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Satellite Internet Shows Improvement, Still Imperfect Solution for Rural Areas

September 11, 2013

Satellite Internet Shows Improvement, Still Imperfect Solution for Rural Areas

By Michelle Nicolson
TMCnet Contributing Writer

While connecting to the Internet is relatively simple for areas with high-speed cable or DSL access, many U.S. residents are limited by geography to two choices: dial up or satellite. Satellite Internet is a huge improvement in speed over dial-up services, but that speed still can’t compete with cable or DSL.

While satellite has improved in many areas recently, latency issues still are a problem for the technology. Latency refers to the time data takes to make the lengthy round trip between Earth and satellites, which results in a delay between when the user clicks on something and when the user sees the result.

"Satellite systems involve the transmission of information over long distances and have correspondingly higher latencies than for terrestrial technologies," said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)) in a report earlier this year on broadband speed. The agency estimated satellite Internet has a latency of approximately 20 times that of DSL or cable Internet.

Latency rates are more evident depending on what the user is doing on the Internet. Online gaming, for example, is an area where satellite’s high latency issues are particularly problematic, along with voice and video applications.

Threshold, which is the daily or monthly upload/download limitations imposed by the service provider, is also an issue. While cable and DSL providers have limitations as well, satellite service companies tend to have lower limits, which particularly affect businesses.

Very bad weather does sometime interfere with satellite signals, making them slower. However, satellite does have the advantage of generally not being affected by power outages, unlike cable and DSL.

That said, satellite is often the only option available to residents where the infrastructure required for cable or DSL is simply unavailable. Satellite Internet is somewhat expensive for the start-up costs, averaging around $500 for equipment and installation with $60-350 monthly bills, depending on the package.

Edited by Alisen Downey
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