For the residents who live in rural areas of the United States, satellite internet can be a viable alternative to dial up internet.
Even though there are still a number of limitations to satellite technology, newly launched satellites by HughesNet and ViaSat are capable of offering speeds up to 15mbps.
While these speeds can't compete with fiber, DSL, or cable they can be a fabulous upgrade over fixed wireless or dial up internet, just be aware of the high latency.
Should You get Satellite Internet?
If you live in an area where you don't have access to a good wired provider (such as DSL, cable, or fiber), satellite internet can be a great alternative to dial-up.
That said, we recommend also searching to see if there are any fixed wireless providers in your area as this too could be a good solution for rural residents.
Benefits of Satellite Internet
Large Coverage Area
The key benefit of satellite technology is that customers who live in rural or underserved areas now have a viable solution for fast broadband access.
Get More Than You Pay For
While satellite broadband isn't one of the "cheapest" technologies to get internet access, you do get what you pay for.
In 2013, the FCC reported that during peak usage periods, 90% of satellite internet users received 140% or more of the advertised speeds they were paying for.
While satellite internet is a "space age" technology because of the distance data must travel, from earth to space and back again, internet connection via satellites have at least twice as slow average page load speeds for 12mbps plans when compared to connection speeds of DSL, cable, or fiber optic technologies.
While many users experience satellite internet as "slow" what they are really experiencing the latency of their connection.
According to the FCC satellite internet has the highest latency across all technology types coming at an average of 628ms across all providers. This is almost 10 times slower than typical wired connections.
If you aren't familiar, latency is a key factor contributing to a "fast" connection. Because data with satellite providers large distances (over 22,230 miles in the newest technologies) users experience a significant delay between their request and the page loading as compared with DSL, Cable, or Fiber.
This high latency, may be trouble some for online applications such as VoIP or Skype which require low latency but the increase in transfer rate (mbps) it is still a large improvement over dial-up alternatives.
Line of Sight & Weather Conditions
Because of the infrastructure requirements of satellite internet, the equipment mounted at the consumer's property must have a line-of-sight connection with the provider's network.
This means that some customers who live in mountainous areas won't be able to received access.
Additionally, this line-of-site requirement leaves connections vulnerable to weather conditions such as rain or snow.
How it Works
As you might have guessed, satellite broadband is provided by... satellites or more specifically communications satellites.
While there are many different types of communications satellites most that provide broadband to North America are put into space at an orbit that matches that of the Earth so that they are in a fixed position in the sky.
From there, the provider's network and equipment on the consumer's property communicate and exchange data.
For a thorough overview of the technical specifications, Wikipedia article on satellite internet will do a good job of bringing you up to speed.