How does Satellite Broadband work?

29th July 2020

Satellite broadband provides a way of connecting to the internet for those who live beyond the reach of traditional wired broadband connections. If you aren’t connected to the national broadband infrastructure or are stuck with a very slow connection, satellite broadband can help.

To understand how satellite broadband works, it helps to think about how a standard internet connection works.

When you go online using a standard internet connection, you most likely connect your devices, say a laptop, wirelessly to your ‘home hub’. This is usually a modem and a router combined that connects to the cable in your house. The cable runs all the way from your house to the exchange. This exchange is then connected by fibre to a network of data servers that we will call ‘The Internet’. This is shown in the animation below.

How standard broadband works

With satellite broadband you also connect your devices wirelessly to a combined modem and router. You also access the very same internet at the other end of the journey. But the middle part of that journey differs.

Instead of connecting to an exchange, the cable from your house connects to a satellite dish installed on or near your house. The satellite dish sends and receives information to and from a satellite in space, which beams it back down to a ground station on earth. The ground station is connected by fibre to the same network of data servers: The Internet. The animation below shows how satellite broadband works.

How satellite broadband works

So, using satellite internet is very similar to using the internet in any other way, just that the information has been to space and back to reach you.

 

What makes up a satellite broadband system?

The components that allow you to access the internet via satellite are:

The dish. This is installed on or near your house and needs to be correctly positioned to transmit and receive a signal via the satellite. The dish is there to concentrate the signal and focus it on the Tria.

The Tria is positioned on an arm of the satellite and is the part of the system that connects to the cable bringing the signal into your house. It both transmits and receives a signal to and from the satellite.

The satellite. Specifically, we rely on geostationary satellites. These are located above the equator and travel at a speed that means they keep pace with the earth’s rotation. That means that even though they are over 22,000 miles away and moving at a speed of 1.91 miles per second they are stationary relative to our position on earth.

Because of this, your dish and Tria only need to be positioned once to point at the satellite. Being placed on the equator means that in Europe, where bigblu operate, the dishes are positioned facing south.

The coaxial cable is a standard piece of equipment that connects the Tria to the modem and router in your house.

The Modem and Router. This is much the same as needed for a traditional broadband connection. At bigblu we supply a single piece of equipment called an SB2+.

The ground station is the equivalent of the exchange and sends and receives signals from the satellite to and from the wider internet.

 

Is satellite broadband as good as traditional broadband?

Satellite broadband can’t beat superfast fibre on speed and latency, but it has one very important advantage: it’s available everywhere.

Because you don’t need to rely on national infrastructure, you can get connected absolutely anywhere, from a remote cabin by a lake, to a hiking refuge on the top of a mountain. With satellite broadband you can get a decent internet connection no matter where you live, work or holiday. If you currently have a slow broadband connection, you could be getting speeds in just single digits. Or you might not be connected at all. In these circumstances, satellite broadband can be better than traditional broadband.

With the fastest satellite broadband in Europe, bigblu offer average speeds up to 33 Mbps. If you compare this to the very fastest “ultra-fast” fibre broadband speeds of 350 Mbps then satellite broadband is slower.

But hardly anyone has these fibre speeds available to them yet and with satellite broadband improving all the time it’s possible that superfast satellite broadband could be available to you sooner than ultra-fast fibre.

So, when it comes to speed, it really depends on what you are getting now and what speeds you need when deciding whether satellite broadband is good enough.

Satellite broadband also differs to traditional broadband in latency. This is the industry term for the lag you might have experienced before when it takes a while for a video to start. It’s an issue for all types of internet connections but is longer on satellite broadband connections because of the longer journey.

On average, the latency on a satellite broadband connection is just 0.6 seconds. This is a very short amount of time that’s not an issue for most uses of the internet and will go unnoticed by most users. But if you are an avid online gamer (games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty), this could be a matter of (virtual) life and death, so satellite broadband might not be for you. It all depends on what you need the internet for and what you have available to you. For most uses, satellite internet provides an ideal solution for those living or working beyond the reach of wired internet connections.