For the many homes and businesses beyond the reach of cable,
satellite internet is a viable alternative. Two big players in this arena are HughesNet and WildBlue. The technology resembles satellite TV but there are significant differences. Both make use of geostationary (as opposed to merely geosynchronous) satellites, so the receiving dishes are permanently aimed at fixed positions in the sky and mechanical tracking apparatus is unneeded.
A big difference is that satellite internet service is interactive, requiring transmit as well as receive capability. Many users assume satellite TV is like that, but, in reality, the earth-based dish only receives. Pay-per-view requests are sent over phone lines.
A consequence of the transmit requirement for satellite internet is that there’s a second run of coax from the indoor modem to the dish. Generally, twin cable is used, and it must be correctly terminated. When working on a live satellite internet dish, if it happens to go into transmit mode, radiation burns can be a hazard.
Also in comparison to dish TV, aiming is far more exacting for satellite internet. In addition, as part of the installation, the user’s PC must be configured for the application. This requires specialized knowledge due to the variety of platforms and operating systems.
The quality of cable, both TV and internet services, varies widely from place to place. Satellite access, in contrast, is substantially the same. There have been substantial improvements in recent years and the service works well overall, but some problems remain. Rain fade is an issue because the separation of rain or snow particles is close to the signal wavelength at microwave bands. This can cause generally brief outages. Bandwidth limitations have motivated providers to impose intentional ridiculous slowdowns in the service.
Another problem is latency. Because all electromagnetic radiation propagates through a vacuum at the nominal speed of light, there is a fraction of a second delay in traversing the distance between a satellite and receiving dish. This does not sound like much, but it must be remembered that the trip is a two-way affair. Moreover, interactivity sometimes requires numerous transactions before the data displays.
Many electricians make a side business of internet and TV satellite dish installations, but some do it exclusively. WildBlue, together with its associated enterprise, Exede, offers online and classroom installer training leading to certification. Part of the coursework is free and the remainder costs $90. HughesNet offers installer training and certification for a $100 one-time fee. Both programs are substantial, with lots of technical background information that puts the whole field in perspective.
Satellite radio is similar to satellite TV in some regards. Despite competition from streaming internet services such as Pandora and Spotify, satellite radio, after a shaky start, has become immensely successful. Internet competitors, moreover, enabled satellite radio to make the case that it would not be a monopoly, smoothing the way through the regulatory process for the lifesaving merger of Sirius and XM in 2008.
Satellite radio is heavily regulated and from the start was vigorously opposed by less advanced technologies. Opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters, Satellite CD Radio Inc., on behalf of its subdivision Sirius Satellite Radio successfully petitioned for and was granted the use of S-band frequencies so that it could broadcast digital content from orbiting satellites to homes and vehicles.
Eventually, the FCC permitted deployment of an initial three satellites, which were built and launched from Kazakstan in 2000 at a cost of $1.6 billion. The FCC had allowed XM Satellite Radio to enter the picture as well. The two organizations, having merged and operating as Sirius XM Radio, have spent over $3 billion to develop the technology including building and launching satellites.
Orbiting 22,000 miles above the earth so as to maintain geocentricity, satellites serving the U.S. retransmit ground-based programming using the 2.3 GHz S band. Elsewhere, the 1.4 GHz L band is used.
It seems satellite radio will play a prominent role in the communications scene for the foreseeable future. High-quality audio with infrequent dropouts and excellent programming diversity are pluses. Questionable billing practices, it must be said, have been an issue, but new signups continue to enhance the revenue stream.