Definition

satellite Internet connection

A satellite Internet connection is an arrangement in which the upstream (outgoing) and the downstream (incoming) data are sent from, and arrive at, a computer through a satellite. Each subscriber's hardware includes a satellite dish antenna and a transceiver (transmitter/receiver) that operates in the microwave portion of the radio spectrum.

In a two-way satellite Internet connection, the upstream data is usually sent at a slower speed than the downstream data arrives. Thus, the connection is asymmetric. A dish antenna, measuring about two feet high by three feet wide by three feet deep, transmits and receives signals. Uplink speeds are nominally 50 to 150 Kbps for a subscriber using a single computer. The downlink occurs at speeds ranging from about 150 Kbps to more than 1200 Kbps, depending on factors such as Internet traffic, the capacity of the server, and the sizes of downloaded files.

Satellite Internet systems are an excellent, although rather pricey, option for people in rural areas where Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and cable modem connections are not available. A satellite installation can be used even where the most basic utilities are lacking, if there is a generator or battery power supply that can produce enough electricity to run a desktop computer system. The two-way satellite Internet option offers an always-on connection that bypasses the dial-up process. In this respect, the satellite system resembles a cable modem Internet connection. But this asset can also be a liability, unless a firewall is used to protect the computer against hack attempts.

The nature of the satellite connection is good for Web browsing and for downloading of files. Because of long latency compared with purely land-based systems, interactive applications such as online gaming are not compatible with satellite networks. In a two-way geostationary-satellite Internet connection, a transaction requires two round trips between the earth's surface and transponders orbiting 22,300 miles above the equator. This occurs in addition to land-based data transfer between the earthbound satellite system hub and the accessed Internet sites. The speed in such a connection is theoretically at least 0.48 second (the time it takes an electromagnetic signal to make two round trips at 186,000 miles per second to and from a geostationary satellite), and in practice is somewhat longer. Satellite systems are also prone to rain fade (degradation during heavy precipitation) and occasional brief periods of solar interference in mid-March and late September, when the sun lines up with the satellite for a few minutes each day. Rain fade and solar interference affect all satellite links from time to time, not just Internet systems.

This author recently had StarBand, a two-way satellite Internet service, installed at his rural home office. Bandwidth tests were conducted with the new system compared with a conventional telephone modem. The telephone connection provided actual bandwidth ranging from 10 to 15 Kbps. StarBand worked at 200 to 1350 Kbps; throughput seemed to depend mainly on the download file size. The fastest speeds were obtained with files of 50 KB (kilobytes) or less, typical of images and text contained in Web sites. Surprisingly, fast downloads were obtained even during times of maximum Internet traffic.

Compare satellite-return Internet connection.

This was last updated in September 2005
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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