What is satellite broadband?
The UK's fibre and standard broadband infrastructure covers around 95% of homes. If you're part of that missing 5% you'll have to find another solution. Satellite broadband is one of the best ways to bring fast internet access to rural homes - it covers the whole of the UK.
Satellite broadband works in a similar way to satellite TV. You have a dish attached to the outside of your house, pointing in a southerly direction. This dish communicates with a satellite that's orbiting the earth. The satellite, in turn, also communicates with an operations hub located on the ground. This hub connects you to the internet. It's fair to say your internet traffic takes the long way round. And the dish is a two-way system, so even your uploads are handled by satellite.
It won't come as a surprise to learn that sending data to, and receiving it from, a satellite some 20 thousand miles or so above the earth is rather more complex than sending it through a bunch of cables attached directly to your house. This means that there's only a very small number of specialist providers that offer the service. And don't assume the service will match what you'd get from a fibre deal: they're a lot slower, and often quite a bit more expensive.
It's important to manage your expectations, then. But if you live in a remote area where your internet options are extremely limited, satellite broadband really can save the day.
So where is satellite broadband available? Short answer: everywhere. It doesn't need cables or masts, or any other physical infrastructure to have been installed in your area. It's available to everyone, with two provisos.
First, you'll need to live somewhere where you're allowed to install a dish to an outside wall. So if you live in a rented property - or a Grade II listed country house - make sure you get permission first. And do bear in mind that the dishes are often a lot bigger than a Sky TV dish - it could be a metre or more in diameter. Second, your dish will need a clear view of the sky to the south. This won't be an issue for most people, but could be a hitch if you live in the middle of a forest.
There are a few competing companies that own the satellites, and most providers resell the products from these companies.
BigBlu use the Konnect satellite system for their consumer packages, and offer three different deals at average speeds of 12, 21 and 36Mb. However, while these packages are all unlimited, they all come with 'priority data' allowances of between 10GB and 100GB. Once your data usage goes beyond that level the average speeds drop to 7.8, 9.8 and 10.1Mb respectively. Again, it's worth reiterating that satellite broadband is only something you should consider if you have few other options.
Ready to learn more about satellite broadband deals? Click here to compare BigBlu offers now.
Does satellite broadband require special installation?
The set up for most broadband services involves little more than plugging in a router and waiting for your provider to flick the switch. Needless to say, installing satellite broadband is a little more hands-on.
The process involves mounting a largish dish on an external, south-facing wall, then running up to 30m of cable from said dish along the wall and into your home. From there it is plugged into a special router you'll have been supplied with. You don't need to connect the router to a phone line, so you don't need a phone line at all.
You get the option to install and set this all up yourself, but in reality most people are going to want an engineer to do it for them. You need to factor this into your costs - BigBlu charge £49.99 for installation, plus the same again as an activation fee. Other companies may charge even more.
Depending on which provider you go with, you might get the choice between buying or loaning the dish. You'll often have to rent the router, either way, and may have to pay more for a wireless version. Loaning the gear may work out cheaper, but when the time comes to cancel you'll have to deal with the hassle of removing some or all of it - at least the transceiver on the dish's arm, plus the router - and returning it to them.
What are the pros of satellite broadband?
What are the best reasons why you should consider using satellite broadband?
- Almost unlimited coverage - Satellite broadband only needs a dish and a modem to get connected, so it works pretty much everywhere. In theory, you could even use it to get broadband in a motorhome when you're on holiday!
- Speeds equal to a basic broadband deal - While there's nothing mind-blowing about satellite broadband speeds, you should be able to get something on a par with a standard broadband package. That's enough for browsing, shopping, and maybe even some occasional Netflix.
- No phone line needed - Satellite broadband doesn't use a phone line, so you don't even need to have one. Of course, on the flip side if you do need a landline you'll have to get it from a different company.
- Subsidies may be available - If you live in area where you can't get an internet speed of 2Mb through a normal service, and your local infrastructure won't be upgraded in the next 12 months, you may be eligible for a subsidy. This will cap your first year cost to no more than £400. This "Better Broadband Scheme" has been extended until the end of 2019.
Are there any downsides to satellite broadband?
Alas, satellite broadband is not perfect. Here are the gotchas you need to know about before you sign that deal.
- Expensive setup - It's more complicated and more expensive to set up satellite broadband. You'll likely need to get an engineer to do it, so make sure you budget for that in advance.
- High monthly price - A typical plan will be priced at double, or even triple, what you'd pay for a much faster fibre deal.
- Performance can be inconsistent - The average speed of satellite broadband is similar to a standard copper wire broadband, or a basic fibre deal. However, there are times when it may drop way below that, especially during peak hours. Upload speeds are also a lot slower.
- Interference can be a problem - A satellite broadband signal can potentially be impacted by electrical interference, physical objects or even bad weather.
- High latency - One of the most notorious problems with satellite broadband is something called latency, or lag - the time it takes to send a packet of data to a remote server and receive a response. The signal has to travel a long way, and is prone to interference. The upshot is that lag can be more than ten times greater than on fibre. It makes satellite broadband unsuitable for online gaming, and not ideal for things like video chat.
- Deals aren't always unlimited - Many providers will put limits on how much you can download each month. Others will give you only a certain data allowance at top speed, before dropping you to a slower service after that.
Is satellite broadband right for you?
Satellite broadband is aimed at users in rural areas who have few or no other broadband options available. If this doesn't apply to you, then it's definitely not right for you.
In almost all cases we'd recommend fixed line broadband, or even mobile broadband over the 4G or 5G network, before you consider satellite. In fact, if you're in a village that has had a fixed wireless broadband service installed, that's likely to be a better option, too. (Read more about all your rural broadband options.) That said, it may be the case that you can get a normal service over the copper or fibre network, but that you live so far from your nearest street cabinet or telephone exchange that the speeds would be painfully slow. In such cases satellite broadband might be a better bet.
But under normal circumstances, a more mainstream type of broadband service will always be the way. Use our broadband comparison tool to see what speeds you can get in your area before you make any decisions. Given its high price and less reliable performance, satellite broadband is something to think about only after you've exhausted all your other options.