Everyone seems to love a little bit of technological prognostication, and we are no different. If you are reading this then you are also probably no different! So, let us take a look at some of the technologies that are starting to reshape satellite Internet and see if we can determine just where the technology is heading. It will also be helpful to look at where the competition is going because ultimately there are some pressures on satellite Internet, and it must respond in order to stay relevant.
The Not-So Satellite Internet of the Future
Researchers and engineers are coming together to solve the whole light speed versus geosynchronous orbit issue. The problem is this: the area designated for early geosynchronous satellites (satellites that seem to stay in the same place from the perspective of someone on the ground looking up) is the height of the orbit. At heights of over 20,000 miles, these satellites are really, really, really far out!
This creates two problems: signal strength, and latency. In return, satellite companies get a great coverage area that enables a single satellite to have a line of site on a massive portion of the planet’s surface area.
Signal strength lost over distance results in lower speed performance to begin with, but the latency issue is the major physics obstacle that really sets satellite broadband back. Simply put, moving at 186,000 miles per second (yes second, thjat is not a misprint) is not fast enough. Yeah, that is not a misprint either. Seem ridiculous? Consider logging in to your email account through a web page. You click the login button and the signal flies from your satellite dish to the orbital some 20,000+ miles away, and then back down to the Earth at some location where it can be routed to the Internet. The mail server accepts this and now needs to send you the information for your current mail. It’s time for that 40,000+ mile round trip to begin again. See how 186,000 miles per second might not be enough? That is roughly ½ a second in lag just to bounce the signal around twice each way. Yet, it is a hard and fast rule of physics as we currently understand it.
So if we cannot go faster, we need to go a shorter distance. Already in place are a new generation of orbiters with lower orbits that can greatly reduce this latency, but drone aircraft operating purely (or primarily) on solar power are the wave of the future. These aircraft can only operate during fair and better weather conditions, but they greatly reduce the overall distance, even compared to the new lower-orbiting geosynchronous satellites.
Just as home based wireless networks have done, satellite systems are starting to turn to multi-spectrum transmissions that offer different wavelengths carrying the same signal. This allows for better penetration of vegetation when camping or out in the wilderness, but it also allows for better overall performance and reception regardless of weather conditions. This solves two of the biggest problems that people have generally had thus far with satellite Internet technology outside of the latency issues.
These multi-spectrum devices do generally cost more and require multi-lobe (generally 4-lobe) satellite dishes in order to effectively send and receive data through the nearly anything short of a solid mountain. Whether or not these systems will be practical to pair with solar-powered drones is anyone’s guess at this stage.
Satellite Internet vs. Wireless Broadband
Wireless broadband is easily the biggest rival to satellite Internet. There are already specifications in place for wireless broadband that allow denizens of larger cities to challenge fast DSL and cable modem connections, and those are already significantly faster than existing satellite Internet offerings. The good news for satellite broadband is that these supercharged zones are small, and overall coverage of the country is nowhere near complete. Some of the markets that satellite Internet has had on lockdown, such as RVers, boaters, and so-on are still very safe. The other downside to these wireless broadband carriers is that they only offer a very limited amount of data to be transmitted and/or received every month before they reach a cap which either costs more, limits performance, or suspends the account.