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 geostationary 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 the current 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.
But exciting is stuff is currently launching with companies like SpaceX and OneWeb speeding ahead to launch low earth orbit satellite constellations promising to bring affordable, high speed, low latency satellite coverage globally.
These options should be mobile friendly for RVs and boats with smaller sized receiving dishes that will not require setup at each stop.
This is an exciting industry to watch with limited consumer service coming online as early as mid-2020!
But will low earth satellite be the magical one-size-fits-all solution many are hoping for?
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Keep an Eye on Low Earth Satellite
Satellites are literally launching now, quickly building out the constellations that will make up Starlink, OneWeb and others. Limited service could start coming online by mid-2020 - but it may be a couple years until fully nationwide coverage and bandwidth is available for the masses.
Details are not yet available on pricing or equipment, or even on the viability of service for RVers and boaters as a primary internet solution. However with challenges like weather, physical obstacles and congestion - we suspect satellite will play a role in most nomads' arsenal, not be their only solution.
We are excitedly tracking these developments, and reporting on major milestones and announcements. If you're considering a satellite option for your mobile travels, it might be worth holding off on making any decisions to see what details emerge.
Here's our most current satellite coverage:
- A Decade Connected: A Look Back At The Evolution Of Mobile Internet for RVers and Cruisers Posted on: December 20, 2019
- Amazon to Alaska: "No Satellite Internet For You" Posted on: July 11, 2019
We are doing our best to keep the below content summarized below in the Future area for each of the major players.
Satellite Internet: Realities
In an urban or suburban area, the truth is that satellite will likely never be able to compete with fully built-out cellular on the ground.
Satellites are launched hundreds to thousands of miles into space - which require a clear line of site to them to receive a reliable signal.
Terrestrial obstacles like weather, trees, building and terrain can impact signal.
And satellites experience congestion too. In more populated areas, there just simply isn't enough bandwidth to go around.
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.
And this is where satellite internet - current and future generations - makes the most sense.
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 today: 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 presently suitable for mobile RVers, discussed later in this guide.
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If mobile internet is an important part of your lifestyle, here are ways you can help:
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Here's a sneak peak at the member exclusive topics in this guide:
Geostationary Satellite Concepts
Spot beam satellites, coverage maps, tripods vs roof mounts, latency and satellite communications.
Present Satellite Options for Mobile RVers
HughesNet and RVDataSat are the geostationary 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: The Coming Revolution
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 more common component of a mobile internet arsenal.
However, except for those only traveling in wide open spaces - cellular and Wi-Fi will likely still be strong components of an overall mobile internet setup.
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
Explore the Resource Center
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