Satellite Internet Explained: Everything There Is to Know

Unlike land-based internet services like fiber, cable, and DSL, providers beam the service from satellites orbiting the earth. This affords satellite internet several advantages and disadvantages over other internet services. This article discusses satellite internet explained, including how it works, the equipment required, its speed and latency, and much more. 

Table of Contents

How Satellite Internet Works

Using radio waves, data gets transmitted to satellites orbiting the earth. The data travels from your device (computer or mobile device), through a modem or satellite dish, to satellites in space. Then this data gets relayed back to ground stations on earth. From there, the data gets transmitted back to space, then to the satellite dish, and then onto the device.

Satellite Location

Generally, most internet service satellites orbit the earth at about 22,000 miles in the geostationary orbit. However, some service providers, such as Starlink, have their constellations in the low earth orbit (LEO), about 300 miles from earth.  

Image of satellite in low earth orbit

(Caption: Image of satellite in low earth orbit)

The satellites’ closeness to the earth provides several benefits, such as lower latency, as we’ll discuss later. However, there’s a downside to the proximity. Compared to satellites in geostationary orbit, they cannot cover a wide area. Therefore the service providers must launch many more satellites to provide the same coverage.

Satellite Internet Equipment

Satellite internet service requires the following equipment:

Internet-Enabled Device

This is the device you use to access the internet. For example, a computer, mobile device, TV, or gaming console. Such devices rely on a router to send and receive data.

Router or Modem

Image of a router

(Caption: Image of a router)

These devices broadcast internet signals wirelessly for users to pick up on their internet-enabled devices. 

Satellite Dish

Image of Starlink dish

(Caption: Image of Starlink dish)

A satellite dish transmits data by beaming signals to a satellite in space. In addition, satellite dishes receive data transmitted from the satellites. Note, though, that the dish must be well-positioned, often using a suitable mount and accessories

Also, internet providers set up user accounts under specific beams from a particular satellite. That means there’s a limit to how far away you can be to receive an internet signal.

The Ground Station

In fractions of a second, when you request information, data gets uploaded from your device, through the router, to the satellite dish, and onto the satellites. Then, the request, in the form of a click to a link, opening an Instagram page, or steaming a video, gets beamed to the ground station. 

Upon receiving the data, the ground station or network operations center (NOC) compiles the information requested and relays it to you, again through your satellite dish, router, then to your internet-enabled device. 

Satellite Internet Latency

As mentioned earlier, most satellites are at least 22,000 miles (35,405 km) from the earth, while Starlink satellites orbit the earth at about 340 miles (550 km). These are the distances data travels, making a round trip from the user to the satellite and back to the user.  

It takes much longer for data to travel between the satellite and the user, a speed known as latency. On the other hand, with Starlink, the distance covered is much shorter hence lower latency.

Satellite Internet Speeds

Generally, Satellite internet has download speeds of 50 to 250 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 to 10 Mbps, depending on the service provider. Undoubtedly, such speeds are slower than those of Fiber or other internet service counterparts. Still, satellite internet makes up for the slower speeds with accessibility, no data caps, and RV use. 

That said, especially for residential use, 200 Mbps is fast enough. What’s more, Starlink promises gigabit speeds in the future. Besides, there are ways to extend internet coverage.

The Starlink Space Project aims to provide high-speed internet service from satellites in space to the most remote and hard-to-reach areas. See, satellites bypass the need for cables, masts, and other infrastructure that’s impossible to set up in remote terrains.

To that effect, SpaceX has launched several satellites, so far about 3,000, and the goal is 8,000 to 10,000. And with the satellites positioned in low-level orbit, the distance from the satellites to the ground is much shorter, hence higher speeds than other satellite internet services.

 Image of satellites launched in space

(Caption: Image of satellites launched in space)

Currently, Starlink mainly covers North America, Australia, and Europe. But the plan is to extend coverage to South America, Asia, and Africa. After all, it’s in these areas that internet service is most wanting.


Now you understand better about satellite internet. While satellite internet is slower than other providers, it’s more accessible, primarily because it eliminates the need for cables and masts, which require a particular terrain to set up.  

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