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How Does Satellite Internet Work?

Rosslyn Elliott / Updated May 12,2023 | Pub May 08,2023

Satellites bring Internet service to millions of homes and businesses all over the world. By communicating with wireless radio signals from space, satellite Internet can reach areas no wired internet can reach.

Remote areas that need satellite Internet service include farms and ranches, mountain cabins, and desert pit stops. Offshore interests like oil rigs and floating casinos also need wireless Internet connections. Rural businesses rely on the services the Internet provides to get supplies and attract customers. People living in the Everglades or the Ozarks might find that a satellite connection is their only option for reliable Internet.

How does satellite Internet bring access to places so far away from developed areas? In this article, we’ll explore the technology behind satellite Internet as well as your best options to get satellite Internet in your home.

A Historic Innovation

As far back as 1869, author Edward Everett Hale imagined that a brick satellite could orbit the earth while people stomped up and down on it to send Morse code signals to Earthlings.

In 1903, Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolovsky created the equations that showed that an artificial satellite could actually stay in orbit around Earth.

The first practical proposal of a communications satellite came from science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke in a paper called “Extra Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-wide Radio Coverage?" in 1945.

In 1965, the first commercial satellite was launched into orbit by Hughes Aviation, a company created by the famous aviator Howard Hughes. This satellite, nicknamed “Early Bird,” handled television, telephone, and early fax communications.

HughesNet, a company descended from Hughes Aviation, is now the industry leader in satellite Internet service. Still at the leading edge of satellite innovation, HughesNet has been named #1 among Best Satellite Internet Providers by U.S. News and World Report.

image of first geosynchronous satellite looking like a can of cat food

How Satellites Work

Satellites capture and share many types of data. Weather satellites help monitor weather trends and predict inclement conditions. Research satellites look outward toward the sun, solar system, and outer space. In the 1980s, American politicians debated creating a system of satellites called the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars,”  for American national defense. Though “Star Wars" satellites never became a reality, we do have a sizeable constellation of satellites orbiting our planet now for a variety of purposes.

Satellites can be positioned in three main types of orbit: Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). Ninety percent of satellites are in Low Earth Orbit, where they perform tasks such as photography, monitoring, and reconnaissance.

Communications satellites that provide Internet are often in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit. These satellites rotate high above the Earth (22,000 miles) to keep them in sync with the Earth’s daily rotation. Observers on Earth think that the satellites are always in the same place in the sky. But they’re actually moving at the same speed as the planet, which is why they are called “geostationary satellites.”

When a satellite orbit is geostationary, all satellite dishes on earth simply need to point in one constant direction to get a signal.

To receive satellite Internet service in the United States, all you need is a clear view of the southern sky.

three types of satellite orbit LEO MEO GEO diagram

Where Does Satellite Internet Come From?

To help understand how satellite Internet gets into your home, let’s first take a look at how cable and DSL transmit their signals.

Cable and DSL lines come from a central location, usually in a major city. Instead of connecting directly to the home, the central location connects to a series of hubs until the cables or wires reach you. This means many connections may share a single hub. It also means that if a hub is damaged by accident, nature, or normal wear and tear, everyone connected to it will also be disconnected from the Internet.

Satellite Internet doesn’t rely on hubs to relay signals from point to point. Since all satellite Internet is wireless, there are only three points that data travels through – your home, the satellite, and HughesNet’s central locations, which are called Network Operations Centers, or NOCs.

Check out this video walk-through of the HughesNet National NOC in Germantown, Maryland!

NOCs differ from the central locations of cable and DSL because the only connection they have to the network is through wireless satellite transmissions. They do not have wires to hubs because the satellite takes the place of the hub.

What Equipment Do You Need for Satellite Internet?

When you order HughesNet Gen 5 satellite Internet service, you will get all the equipment that connects your computer to the satellite in orbit. This equipment includes:

  • A satellite dish with a radio antenna
  • A mount to attach the dish
  • A HughesNet HT2000W Wi-Fi modem/router and power supply
  • A grounding block to absorb excess electricity generated by the signal
  • Up to 125 feet of RG6 cable
  • Weather sealing for outdoor installations

All satellite systems must be installed professionally, but HughesNet offers free professional installation as part of all of its leasing packages. You can lease or own your equipment. When you lease it, you can get software updates to your equipment as a provision of the lease.

Wi-Fi is also part of your HughesNet satellite Internet connection, which means your entire household can enjoy fast, reliable satellite Internet on any wireless device such as a cell phone or tablet. This Wi-Fi networking is built right into your equipment, and the technician will even hook up two of your devices as part of your installation.

rent or buy your equipment with image of satellite dish at night

How Much Does Satellite Internet Cost?

HughesNet plans deliver 25 Mbps download speeds with data caps of 10, 30, 50, and 100 GB. They also offer affordable Data Tokens, which are small chunks of data that increase your data allowance if you go over the limit. Plans begin at $64.99/month, though promotional deals are available to give you good discounts for your first six months. If you want to rent your equipment by the month, it will cost you $10-15. If you would rather buy upfront, the total equipment cost will be between $450-$550.

Improvements in Satellite Technology with HughesNet Fusion and Jupiter 3 Satellite

In 2022, HughesNet rolled out a revolutionary new type of satellite Internet called HughesNet Fusion. Fusion plans decrease any latency in a data transmission by using hybrid technology to detect latency-sensitive transmission. Fusion technology uses wireless towers as a backup for satellite and routes your data to the most effective path given the nature of each transmission. This multipath technology is a leap forward for satellite Internet, and gives you a fast, reliable, responsive Internet experience.

In 2023, HughesNet will launch their new satellite Jupiter 3 into orbit. This advanced satellite will increase HughesNet’s throughput so users may get download speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

Both of these breakthroughs are going to deliver satellite Internet with unprecedented speed and reliability. It’s an exciting time for satellite Internet customers.

HughesNet Fusion with image of satellite dish and wireless tower

America’s Best Satellite Internet

Satellite Internet is the best way for people in remote places to get broadband Internet service. If you’re in the market for satellite Internet, HughesNet is the best rural Internet option because the prices are more affordable than Viasat or Starlink.

In addition, HughesNet is recognized in the telecom industry for its reliability. With decades of successful customer service behind HughesNet’s plans, you can be sure that you will get your equipment and installation in a timely way. Competitors like Starlink seem to be producing significant delays with orders for a variety of reasons. HughesNet will deliver your service promptly. And according to a report on high-speed Internet from the FCC, HughesNet performed best among participating providers for actually delivering the speeds it promises to customers.

If you need reliable Internet, call 1-844-244-1460 to speak with a HughesNet specialist. They will help you find out which rural Internet package is right for you.