We have been using the internet for few decades now. With modern technology, data speed has improved significantly and signal latency has been reduced to a few milliseconds with 5G network.
In cities and residential neighborhood, fiber optic broadband connectivity can provide lightning speed and reliability.
How about remote areas in the world like mountainous places, in the oceans or middle of deserts?
It is so much difficult to implement internet connectivity in those areas. Satellite internet technology can offer internet connectivity for those regions with no connectivity or limited service.
How satellite internet works?
Similar to our conventional internet technology which uses base stations to transmit and receive signals using radio waves, satellite internet uses radio waves for communication as well. Communication satellites are equipped with downward facing transceiver antenna arrays.
Specially designed geostationary satellites are launched, and the position is maintained from ground control stations by service providers. Each satellite also has limitations for area of coverage and maximum number of users at a time.
Large numbers of satellites are required to cover larger geographical area. Constellation consists of thousands of small satellites will orbit earth after completion of deployment.
Components of satellite internet technology
Ground control stations sends signals to satellites and coordinates them to align a predefined position for efficient coverage. High speed optical fiber network connects between ground stations and core networks.
The function of satellite is to maintain a permanent connectivity between ground station and individual devices. Individual customers establish the connectivity via satellites which sends and receives signals from devices.
Earlier generation geostationary satellites (Viasat and HughesNet) are positioned in the space approximately 22000 miles above the earth’s surface.
New generation low earth orbit satellites like SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper are just 300 miles above the earth. The advantages of new generation satellites are reduced latency and low implementation costs.
Transceiver antenna unit
Customer will have an antenna (dish) unit often fixed on rooftop facing the direction of satellite’s location in that longitude/latitude. This small dish antenna will receive signals from satellites and sends back to satellite.
A low noise booster (LNB) will pick up and boost the low power signals from the antenna and sends to the modem unit via a cable. In some version like Viasat, a transmit-receive integrated assembly (TRIA) is the significant component (with amplifier module) which send the signal back to the satellite.
Modem and Router
Modem unit will decode the signals and wireless router will establish LAN connection for devices to connect with the network. Each network operator may have different set of modems specific to operating frequency and modulation technique used.
Advantages of satellite internet
- High speed internet solution
- Larger coverage area compared to LTE base stations.
- Once implemented, service availability practically every part of the world especially remote areas where commercial LTE network or broadband infrastructure not feasible.
- Options to switch to other satellite (according to availability and complete satellite constellation is deployed).
- It is one of the feasible solutions for regions where conventional infrastructure has not been implemented or limited availability (rural areas in developing countries).
- During absence of other services due to disaster (earth quake, hurricane etc.), satellite internet become an essential tools for disaster management.
Disadvantages of satellite internet
- High latency signals (minimum 30 – 100 ms and maximum 600 – 700 ms).
- High cost during initial stages.
- Not suitable for low latency applications and live gamming.
- Number of customers and speed is limited for individual satellites.
- Satellite maintenance is complex and it could affect service.
- Increased competition in market could contribute to space debris and it will disrupt astronomers
- Atmospheric changes could affect quality of service (heavy rain, snow fall etc.)
Applications of satellite internet
- High speed home / office internet connectivity
- Mission critical and disaster management applications
- Inflight Wi-Fi connectivity for commercial aviation and private jets
- Education and infrastructure development projects in rural areas of developing nations
- Military forces can make use of satellite connectivity during their operations in remote areas
- Researchers and scientists can use satellite internet in arctic region and oceans
- Internet connectivity for Ships and boats
- Emergency and safety warning system for aircrafts and ships
- Media live broadcasting
- Future Internet of Things (IoT) applications
- Weather broadcasting stations in high altitude mountains
- Long distance transportation vehicles and trucks
Future of Satellite internet
Due to increasing demand in many areas requires connectivity, satellite internet technology has a huge potential to grow in the future. There are several key investors in satellite internet technology like Starlink, Kuiper, Oneweb etc…
Inflight Wi-Fi and entertainment system is one of the major areas for satellite internet to take advantage in the future. Connectivity has been integral part of our day to day life; satellite internet technology will further enhance the data needs in many regions.
Sunil Kumar says
The low-orbit satellites are at around 300 miles. The communication time with satellite is approximated 100 miles per 1ms. The back-and-forth for time for low-levels should be around 6ms. How did you arrive at 100ms number in your article?
Hi Sunil, thanks for your comment.
According to speedtest’s observation, Starlink has the lowest latency service with average of 45ms. Other service providers like Hughesnet (724ms) and Viasat (630ms).
Even starlink does not claim 6ms, they have been trying to achieve below 20ms.
I have added high latency as a disadvantage for some applications like online gamming.
Sunil Kumar says
I agree, Rajiv. 6ms was only for the travel time via router hops, which is generally half the speed of light. The processing at the ground station gateways, further moving the data to the internet service provider (ISP), and processing at the user terminals will add more time. I have just started working on these networks. I will give you and this forum more info as I become more knowledgeable. 45ms for 300 mile away satellite looks a little too long. As you said, it will be no good for interactive gaming. You do need it to be under 20 ms. BTW, visual lag for optical processing in the brain itself is 13ms, and we human beings need about 200ms for making conscience non-reflexive decisions. As long as, computer can do its bit within 50ms, we human beings find it interactive enough. 45ms latency will not leave any time for gaming computer processing.
You are doing an excellent job by writing easily digestible short articles. Keep it up.
Thanks for explaining the satellite internet technology and applications here. When it comes to satellite, there are so many issues that your satellite internet might face. It is necessary to make sure that your connection is nice and you have troubleshooting solutions as well. Thanks.
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