If you live in a rural area, it can be difficult to access the internet through a fixed-line connection. Fibre optic broadband is usually unavailable, and even if you can get standard ADSL, dated infrastructure means an incredibly slow and unreliable connection.
But with upgrades to technology and increased industry investment, satellite broadband is fast becoming a viable alternative to a wired connection, especially for those who live rurally.
Read on to find out more about satellite broadband and if it's right for you.
What is satellite broadband?
Currently, around 95% of the UK has access to standard (ADSL) and superfast (FTTC) broadband. But if you're part of this missing 5%, you'll need to find another solution. This is where satellite broadband can help.
For those in rural and remote areas in particular, a satellite broadband connection is often the solution to getting online. Because it doesn't require cables, masts, or any other physical infrastructure to be laid in order to work, it's available to anyone. But with two conditions.
First, you'll need to live somewhere where you're allowed to mount a dish to an outside wall. So, if you live in a rented property, make sure you have permission. Second, your dish will need a clear view of the sky to the south.
How does satellite broadband work?
Unlike fixed-line broadband - which relies on a physical connection to the telephone exchange - satellite broadband beams data from a dish attached to the outside of your house to a satellite orbiting the Earth. This satellite then receives the communication, and relays it back to Earth, giving you an internet connection.
How fast is satellite broadband?
Most satellite broadband providers in the UK offer a satellite connection with average download speeds between 2 - 30Mbps.
However, newer providers on the market - such as Starlink and OneWeb - offer speeds comparable with ultrafast, full fibre broadband (100Mbps+).
Which satellite internet providers are in the UK?
Although there are a number of satellite broadband providers on the market, most only offer slower speeds that come with stringent data allowance caps.
Starlink and OneWeb are currently the only two satellite broadband providers that offer extremely fast internet with no restrictions on data usage. However, at the time of writing, only Starlink is available for residential customers in the UK.
Owned by Elon Musk's company SpaceX, Starlink uses Low Earth Orbit satellites (LEOs) to deliver ultrafast satellite broadband across the world, including some parts of the UK.
The Starlink network currently has around 2,800 LEOs (spacecraft) orbiting Earth, with plans to deploy a total of 4,425 by 2024. Recent tests have shown that in many locations across the UK, Starlink satellites can deliver broadband speeds of up to 200Mbps - almost four times faster than the current national average of 59.4Mbps.
And, on the 30th of November 2022, the UK government announced it would be trialling Starlink at a few highly-isolated sites - Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire Moors National Park, Wasdale Head in the Lake District and two sites in Snowdonia National Park, Wales - to test whether satellite broadband would be a more viable option than fixed-line broadband to provide ultrafast internet to rural and geographically hard to reach places.
Availability for Starlink is currently limited to parts of South-West and Northern England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, this does include a lot of rural areas that do not currently have access to standard or superfast broadband.
You can check Starlink's availability in your area through their website.
OneWeb is a UK-based satellite brand. After collapsing in early 2020, the UK government acquired the company for around $500 million. Then, in July 2022, OneWeb merged with Paris-based Eutelsat Communications.
Currently, OneWeb has launched around 288 LEO satellites, but their service is not yet available to consumers.
What are the pros and cons of satellite broadband?
Satellite broadband comes with its own list of pros and cons:
Almost unlimited coverage
Because satellite broadband only requires a dish and modem to get connected, it's available almost anywhere.
Speeds equal to, or greater than, regular broadband deals
Most satellite broadband providers offer deals with speeds that are equal to even the most basic ADSL connection (10Mbps). And, thanks to companies like Starlink, can even offer speeds that are on a par with ultrafast, full fibre broadband plans.
No phone line required
Satellite broadband doesn't require a phone line to work, saving the need for a landline.
High monthly cost
A typical satellite plan is generally much more expensive than a standard ADSL or fibre broadband deal.
Unlimited broadband isn't always an option with satellite
Aside from Starlink - which is unlimited - many satellite broadband providers place data caps on monthly downloads.
Unless you're using Starlink, high latency, or lag, is a known issue with satellite broadband. This is because the signal has to travcel a long distance and is prone to inteference.
Because satellite broadband is more complicated to install, professional set-up is required. And, unlike regular broadband plans that include a router for free, you'll need to pay the costs for the router, dish, and any other peripherals upfront.
Should I get satellite broadband?
Satellite broadband is predominantly aimed at people living in rural or remote areas who have few-to-no options available for a reliable internet connection.
If you live in an area where fixed-line broadband, or even mobile broadband on the 4G or 5G network is available, either of these would be recommended first before considering satellite.
However, it may be the case that, even if you live in an area where you’re able to access standard or even partial-fibre broadband, if you live far away from either the nearest telephone exchange or street cabinet, that speeds will likely be extremely slow. In such cases, satellite broadband might be preferable.
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