Satellite Internet

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Satellite internet is wireless internet beamed down from satellites orbiting the Earth. It’s a lot different from land-based internet services like cable or DSL, which transmit data through wires. Since it’s the only internet service that’s available nationwide, satellite internet is a reliable way to get online for many rural homes and businesses, although it does still come with a few disadvantages (more on that later).

Satellite internet is nothing new, but there’s growing interest in the category now that Amazon, Elon Musk and others are working on expanding its availability and capabilities. That’s welcome news, as home internet use has been surging in recent years, making it more important than ever to have access to a reliable internet connection wherever you live.

Satellite internet isn’t as fast as fiber or cable, but it’s widely available throughout all 50 states. That makes it a good fit in rural parts of the country, where broadband alternatives are often scarce. That said, satellite internet is expensive, and it can come with long-term service contracts, so in most cases, you’ll want to consider it a last resort for your home internet needs.

How does satellite internet work?
Satellite internet works similarly to satellite TV. It begins with an internet service provider sending satellites up into space to orbit around the earth. That ISP then relies on a signal routed through one of those satellites in low- or high-Earth orbit and a receiver dish that picks up that signal. The receiver is typically placed on your home or business in a spot with as unobstructed access to the sky as possible. You’ll connect a modem to that dish to translate the incoming signal into a workable internet connection.

You’ll need electricity to keep the receiver dish powered (and, again, a clear view of the sky), but that’s really about it. Satellite internet isn’t dependent on cable wires, fiber or phone lines. Ground-based technologies like those aren’t as well-developed in rural areas because the lack of population density means that internet providers need to spend more to cover more ground to bring the same number of households online. Satellite internet sidesteps that problem by skipping ground-laid infrastructure altogether.

And sure, launching satellites into space is expensive, too. Still, once a sufficient network of them is available, companies can offer broadband satellite internet to customers over a wide swath of the planet, even in pretty remote places.

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