Satellite Internet 101

satellite internetUnderstanding a technology can help you really decide if that technology is right for you or if you want to learn more about it.  With that in mind, this is a primer on satellite Internet technology and it should be considered as a basic guide, and will not go very deep into each particular aspect.  Instead, this guide is meant to give a basic understanding of the science and features of satellite Internet and serve as a springboard for further learning.

Satellite Internet Latency

The latency involved with sending and receiving data from satellites has been slightly exaggerated by naysayers, but it is certainly something that exists.  Despite the fact that such latency does exist, it is far more prevalent in older satellite Internet systems with high-orbit geosynchronous relays that appear to be standing still from our perspective on the ground but are in fact flying very quickly 20,000 or more miles away.

Since mankind does not yet know how to generate anything that travels faster than light, the result is a limitation of signals traveling at approximately 186,000 miles per second.  Yes, that is one hundred eighty thousand miles each and every second, and it is not a typo or misprint.  This is where latency comes in: if you request to download an image off of the Internet you need to send a signal from your location up to an orbiting satellite some 20,000 plus miles away, and that signal then bounces back to the planet to another location presumably also 20,000 plus miles away before going out to the Internet and then fetching your data which makes the round trip portion of this journey for another 40,000 plus miles.

All told, over 80,000 miles were consumed just getting to and from orbit.  Given the speed of light limitation on communications, this means that approximately a half a second of lag exists, and that may make the connection feel slow.  Newer technologies and government regulations have allowed for even lower orbits for geosynchronous relay stations that cut that journey time down significantly.  A goal of 6k to 7k may one day be the norm, and that could make for round trips in the 24k to 28k range, or roughly 1/8th of a second.  We will discuss some other ideas later that may further increase the performance and latency of satellite Internet, but for now let’s move on to looking at another side effect of distance.

Satellite Internet Bandwidth

Signals degrade over time and the further a signal goes, the less reliable it is.  This has caused the first few generations of high-orbit relay devices to be comparatively slow.  The fact that high speed satellite Internet is considered by many to be an alternative broadband technology has not helped make lower orbit, faster devices that serve small areas with better service a reality as quickly as satellite purveyors would have liked.  The fact that these new lower orbit devices are now in place and even lower orbit devices are coming into fruition may radically change how people view satellite broadband.

Solar Powered Drone Satellites

One of the most promising aspects of satellite internet is the promise of solar powered drones that will act as ultralow orbiters when the weather is clear.  By reducing the orbital distance down to just a few miles the resultant latencies would be negligible, but these drones would sacrifice coverage area and also be clear-weather only devices.  Being able to result to very low orbit satellites would not be a totally undesirable alternative, but it is a very good compromise.

Self-Homing Satellite Internet Systems

People often use satellite Internet systems on the go.  This obviously creates a problem because geosynchronous satellite relay stations in orbit appear to stay in the same position from our perspective.  Consider it like this.  Look at the front of your house or apartment.  Now walk 50 feet to the left or right of it.  The perspective is different and you have to adjust your angle.  In days gone by people had to just this with satellite dishes in order to reposition them, but newer systems have automated this task with motors and a computer chip that self-adjusted the dish for the best reception.

Modular Satellite Internet Systems

Since people do move around with their satellite Internet dishes, it only makes sense to have the ability to move your satellite Internet dish from your RV to your boat, to your cabin, and so on.  Such modular systems are becoming incredibly popular.

Multi-Spectrum Satellite Internet Devices

Multi-spectrum satellite Internet dishes and devices enable users to send and receive signals using different frequencies.  Different frequencies perform differently in rain, adverse weather, and through foliage.