Satellite internet, like many technologies, had humble beginnings, with speeds hovering around 1mbps, small data caps and a temperamental service that lurched at even the hint of bad weather. HughesNet was the first on the scene, submitting an application to the FCC for a license to launch the Spaceway communications satellite
and offer service in 1993. Two years later, they were in business. It was almost a decade until Viasat began offering its WildBlue service in 2004. HughesNet and Exede, of a handful of early applicants, emerged as the two competing satellite internet providers, with speeds ranging from five up to an impressive 24mbps. Despite this progress, both companies struggle to overcome a long-standing mythology shrouding satellite internet’s recent and ongoing technological progress. Let’s take a closer look at some of these myths:
1. It’s not secure.
Because satellite technology is not hard-wired into the ground and seemingly transmits data through space and time, there is the perception that anyone can just reach out and grab it. While satellite data transmission is not as secure as good old, trustworthy dial-up, it is actually more secure than shared internet connections such as cable because it has a dedicated link to the internet. HughesNet takes this security one step further by triple-encoding the data, which makes the transmission that much more impenetrable to outside forces.
2. It’s not wireless.
Set against the backdrop of the first myth, this one seems counterintuitive, and yet many consumers believe that satellite internet cannot work with their mobile devices. While the equipment that Exede or HughesNet provides will not, in most cases, include a wireless router, they are easy to come by and easy to install. And if you don’t feel like making the trip to your local Wal-Mart
to pick one up, most installers keep an inventory of them in their truck and are more than happy to sell them to you. In some areas of the country, Exede even offers a modem with a built in wireless router called a Speed Boost modem. If you’re lucky enough to live in one of these areas, you also get to enjoy double the speed (up to 24mbps)!
3. It’s expensive.
When compared to the monthly premiums of cable giants like Comcast and Time Warner, who are able to offer unlimited, high speed internet service to millions of users for under $50/month, satellite internet, which starts at $50/month and can range upwards of $150/month, seems expensive. However, when compared to fixed wireless internet, which, in most cases, is the only alternative in areas of the country with no cable or landline infrastructure, the tables turn. Fixed wireless internet typically starts at over $100/month and can be as much as $600/month, not to mention the hefty upfront activation fees. In the right context, satellite internet becomes the more affordable option.
4. I won’t have internet after I hit my data cap.
In the last year, both Exede and HughesNet have introduced plans that have built-in systems to keep a customer from being without internet access. Exede’s Liberty Pass allows a customer to continue to browse, and even stream video in some cases, after they have exceeded their data cap. HughesNet’s Smart-Browsing feature works similarly, enabling the customer to continue to browse web pages, send emails and pay bills after they’ve used up their monthly data allowance. Additionally, both providers sell gigabytes of data al a carte, which the customer can carry over to the next month.
5. Bad weather = no service.
Satellite technology has come a long way in the last decade, and that technology includes the dish on your roof. Satellite dishes are built to withstand snow, ice and rain, and the Transmit Receive Integrated Assembly, which is located at the base of your satellite dish’s arm, is designed to increase the strength of the signal in the presence of adverse weather. Satellite dishes are built to withstand winds of up to 60 mph, and considering the fact that winds in the average tropical storm range from about 40-73 mph, the likelihood of your service being affected is low. In the event that your service is affected, the disruption would be brief and connectivity would be quickly recovered. If you live in a place that gets a lot of snow, a satellite dish warmer might be a good investment since snow buildup can interfere with your satellite dish’s line of sight.
6. They’ll put a giant dish on my roof.
While satellite internet does require the installation of a dish, the dish only has a diameter of about two feet. Additionally, both satellite internet providers offer the option to mount the dish on a pole if the homeowner does not want to install it on the house.
7. It’s slow.
Satellite internet speeds have come a long way since 1995, when the best speed a customer could expect was 5mbps. These days, satellite internet providers offer plans that have speeds upwards of 24mbps
8. That signal strength is the same no matter where I am.
The most important factor in determining the strength of your signal, like so many things, is largely out of the customer’s control, and depends on how close the home sits in relation to the center of the satellite beam. A beam is a satellite signal that is concentrated in power and focused on a specific geographical area. The signal is more powerful toward the center of the beam and decreases in strength the farther you move from center. Signal strength is affected by other factors as well, including the satellite dish having a clear line of sight to the satellite. It is important that a trained professional install the dish and activate the equipment to ensure the best possible service quality.
9. I can’t stream video.
Technically, you can stream at 1mbps, though the experience will, most likely, leave the user yearning for a television provider. With satellite internet, you can expect speeds, on average, of 10mbps, which is ample speed for streaming
a high-definition video without buffering.
10. I won’t be able to game.
Technically, you can stream at 1mbps, though the experience will, most likely, leave the user yearning for a television provider. With satellite internet, you can expect speeds, on average, of 10mbps, which is ample speed for streaming a high-definition video without buffering.
While satellite internet has its limitations, latency being the most prominent among them, satellite internet providers have made extraordinary, technological strides over the last three years. Speeds have tripled and even quadrupled, in some cases. Data caps of 150GB are not uncommon when only a year ago the largest data plan available nationwide was 25GB. Both satellite internet providers have put contingency plans in place to ensure customers have internet access even after data caps are exceeded. And 2016 looks even brighter. Both HughesNet and Exede are scheduled to launch new satellites next year, both of which will dramatically increase bandwidth, data caps and overall availability. The future looks even brighter for rural America.