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What is Satellite Internet?

Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet service is supplying internet connectivity in war-torn Ukraine. Following this, Ukraine's vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov took to Twitter to thank SpaceX's CEO.

"Starlink — here. Thanks, @elonmusk"

He wrote with a picture of a truck loaded with Starlink terminals. Due to Russian military actions and the following fighting, Internet services in Ukraine have witnessed "severe disruptions" in the capital city of Kyiv and across much of the nation, according to the monitoring group Netblocks (February 24, 2022).

Did you know that satellite service technology has its roots in the Cold War's Space Race between the USSR and the US? Sputnik, the Soviet Union's first satellite, was sent into orbit in 1957, followed by the United States' Explorer 1 spacecraft in 1958. Although the earliest satellites were launched for logistical and defensive purposes, satellites began to play a wider range of roles as time went on, such as when Bell Labs launched the first commercial communications satellite in 1962.

For more than two decades, satellite internet has been available. However, technology may now be ready to deliver on its promise of providing affordable high-speed Internet to everyone.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, maybe the closest to realizing this ideal. The business recently demonstrated a successful test of the Starlink system, which is based on a constellation of low-Earth-orbit satellites (LEO). China, like SpaceX, has been accelerating the deployment of its own LEO constellations. Satellite internet was even categorised as a sort of "new infrastructure" by the government, allowing it to get more government backing.

Satellite Internet is a telecommunications network made up of orbital communication stations. The signals from these satellites enable a user with a dish to connect to the Internet at high speeds.

What is Satellite Internet, and How Does Satellite Internet Work?

satellite internet workflow

Satellite internet is a modern convenience that is quite handy. Many people use it on a regular basis for video chatting, research, video games, and work. While it has become commonplace in people's lives, it was only recently adopted for residential use. If you're curious about how it got started, here's a little rundown of how it got to the consumer market.

Satellite internet works by using radio waves to communicate with satellites orbiting the Earth. Data is sent and received over a communication network that starts with your device and extends through your modem and satellite dish, out to an orbiting satellite, and finally back to Earth to network operations centers (NOC). To reach your device, the data travels back through this network, out into space, and back to your satellite dish on Earth.

Satellite Internet Uses a Five-Part Relay System

1. Internet-ready device

2. Modem/router

3. Satellite dish

4. Satellite in space

5. Network Operations Center (NOC)

Internet-Ready Device

Any device that can connect to the Internet using the appropriate service is considered internet-ready. Your computer, tablet, smartphone, smart TV, gaming consoles, and other internet-enabled devices fall into this category.

When you use one of these devices to access the Internet, your modem/router sends and receives data.


A modem converts data to be sent between your internet-connected gadget and the satellite dish. An ethernet cable can connect some devices directly to your modems, such as computers, smart TVs, or game consoles.

Wi-Fi capabilities: Those cords can be a pain to manage, and you'll still need Wi-Fi for devices like tablets and smartphones. This is where a router can help. It connects to the modem to enable Wi-Fi functionality. A router sends out a wireless internet signal that your phone, laptop, or device can pick up. HughesNet and Viasat satellite internet modems have a router, but you may upgrade your network by purchasing a more advanced machine.

Satellite Dish

Your home satellite dish is the next stop on the relay. This dish must be perfectly positioned to send and receive signals from the provider's satellite in orbit. Your provider's trained technician will handle the installation for you.

A Satellite in Space

A geostationary orbit is what it's called. Satellites used in traditional satellite internet service (such as Viasat and HughesNet) hover roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth's surface near the equator. They spin with the planet, ensuring a continuous signal transmission. This enables a two-way data connection between your dish and the NOC, or network operations center.

Next-generation satellites from Starlink (SpaceX) and Project Kuiper (Amazon) are substantially closer to the Earth, orbiting at around 300 miles above the surface. Low-Earth orbit is where these satellites are launched (LEO). Next-generation satellites can give clients higher internet speeds and reduced latency than prior satellite internet services due to their closer proximity. However, because the satellites can't cover as much ground as geostationary satellites, thousands of Starlink satellites must cover the same area as two or three regular satellites.

The data from your request is uploaded through the above relay whenever you request information from the Internet, whether you're clicking on a link, streaming a show, or opening Facebook. After that, the satellite transmits the request to the NOC.

Network Operations Center (NOC)

The NOC gets your request using a considerably larger satellite dish than the one you have at home. The NOC then connects to the internet backbone, gathers your requested information, and relays it to you. This happens in fractions of a second, including blasting information 22,000 miles into space and back twice.

Satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) or geostationary orbit (GEO) is used to give Internet connectivity. In several polar locations of the planet, geostationary satellite signals are frequently unavailable. Several types of satellite Internet access service packages offer specified performance benefits and technical limits for different uses. If the sky is clear, the user can connect to the Internet, download files, write and receive emails, view streaming video, and browse the Internet.

In isolated areas and newly developed areas, satellite Internet connectivity is beneficial. It can give high-speed Internet access in areas where traditional cable or DSL is unavailable or ineffective. It is, however, more challenging to set up and more expensive than a DSL or cable connection. Satellite Internet speeds are comparable to those of DSL and cable. On the other hand, the service is unique in that it is an always-on connection.

Patent Data Analysis - Satellite Internet

The Satellite Internet Industry has rather seen a bumpy ride with dynamism in the count of patents per year. As seen in the graph, it reached its height in the ninth year with a record of 370 patents. Further, the number declined to 286 in the consecutive year. It is expected to rise further with numerous corporations investing heavily in this domain. With the recent development related to the Ukraine-Russia crisis and Starlink, the numbers will surely improve in the near future.

Most of the big players in the Satellite Internet industry, like Viasat, HughesNet, and Starlink, are headquartered in the US. No wonder it tops the charts. The US is the market leader and has 1479 patent applications. Following US’s footsteps, China has begun constructing a network of a thousand satellites to give 5G coverage and has secured a second spot with 670 patents to its credit. Other notable players like the European Patent office, Korea, and Japan are witnessing enormous technological advancement in the domain, with many small companies joining the race.

Rovi Guides, Inc. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Xperi Holding Corporation that develops, manufactures, and licenses technologies that enable remarkable experiences, including satellite internet access. It has a total of 456 patents to its credit, making it the top player in the industry. Technicolour and Qualcomm are second and third in the running, inventing breakthrough technologies that transform how the world connects. United Video Properties is fourth with 215 patents. Other players are yet to make a mark in the industry.

SpaceX - Starlink and Starship

It's difficult to tell which corporations are involved in the new space competition. Some companies aim to provide internet connectivity, while others seek to build satellites, launch satellites, or combine the three. Furthermore, numerous of them collaborated in other ways. The following is a breakdown of who is doing what to gain an advantage in the race.

Elon Musk's SpaceX works on two main projects: Starlink and Starship. Its satellite constellation initiative is called Starlink. The Starship project aims to travel to Mars. Since 2019, SpaceX has launched nearly 2,000 satellites for the constellation, which is anticipated to grow to 14,000 spacecraft in its first form. SpaceX sent 50 new Starlink satellites into orbit from a pad at California's Vandenberg Space Force Base on February 25, the company's most recent launch.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorised Starlink's formal request to offer broadband service after the first successful launch. However, getting enough satellites in place will take time for a functioning network; that service is still a long way off. Starlink's long-term goal is to deploy 4,425 satellites by 2024, but service will likely begin sooner. The second Starlink mission from SpaceX is set to launch on Thursday (March 3) from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida's Pad 39A.

Starlink cranked up the pace in 2021 after years of development within SpaceX and after receiving about $885.5 million in award funding from the Federal Communications Commission at the end of 2020. After three years of successful launches, the project reached 1,000 satellites deployed into orbit in January. Starlink now has approximately 2,000 operational satellites orbiting overhead after a year and dozens of successful launches.

Starlink's business is also picking up speed. Musk's business announced in February of last year that Starlink had over 10,000 customers. Musk claims that Starlink has shipped more than 100,000 satellite internet terminals to customers in 14 countries after expanding preorders to even more potential customers, releasing a second-generation home internet satellite dish, and exploring the possibility of providing in-flight Wi-Fi for passenger aircraft. In the midst of the Russian invasion, Musk claims more satellite internet terminals are on their way to Ukraine.

Starlink is now taking orders on a first-come, first-served basis, which means you'll have to request service first and then wait your turn. Starlink stated during its beta in 2021 that some preorders could take up to six months to fulfill. The service costs $99 per month plus taxes and fees, as well as a $499 upfront purchase for the mountable satellite dish and router you'll need to install at home.

Industry Regulations for Satellite Internet

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates satellite transmission of services, which is coordinated with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

According to federal rules, no one may use or operate apparatus for the transmission of energy, communications, or signals by space or earth stations unless the Federal Communications Commission has granted an appropriate permit.

Applicants must submit a thorough application to the FCC, which includes topics like the intended frequencies to be used, operating requirements, orbit characteristics, and disposal plans.

Geostationary satellites typically have an orbital separation of two to three degrees. Because of this physical gap, the number of satellites that may be launched into orbit is limited. There has been a need for more stringent rules to ensure that the slots allotted are actually used.

Advantages of Satellite Internet

  • Satellite Internet is ideal for rural or distant locations where cable isn't available.

  • Satellite internet has a low rate of internet outages, resulting in improved connection.

  • Two-way communication is facilitated by the use of satellite dishes.

Limitations of Satellite Internet

There are some drawbacks of using satellite Internet:

  • The time it takes for data to move from your computer to the Internet and back through satellite is latency. DSL and cable modem connections have a latency of 50-150ms, whereas satellite Internet connections have a latency of 500-600ms. As a result, interactive programmes that demand real-time user interaction, such as online games and video conferencing, may be unsuitable for satellite Internet connection.

  • Rain, snow, and other weather issues can interfere with satellite transmission.

  • Clear sky sight: To communicate consistently over satellite, a clear southern line of sight between the satellite and the dish is required.

  • The signal route is affected by the weather. You should expect low-quality Internet during heavy wind or rainstorms if you have Internet at all.

  • VPNs will not work with satellite internet. They demand a system with low latency and large bandwidth, which is the polar opposite of satellite internet.

  • The cost of satellite internet is relatively high. For speeds of 2 Mbps, you'll pay roughly $100 per month. We pay twice as much per month for 25x faster cable internet to put this in context.

Future of Satellite Internet

A plethora of potential satellite internet applications, including:

  • The transportation industry will benefit from improved connectivity (ships, trains, planes)

  • For activities like fleet management and remote repair, communication backbones for IoT devices are necessary.

  • For other communications firms, infrastructure or mobile backhaul.

  • Services for the direct-to-consumer market, including rural and other places where service is inadequate or non-existent.



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