What is Satellite Broadband?
Satellite broadband is an internet connection method that uses a two-way satellite connection to deliver internet to households and businesses. Broadband internet is transmitted between a service provider’s satellite dish, through a satellite, and back to a smaller satellite dish on a customer’s roof.
The satellite dish has a cable that feeds into a modem in the customer’s household. That modem then provides satellite broadband internet access to connected devices. By connecting a wireless router to the modem, customers can get connection to wifi-enabled devices. Otherwise, a device will need to plug directly into the modem before it can be used on the internet.
Connecting to Satellite Broadband
Satellite broadband requires a satellite dish, cables and a satellite modem, which must be installed by your service provider. The satellite dish is usually specific to your provider; this means that if you switch providers you may need to arrange to have your current dish uninstalled and a new one put in.
A wifi router is optional, but most service providers will either include one with your plan or let you purchase one. You may also be able to buy a compatible router from an electronics store.
Although broadband service providers aim to help customers get set up as quickly as possible, there can be a significant wait time for satellite customers. The more remote your location, the longer you may have to wait for your satellite broadband installation. In some cases this could be up to three months, but in general it can take about 30 days to organise a satellite connection.
There may be a charge for equipment and installation if you retain ownership of the equipment. In some cases, you own the equipment, while in others it belongs to the provider. For instance, NBN satellite equipment is owned by NBN, while Optus transfers ownership to the account holder after fees have been paid.
Maintenance and Repair of Satellite Broadband
When your satellite broadband is installed, you’ll receive information on how your provider manages maintenance and repair for both the dish and the modem. Some plans will include a maintenance term; during this term you are not charged for on-site maintenance to the equipment.
However, there are some situations where the provider will not cover maintenance, including:
- Unauthorised modifications
- Use of equipment that is not in line with instructions
Do I Need a Home Phone Line?
Fixed-line internet connections like ADSL require a landline, even if you don’t use it. With satellite broadband, you do not have to have a landline connected or installed. However, it’s worth considering how you manage communications in an emergency situation. In areas with poor mobile phone coverage, it may be worth keeping a landline in case the satellite broadband goes down.
Will I Still Have Internet During a Blackout?
If you lose power it may affect your satellite broadband unless an alternative power source is put in effect. The modem is run by power, so if there is a blackout it will not work.
If there is a blackout on your service provider’s end, where their satellites are, you will also lose connection until the situation is resolved.
How Fast is Satellite Broadband?
Satellite broadband is not known for its speed, but it is getting faster as technology advances.
Speed can be affected by several factors, including:
- Weather conditions such as wind, rain and lightning
- Debris such as leaves or branches obstructing the satellite dish
- The number of people online (speeds tend to be slower during peak usage periods)
- Your satellite broadband plan
- The quality of your modem and router
- The size of your download or upload
Satellite broadband service providers typically don’t quote an average speed, as it can fluctuate depending on the factors discussed above. Indicated speeds are more of a guideline that state what speeds the technology is capable of achieving.
Speeds are usually measured in Megabits per second (Mbps) and Kilobits per second (Kbps). There are 1000 Megabits in a Kilobit.
For example, the NBN’s SkyMuster satellite broadband service offers two different speeds:
Have you ever experienced an echo during a video call? That has to do with latency, or the lag created as a signal is transported across distances. It’s similar to the pause you experience when watching a live story on the news or making an international phone call.
Satellite broadband is a high-latency service, because the signal has to travel to space before it can be transmitted to your satellite dish. Latency is most noticeable in real-time online activities like video chatting or gaming.
Average latency for satellite broadband is roughly 600 milliseconds, or just over half a second. However, improvements in satellite technology and software programs are expected to reduce this figure.
Satellite Broadband Data Plans
Data allowances are typically lower on satellite plans than on a fixed-line connection, and tend to be divided into peak and off-peak usage. Though it’s unlikely you’ll find a plan with unlimited data, packages with 100GB to 200GB of data per month are common.
Data plans allocate more data to off-peak times and less data to peak times. For example, a 150GB plan may be divided into 30GB of peak data and 120GB of off-peak data.
Common peak times range from 7:00am to 1:00am, while off-peak times are between 1:00am and 7:00am.
What Happens if I Exceed My Data Usage?
Most plans will not automatically charge you extra for exceeding your data allowance. However, your speeds will be slowed dramatically for the remainder of the billing cycle. When the new billing cycle begins, your speeds will return to normal.
Speeds are slowed to about 128Kbps for NBN SkyMuster users, which applies to uploads and downloads. To put that into context, it would take approximately 5 minutes to download a 1GB movie file at normal speeds of 25Mbps. At 128Kbps, it would take over 17 hours!
Cost of Satellite Broadband
The cost of satellite broadband varies by plan and provider, but is usually more expensive per GB than standard fixed-line internet plans.
Here is a comparison of similar plans offered through the NBN25 SkyMuster satellite broadband service.
Switching Satellite Broadband Providers
Due to the nature of satellite broadband technology, switching providers may involve uninstalling your current equipment and having new equipment installed. If you own the equipment, you’ll likely need to make private arrangements to have it removed. If your provider owns the equipment, you will need to contact them for removal.
There may be some instances where switching providers does not require a change of satellite dish. For example, there are a number of providers who offer NBN SkyMuster plans, but the equipment is installed exclusively by the NBN. In this case, switching providers may be a case of changing plans but keeping your equipment.
When switching, be mindful of any early termination fees that may apply.
Choosing a Satellite Broadband Plan
If you live in a rural area, you may not have much choice in the way you get internet access in your home or business, but you do have some control over your plan. When comparing plans in your area, there are a few things to think about:
- Cost of plan
- Available speed
- Data allowance during peak and off-peak hours
- Amount of data you think you’ll need
- Whether or not you’ll own the equipment
- Cost and timing of installation
Taking some time to compare plans now could save you considerable hassle down the track; once you’ve installed your satellite broadband, it is much easier to leave it in place. Shop around for a good value plan now and you’ll reap the benefits in the future.