here are the other technologies you should be sure you've investigated first.
- Fibre broadband – Has fibre optic cables covering part of the journey to the exchange. That means it can deliver much faster speeds. If you've got standard ADSL broadband and it's too slow, however, you should ask your provider what speed you can expect if you were to upgrade to fibre, as if you are a long distance from the cabinet, it might not make any difference
- FTTP broadband (pure fibre) – previously something of a rarity, FTTP (fibre to the premises) broadband is now on the rise, thanks to the ongoing rollout of pure fibre cables by Openreach. If you can’t get Virgin Media, you may be able to get full fibre instead, with BT, EE, Vodafone, Sky or TalkTalk
- Mobile broadband – Or 'wireless internet' is where you use a mobile network's 4G or 5G data signal to connect your home to the internet. There are now dedicated home routers available from the likes of Three, Vodafone, and EE that behave exactly like a regular broadband router, with the only difference being they are not connected to a fixed line, but instead to a mobile network. You cannot get 'wireless internet' through a satellite dish – the two technologies are not the same
- Fixed wireless broadband – This is where a provider has installed equipment on a tall structure somewhere near you – often a church spire. This equipment delivers a line-of-sight signal (meaning you need to be in view of the structure) to another piece of equipment on your home, which then passes it to a router. Very few locations, mostly small villages, have this, but it’s worth checking just in case
Satellite broadband installation process
Apart from the obvious aspect of having to have an engineer come along and fit a satellite dish to your home, the process doesn't differ all that much from how it works when you take out a regular broadband contract (although self-installation is possible with a Starlink package). Satellite internet equipment and installation costs are high, so be prepared for that.
First, you'll need to get in touch with your chosen satellite broadband provider. They will advise you on the most suitable package to suit your needs. Second, you will have to pay for installation and activation up front in most cases. They will also ask you at this point to set up your monthly payment plan.
Finally, on an agreed day, at an agreed time, installation and connection will take place. Installation time may vary depending on what the engineer has to work with – if there are any particular difficulties associated with your property. By the time the engineer leaves, you will be connected to the internet via satellite. Everything will be done for you and you won't have to worry about how to connect your router to satellite internet.
Who provides satellite broadband?
There are actually quite a large number of permanent and temporary satellite broadband providers for you to consider. Starlink is the fastest by far, offering up to 200Mbps.
- Broadband Wherever
- NotSpot Broadband
- Prime Satellite Broadband
Frequently asked questions
Is satellite internet a good option?
Yes, but only if there are no other options available. If you cannot get regular fibre or full fibre, you should look to 4G or 5G mobile broadband before considering satellite. Satellite broadband is expensive, limited and often carries high latency.
Who is the best satellite broadband provider?
Without doubt Starlink offers the best download speeds available with satellite broadband, but it is also one of the most expensive providers. Our advice is to shop around and find a package that suits your needs and budget.
Can I get broadband through a Sky satellite dish?
No. Though Sky broadband delivers its subscription TV service via a satellite dish, its broadband offering is delivered via a fixed line, just like other providers.
Is fibre broadband better than satellite broadband?
Yes. In almost every way. It's cheaper, faster, more reliable, and carries far lower latency. Satellite broadband should only be considered as a last resort.
Is satellite broadband best for rural homes?
If there is no other means of getting online in remote locations, it is the best solution. If there are other options such as pure fibre broadband or mobile broadband, you should choose one of those instead.
How big is a satellite dish?
The sizes vary between providers, but almost all satellite broadband dishes measure less than one metre in diameter.