Satellite vs Fixed Wireless Internet: What's the Difference?
Reliable internet access is rapidly becoming essential to modern life.
In many parts of rural America though, high-speed internet options are severely lacking.
High-speed internet is either too expensive, unreliable, or unavailable altogether.
Thankfully, new service providers are moving into the market and providing competing satellite and fixed wireless internet options.
Today we'll weigh the pros and cons of these two services and let you know what the best option for rural internet access is.
What is Satellite Internet?
If you've ever tried to get internet service in rural America you've no doubt heard of satellite internet. It allows you to tap into the network of communications satellites in orbit.
Satellite internet requires a company representative to install equipment at your home. A satellite receiver/broadcaster is the most important part. The rep will measure signal strength across your property and locate the best place to install it.
Once wired in and connected to a router you're ready to receive internet from orbiting satellites. This is the oldest form of rural internet service available and is famous for having spotty signal strength.
New advances have greatly improved both the speed and reliability of satellite internet. Thankfully though, it's not the only game in town anymore.
Fixed Wireless Internet Basics
Fixed wireless service providers take advantage of the vast network of cell towers across America. They allow you to connect into this network and use it as home internet.
You'll still need a rep to come out and install a receiver dish and other basic equipment. Instead of targeting a satellite, they'll be looking for a nearby cell tower.
Fixed internet has a number of benefits over satellite service based on the distance to your receiver. In many cases, fixed internet is cheaper, faster, and more reliable than a similar satellite service.
You still shouldn't expect to get the kind of internet speeds available in more urban and suburban areas.
Bandwidth is what providers are referring to when they quote you x number of megabits per second (Mbps). It's one of two measures commonly used to talk about internet speeds.
Satellite internet across the board has generally slower bandwidth than does fixed wireless. You're looking at speeds of about 15-30 Mbps download on satellite. For fixed wireless, you'll likely be able to find speeds of up to 50 Mbps.
This is a significant gain in overall speed, but it isn't the whole story. To see how fast your internet really is you have to take latency into account.
Latency refers to the amount of time it takes your connection to send information from your computer to a network and back. It's measured in milliseconds (ms) and along with bandwidth is the most important measure of internet speed.
When you're using a satellite internet provider your information has to pass through the atmosphere to a satellite. Then it must travel from the satellite to the network hub and back.
Because of this long travel time, satellite internet suffers from very high latency. You should usually expect a latency of 500 ms even under excellent conditions. This compared to fiber broadband latency of under 10 ms for excellent conditions.
Fixed wireless signals have a much shorter travel time than satellite signals do. In many cases, they're moving less than a mile from your house to a cell tower. This seriously cuts down on the network latency.
You can routinely expect to get fixed wireless latency of below 50 ms. This is a massive improvement over the average satellite internet latency.
Bad weather is just a fact of life but it shouldn't affect your internet connection. Depending on whether you choose fixed wireless or satellite internet you may see significant weather losses.
Everyone's heard the stories of satellite TV going out during a storm. Satellite internet suffers from the same issues. Because the service is coming from satellites, in-orbit storms and other weather events can affect the signal.
It doesn't even have to be raining where you live. If the ground station that's sending the satellite a signal is under storm conditions, the same thing will happen. This is one of the biggest downsides to satellite internet.
Fixed wireless doesn't suffer from weather-based disruptions. The same way that your cell phone still works when it's storming, fixed wireless keeps on going. This is because the signal for fixed wireless doesn't have to pass through the upper atmosphere to get to you.
It originates in dedicated cell towers and travels very close to the earth. This makes wireless signals much more robust than satellite ones.
Many rural internet subscribers are used to having a monthly data cap. Because broadband infrastructure often doesn't exist in very rural areas, they've had to take whatever their provider offered.
Thankfully this is beginning to change. More companies are entering the rural internet market and beginning to shake things up. Both satellite and wireless internet providers will have different packages you can purchase.
Value rural internet packages usually come with a firm data cap. If you exceed it, you'll either have to buy more data or deal with heavy throttling. Once you get past the entry tiers, there are often several unlimited options available.
These will likely be on the expensive side, especially on the higher tier packages. Many providers give you lower latency or additional speed on higher tier unlimited packages to justify their expense.
But if you're used to urban internet packages and speeds, you're in for a shock. Most rural internet sources aren't what you would consider high speed. You definitely won't find any gigabit speeds out there.
How to Choose
Now that we've answered the question of what is fixed wireless and satellite internet, you're better able to choose between the two. In most cases, fixed wireless is going to be the answer. It's faster, more reliable, has lower latency, is cheaper, and usually doesn't have a data cap.
Unless there are no fixed wireless internet options available you shouldn't even consider satellite.
Get in touch with us here if you've been struggling to find a rural internet provider that meets your needs. We'll provide you with a free consultation and quote to help you get the internet you've been looking for.