Making the switch to satellite Internet – latency and reliability

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A month and a half ago, I switched to a satellite Internet service from the tower-based wireless broadband service I’ve been using since 2009. I had been reasonably satisfied with the performance I was getting from the wireless service, and although it was not particularly speedy, I probably would have stuck with it were it not for reliability issues.

satellite internet

I live in a sparsely populated rural area of Nova Scotia, Canada, well off the beaten track, and where there are no cable Internet, DSL, fiber optics or HSPA services available (or likely to become so in the foreseeable future). Power outages are also banefully common here, and when the power goes off, the wireless Internet towers, which have no battery or generator backup, go down along with. Worse, the tower network is daisy-chained, and we’re at the outer reaches with many relay towers between us and the network head end, so power outages anywhere upstream, even if we’re not locally blacked out, will still shut Internet access down. The longest such interruption we’ve experiences was five days due to an issue with the local tower requiring a pole climb to fix it, and a winter weather delay.

With satellite, I should be able to power up the dish and its modem and my router with our gas generator and get back online without waiting for grid restoration.

satellite internet

Satellite Internet with the service I’m now using, Xplornet, costs about 20-25 percent more per month than I had been paying for the tower-based wireless service, but with my livelihood dependent on reliable Internet access, I figure I can eat the difference. My cousin, who has been using Xplornet satellite Internet for years, says he’s been very pleased with its reliability.

The package I’m signed up for provides 5.0 Mbps download speed and a monthly bandwidth allowance of 50GB, which should be adequate for the present, based on my historical usage.

Xplornet is currently deploying Canada’s first national 4G network, with both fixed wireless and satellite components, and which the company claims will provide greater than 4 times the capacity per tower than the previous generation system did. In the future, it will provide even greater growth as it is software-upgradeable to the LTE wireless standard.

So, aside form the significantly higher cost of the service, what other downsides have I noted over six weeks? One emblematic shortcoming of satellite broadband is latency. While the wireless tower we had been connecting with is less than three miles away in a straight shot over mostly water, the dish antenna now mounted on the southwest corner of my house has to communicate with a satellite in geo-stationary orbit 22,236 miles above the equator. And since I’m located on the 45th Parallel,the actual distance that communications handshaking has to travel is much farther than that, which imposes a latency lag. Once the data starts flowing, it’s gratifyingly speedy, but the initial hesitancy is a part of satellite Internet.

The other major performance compromise with satellite as opposed to tower wireless is “rain fade.” Satellite communications are disrupted by atmospheric moisture and precipitation (rain or snow). It’s been a relatively dry spring and summer here thus far, and I’ve only experienced complete rain fade dropout once so far—briefly, and in an extremely heavy downpour. It remains to be seen whether this issue will pose a significant problem in time of year with higher frequency of precipitation.

However, so far I’m reasonably satisfied with the satellite Internet alternative for rural outliers.

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  • WebbGuide

    The fixed wireless service although cheaper would have been slower than your new satellite system. The 1.5mbps with fixed wireless runs around $44.99 a month. Satellite has a similar package for a few dollars more but with very little usage. So for the extra cost you upgrade to 5mbps speeds. If you are that close to the tower hopefully they upgrade it to the new WiMax system which is more like a cable connection.