Mobile Satellite Internet
There is something magical and futuristic about being connected in the absolute middle of nowhere. Where only a satellite in space can keep you online.
As fun as it is to fantasize about connectivity everywhere, today’s satellite options come with many tradeoffs to consider.
If you plan, however, to focus your travels on being way out in the boonies where there are no other options, then challenges of satellite internet might be worthwhile.
If you are hoping for a simple go-anywhere solution, satellite internet will likely frustrate you - at least for now.
Satellite is a great option for some situations.
Mostly those situations where it is the ONLY option.
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Satellite Internet: Realities
In an urban or suburban area, the truth is that current satellite will likely never be able to compete with fully built-out LTE on the ground.
After all - how can a billion-dollar satellite that needs to last in service for a decade compete with ground-based cell towers that cost a tiny fraction of that to build, and which can be upgraded to the latest technology every year?
But on the other hand – in many remote areas it will never make sense to build a network of cell towers, and no matter how much cellular companies expand, there will ALWAYS be gaps in coverage.
The ideal connectivity future involves a mix of satellite and cellular, with service roaming seamlessly to the best connection possible wherever you happen to be.
Getting Internet From Space Basics
Satellite internet can be confusing. It is important to make sure that you understand the basics.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions answered and most confusing topics explained:
Satellite TV and Satellite Internet Are Not the Same!
Receiving a signal from space isn't particularly hard.
Transmitting a signal back to a satellite, on the other hand, is where it gets tricky.
Satellite TV dishes are receive-only devices and have no capability to transmit. Internet usage, however, requires two-way communication – and thus much larger and more complicated gear on the ground and in space.
Some people get confused because they see satellite TV providers Dish Network and DirectTV (now owned by AT&T) advertising bundled packages that include internet service – but this is usually not satellite-provided internet.
These bundled plans are intended for stationary satellite TV consumers to combine their TV, wired internet, and phone bills into one. The satellite TV provider contracts out to local DSL or partner cable companies to provide the actual internet service – usually relying on a hard-wired internet connection. Customers in rural areas may get partnered with a residential stationary satellite internet option - ViaSat or Hughes.
In other words – not mobile friendly at all.
NOTE: Though the dishes look similar, most satellite internet systems are strictly for internet service, and are NOT compatible with any satellite TV services. If you also want satellite TV to go along with satellite internet, you'll actually need a second dish!
Residential Satellite Generally Isn't Mobile
There are two main residential satellite companies: ViaSat and HughesNet. There used to be more options, but other firms either went out of business or were acquired by these two companies. Even if you're getting satellite internet from another provider, it is likely one of these two companies behind the scenes providing the actual service.
Residential satellite internet is not designed for mobility and moving location usually requires a professional installer and sometimes new equipment and a plan change.
While these could be considered semi-portable solutions for those who move infrequently (perhaps no more than a couple times a year) - we don't consider them viable mobile options.
There are mobile satellite internet solutions out there suitable for mobile RVers, discussed later in this guide.
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Spot beam satellites, coverage maps, tripods vs roof mounts, latency and satellite communications.
Present Satellite Options for Mobile RVers
HughesNet and RVDataSat are the options available today, we go into more depth on both.
Satellite Communicators and Low Bandwidth Options
If you learn to think a bit differently - it is amazing how far (literally) 160 characters of text can take you. This section goes over options like Garmin inReach, Spot and Iridium Go.
Satellite Future: Revolution Coming?
Low earth satellites are the future, this section future scopes out to Starlink, OneWeb and Iridium Next/Certus - all technologies we are watching closely. We also cover developments on high-altitude balloons and drones that are designed to provide internet service.
Conclusion: Satellite Is A Niche Option
Using satellite technology for internet access comes with many trade-offs, including slower speeds, higher latency, and higher costs when compared to cellular options. Unfortunately, satellite is not a simple, go-anywhere solution.
Choices will likely remain slim until the next generation of low earth orbit satellite systems start offering consumer service, which could reinvigorate satellite as a less niche option for mobile users.
Satellite Internet Options Product Guide
Here are all the satellite options we are tracking in the product center - ranging from full-on mobile solutions to very basic on-the-go options.
Marine Note: Satellite internet is currently a LOT trickier for boats since unless you can mount the dish to a fixed dock, locking onto a satellite in geosynchronous orbit is prohibitively difficult. This tends to leave only the systems that do not require precise aiming as options.
Click on each option in the grid for more details:
- Assessing Your Mobile Internet Needs
- Travel Planning Around Connectivity for RVers and Cruisers
- Thinking Outside the Box - Alternatives to Tradtional Mobile Internet Options
- Testing & Understanding Your Mobile Internet Speeds
- Amazon to Alaska: "No Satellite Internet For You" Posted on: July 11, 2019
- SpaceX Launches First Sixty Starlink Satellites - Building a Massive Global Broadband Constellation Posted on: May 24, 2019
- Billionaires Battle for Space Dominance: Amazon's "Project Kuiper" Promises Global Broadband Posted on: April 4, 2019
- OneWeb Launches First 6 Satellites Towards Ambitious Global Broadband Constellation Posted on: February 28, 2019
- Upgrade Complete: Final Ten Iridium Next Satellites Launched! Posted on: January 14, 2019
- 2018 Mobile Internet Year in Review & Looking Forward Into 2019 Posted on: December 31, 2018
- New Satellite Messaging Options: Garmin inReach Mini, Somewear Global, Globalstar Sat-Fi2, & SPOT X Posted on: May 23, 2018
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