Yet Another Attempt At Satellite Internet Access

from the don't-get-too-excited dept

Every few years or so, the press gets excited about the possibility of internet access via satellite. Of course, internet access by satellite has been available for years, but it gets little usage, mainly because it's awful. As we discussed a few years back, such offerings almost never live up to their promised bandwidth claims, and always fail to discuss latency. Most people like to focus on bandwidth, but if the latency sucks, then the bandwidth doesn't matter. And, of course, the problem with satellite-based internet is that the latency always sucks, due to the distance. So, before people get too excited about the news of Japan launching a "super high-speed internet access" satellite, read someone like Tom Evslin explaining why latency problems will make it not particularly useful for most internet activities.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Xyro TR1 (profile), Feb 25th, 2008 @ 12:03pm


    My boss' parents used to use satellite internet, and I've been told it was terrible. They've since switched to a Wireless 3G cell signal. It's funny, too, because they're technically out of 3G range, but his father has hooked up a massive antenna to his 3G card, and now gets a full signal while being 5 miles away from the closest cell tower.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Oliver Wendell Jones, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 12:03pm

    It has it's uses...

    I used to be a DirecPC subscriber back in the day (prior to DSL or cable modems in my area) and the only thing it was really good for was newsgroups.

    The newsgroup info was fed at a constant 2 MB with the catch that you had to run your own local news server (which they provided you with the software and support to do so).

    You would then point your news reader to localhost and you could download warez, mp3s, porn, etc. at (for the time) unbelievable speeds.

    You still had to pay for a dial up account, you still had to dial in to be able to do much of anything (except newsgroups!) online, so it ended up being pretty expensive and you were limited to what times of day and what days of the week you could be online without paying a premium...

    I guess on second thought, it *DID* suck.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Justin Hollabaugh (profile), Feb 25th, 2008 @ 12:27pm


    Isn't much of the latency problem a product of the fact that previous attempts have been a high geosynchronous orbit? Wouldn't a constellation of satellites in a low orbit do much better?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    James Powell, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 12:32pm

    sat internet

    I was a Direcway user until about 4 months ago i now use a 3g singnal and am much happier

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    comboman, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 12:46pm

    Is latency that big a deal breaker?

    Latency can be mitigated somewhat for websurfing by pre-caching web links, etc. (at the expense of using some bandwidth needlessly if the links aren't followed). And for other internet protocols (email/usenet/p2p/bittorrent) latency is not really a big deal compared to bandwidth. The only things for which latency is critical are VOIP and instant messaging, and for some subscribers those are not deal breakers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Joel Coehoorn, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Is latency that big a deal breaker?

    You're forgetting gaming. In that world, latency is absolute king.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    chad, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 1:16pm

    Re: Latency

    If my calculations are correct the latency of traffic from the ground to the low earth orbit satellite and back down to the ground station would be about 15 microseconds. My current ping to averages 117 milliseconds. A geosynchronous satellite would have a latency of 240 milliseconds.

    Seems like a huge gain to me:
    0.015ms vs 240ms

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    chad, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 1:23pm

    Re: Re: Latency

    Of course after reading the article, and consulting wikipedia the WINDS satellite is a geosynchronous at 35,786km. Resulting in a round trip time of 238ms. oh well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Raptor85, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 1:25pm

    I use a satellite connection...

    It's awful but there's no DSL or Cable here yet, for larger files i use the SAT connection (I peak around 90kB/sec, but can only get that in bursts, and only around 200 megs a day until it's capped to sub dial-up speeds) for real-time stuff I use a dial-up line. I don't think my ping on the satellite has ever dropped below 2200ms, my average ping is around 3000.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 1:45pm

    How about all advertising gets routed through sats - who cares how long an ad takes to reach you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 2:06pm

    Cellular High Speed

    Most cell phone providers now offer high speed Internet Access such as Verizon, AT&T and Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile. And with little or no startup costs and fees ranging from $30-$80 per month for unlimited usage. With very reasonable latency I am getting around 54ms with my Verizon Broadband Cell Service. And paying $60 per month unlimited usage. But remember most providers will have a 2 year contract agreement to get the free hardware. So between all the cell phone providers we should have 98% United States Coverage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 2:31pm

    Re: Re: Latency

    Your calcs are wrong. With satellite internet you never see a ping time below 500 ms. Most are above 700ms.

    Remember the round trip of every transaction is 22,500 miles x 4. Up/Down to connect then Up/Down to return.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Nick, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 3:00pm

    Latency nor a problem for video

    Video is now the biggest bandwith hog and in most cases latency does not matter. If it takes several minutes for a movie to download, a few extra seconds is not a problem. So if they can really get the bandwith they are claiming at a reasonable price, I could see something like this being useful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    JS Beckerist (profile), Feb 25th, 2008 @ 3:09pm

    My parents use HughesNet

    My parents have used HughesNet now for months with little problems. They were told they wouldn't be able to VPN...not true. They were told they wouldn't be able to use Youtube or Joost or Hulu or......not true. The only thing I'm not sure about would be Vonage or some other VoIP service, and that's just because they wouldn't try (there ARE such things as satellite phones...why not?)

    All in all, it's not bad. It's expensive, but now that they don't have to pay for Satellite TV (they use the internet) the cost pretty much evens out. They are also so far out they can't get for being their only option I'm pretty sure they are satisfied. Hell of a lot better than the crappy 56k!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    SatelliteSkeptic, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 4:51pm

    Satellite is evolving...

    I was skeptical about satellite too. My company has a presence in heavy industrial complexes where telco infrastructue is ancient or non-existant and wireless (cellular or otherwise) is often not an option due to the interference caused by the heavy equpment...

    We've tried a company called Tachyon who offers guaranteed QoS with their satellite solution and I can vouch for the fact that we're able to do it all - including VoIP over satellite.

    Granted, not really consumer-class but definitely a viable solution when no other options exist.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Ping, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 6:05pm

    Re: Re: Latency

    that's a one directional latency calculation. A ping is round trip. Also, if you're using tcp for your protocol you have a 3 way handshake to initiate a session. Satellite latency at best is over 600ms...far to poor to support things such as gaming, voip, remote desktop (it sucks, trust me), or anything that can't be easily cached.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    common_sense, Feb 25th, 2008 @ 8:32pm

    caution to the critic

    i wouldn't be so quick to write off japan's latest satellite plans.. they are far ahead of the US in terms of bandwidth, wireless technology, and affordability. they may be incorporating some new ideas or methods in delivering while cutting down the latency.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2008 @ 8:52am

    Nothing can be done about the latency. The speed of light is only so fast - a satellite several miles up will incur a heavy latency penalty. There's no way around that - it's just physics.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Scotty, Mar 5th, 2008 @ 4:59am


    You know nothing about sub-space. We use it on the mother ship all the time and it is instantaneous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Justin, Mar 25th, 2008 @ 10:28am

    Satellite Internet

    I am one of the few who get internet via satellite and while I have had latency issues in the past my provider over time has really made improvements in both that area and in the area of speed and connectivity. Japan’s launch is exciting news regardless of latency and while that is important it’s not so much in this case because given time any lingering latency issues will have been solved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    David Harris, Jun 3rd, 2008 @ 3:54am

    have WildBlue Broadband Satellite

    i have Wildblue Service (Competitor of Hughsnet) and i have great connection speeds and download speeds of rought 119-146kbps, my only concern is for the stupid FAP (Frequent Access Policy) which limits your bandwidth activity to a lousy 12gb download, and 7gb uploads, which is not much for someone like me that is downloading alot of video files, music files, and pictures. if i could find a satellite broadband company that offers an umlimited access service, I would be perfectly content with what i got. i live 25 miles from the nearest town, they want 1 million dollars to run the neccessary wiring to make it work here, not possible. too much, and with Wildblue being 69.95 a month, its a litle much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 20th, 2009 @ 7:19am

    Re: Is latency that big a deal breaker?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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