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Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet Service

Perhaps you live in a rural area and you can't get cable or DSL high-speed Internet access, but you can get satellite. Or, maybe you are at your wit's end with the cable and/or phone (DSL) companies and don't want to give either of them another dime. Satellite may be the answer, but you'll need to do a bit of research before determining if it will fit your needs. Here are answers to many of the most common questions regarding satellite service.


Q: How fast is satellite access?

A: Satellite providers typically offer several levels of service with download speeds ranging between 700 Kbps and 1.5 Mbps and upload speeds as high as 256 Kbps. Note, though, that these are optimal speeds. Typical speeds, particularly during peak times, can be somewhat slower.

Q: How much does satellite access cost?

A: The price depends on your provider and the service plan that you acquire. As a generalization, prices range from approximately $60 a month for service providing roughly 700 Kbps download speed to about $80 a month for service in the 1.5 Mbps range. In addition, your equipment costs can be as much as $300 or $400 and installation can cost another $200, although vendors often have special offers for equipment and installation.

Q: What impact can weather have on satellite access?

A: As is the case with satellite television, severe rain or snow can slow or stop satellite Internet access. That is true both for bad weather in your area as well as bad weather at the location of the satellite provider's network operations center (NOC). However, while severe weather can break the connection, satellite systems typically operate even in strong, steady downpours.

Q: Besides the weather, how reliable is satellite access?

A: Besides service degradation due to weather, satellite access is extremely reliable. The outdoor equipment is quite rugged and, while it does break down occasionally, such problems are rare.

Q: Still, should I keep a dial-up connection "just in case?"

A: While it is tempting to keep a dial-up connection because of the complex technical nature of satellite connections, it isn't necessary for most people. As mentioned above, the satellite equipment is very robust and rarely breaks down and weather-related problems occur infrequently. However, if something does go wrong, it can take days before repair personnel can get to your house. If that concerns you, you may want to have a dial-up back-up but know that you'll rarely, if ever, use it.

Q: What equipment is required?

A: Satellite access requires installation of two pieces of equipment. Outdoors is a dish that collects and transmits the signal to and from the satellite. Indoors is a "satellite modem" that is connected to the dish via coaxial cable. The modem is connected to a PC or to networking equipment such as a router using an Ethernet cable.

Q: Is any on-going maintenance required?

A: Although nothing is absolute, typically, no on-going maintenance is required. On rare occasions, you will need to have your dish "re-peaked," or re-aimed at the satellite. Even more rarely, there will be an equipment failure and some part of the system such as the receiver, transmitter or modem, will have to be replaced. But, as mentioned above, the equipment is quite rugged and such problems are rare.

Q: Can I network my satellite connection so that more than one computer in my home can have access?

A: The satellite systems can be networked the same as DSL or cable connections. That is to say, you can connect the indoor satellite modem to a router using a standard Ethernet cable, which then distributes the connection to other computers. Note, however, that the satellite providers won't help you set up or troubleshoot home networks.

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