With Project Kuiper coming to fruition, more than ever people are wondering if satellite internet is a better choice for them. Since Amazon is planning to launch over 3,000 satellites, now is the perfect time to talk about how Amazon’s Kuiper stacks up against LTE and who will benefit most from each internet service.
Let’s break down everything you need to know about Amazon’s Kuiper and how it compares to LTE.
Internet Providers: What to Know
First, let’s talk about what satellite internet and LTE even mean and how they affect you as a user.
What is Satellite Internet and How Does it Work?
Satellites in orbit can transmit and receive signals that travel first to your home’s internet modem and then to your internet service provider (also known as an ISP). In rural places without access to other broadband internet options like cable, DSL, or fiber, satellite internet is a decent option. Although it also means having slower speeds for downloading and uploading, satellite internet is accessible in all 50 states in the U.S., even in some of the most rural areas.
In order to get internet, several satellites are launched and circle the planet in either low-earth orbit or high-earth orbit. After your internet service provider passes the signal through your modem, a satellite dish is next built on the exterior of your property, away from any obstructions like trees or buildings, so your satellite dish can receive the signal from space.
LTE Internet: How it Works
Simply put, 4G LTE is the replacement for former 3G networks. The changes in frequency and bandwidth consumption between LTE and its forerunners are the most obvious distinctions. The main global frequency for 3G was in the 2100MHz band, with a 900MHz variant available for coverage over larger distances. There are numerous additional 4G LTE bands, and which ones you use will depend on where you live and your internet provider. The 800, 1800, and 2600MHz bands are among the most widely used spectrum, but a few other carriers also use 700, 1900, and 2300MHz.
Unfortunately, LTE is still fairly slow, even though it was a significant upgrade from 3G. The countries with the fastest 4G LTE can average download speeds of up to 150 Mbps, but even that can be unusual for most users. However, it’s usually fast enough to support to-dos like video streaming and can even aid in gaming, although not usually on the highest resolution.
High-speed 4G home internet is provided via cell towers and mobile networks. 4G internet can be a great choice for you if your neighborhood has good cell phone reception but fewer options for internet access. Compared to most satellite internet plans, it provides more data at a smaller cost. But 4G network coverage is not always excellent. In some cases, 4G LTE is generally accessible in metropolitan regions but not in remote ones. But, 4G is a significantly faster choice if you are in a location where it is available or expanding.
Amazon’s Kuiper vs. LTE: Side-by-Side Comparison
|30 Mbps to 110 Mbps
|Cost Per Month
|$50 to $150/month
Amazon’s Kuiper vs. LTE: What’s the Difference?
Now, let’s talk about the differences between Kuiper and LTE and what you should be looking for.
Kuiper hasn’t launched yet, so it’s not available, but satellite internet is available — and usually the only option — in some parts of the U.S.
LTE, on the other hand, is mostly available in more urban and suburban areas. While it can work rurally, it will depend on your service provider and how far you are from mobile towers and networks. But also, you won’t be dependent on weather conditions for your internet connection when using LTE versus if you use a satellite internet service like Kuiper. Even moderate precipitation or wind speeds over a certain amount can slow your connection considerably. So, keep that in mind if you’re looking for availability and reliability equally.
Download and Upload Speeds
Amazon says that they plan on Kuiper having upload speeds of up to 10 Mbps, with download speeds of (up to) 400 Mbps. This is faster than some ISPs, like DSL, but certainly isn’t as fast as LTE can be when it’s at optimal strength.
However, if you don’t live near a bunch of towers that connect your LTE to your internet, you may not have fast speeds either. For example, living in a more rural area can mean speeds as low as 6 Mbps for uploads and 30 Mbps for downloads. That’s really slow! However, living in an urban setting can help you see that 400+ Mbps in download speeds.
Kuiper hasn’t announced what their monthly costs will be. They have claimed that they plan on being “affordable” and even slightly cheaper than the competition (Starlink and Viasat). This could mean plans starting as low as $100 a month, which isn’t terrible considering most satellite internet services are more than that each month.
LTE on the other hand, will run you about $50 to $150 a month, depending on your location and service provider. That can be a significant difference in monthly costs and savings. For example, T-Mobile is currently offering 5G (higher speed than LTE) home internet for just $50 for their users.
The best parts about using LTE? There are no data caps, which means no hidden costs. And you’ll only need to add a SIM card to a qualifying LTE modem and connect that modem to your router. You may even be able to use what you already have on hand, thus saving you money on equipment and installation fees.
A satellite internet service’s bandwidth restrictions might be annoying. The majority of carriers have a daytime bandwidth cap of 10-20GB of data per month, which severely limits how much video streaming, gaming, or even surfing you can do. There are bandwidth restrictions for the night too, although they are typically higher than those during the day.
You’ll have a lot more versatility with 4G data. Although you may still be subject to monthly data usage caps with some services, you do have the choice of unlimited data with many providers, and usually for not much more than you’d pay for data caps.
What kind of service can you expect with LTE and satellite internet?
Well, satellite internet isn’t easily interrupted, even when used in rural areas. However, if you live in an area that experiences a ton of rain or wind (or even tornado-like weather), you may want to look elsewhere. These conditions can mess up your dish and internet service.
LTE, on the other hand, isn’t always available in remote areas, especially if there are few towers around. However many carriers have expanded their coverage as a result of 4G LTE’s explosive growth in popularity. Before committing to a plan, it is usually a good idea to ask your provider how much coverage they offer. And unlike satellite internet, your internet won’t be affected during a storm.
The amount of time it takes a signal to travel from your device to the network hardware of your provider is known as latency. There is more lag for things like streaming and online gaming the higher your latency. So, if you love watching movies and videos, or playing games on a more serious level, a satellite may not be the best choice for you — at least not on its own.
Usually, 4G is the better option if you want to reduce latency. The typical 4G LTE lag is only about 35 to 70 milliseconds, but satellite systems have a lag of around 600 to 1,200 milliseconds. That’s more than 10 times as long!
Although the latency of satellite internet has decreased recently, many users still encounter the annoyance of buffering when streaming movies or playing games. This also means you may not be able to stream at 1080p or 4K, even if your computer allows you to. This is because thousands of miles separate your modem and the satellite circling the Earth, where your signal must travel.
Amazon Kuiper vs. LTE: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Using a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit, Project Kuiper aims to provide worldwide broadband connectivity, even in the most remote areas.
- Amazon created Kuiper Systems LLC as a subsidiary in 2019. They were approved to send their satellites into space in 2022.
- Later this year, the satellites will start being mass-produced by Amazon’s Project Kuiper and they plan on making them for a little under $400.
- LTE technology will eventually be phased out in favor of fifth-generation (5G) cellular technology, albeit it may take some time.
- While LTE is not the same as 4G, there are many areas where the two technologies are similar.
Amazon’s Kuiper vs. LTE: Which One is Better? Which One Should You Use?
Our internet has been revolutionized by satellite and LTE technology. No matter where you live, either of these options can be a viable solution for your internet needs. While LTE requires that you be close to a cell tower, it’s reasonably priced and offers quality service for most consumers. Depending on your budget, where you’re located, and how much internet you realistically need, LTE may be the better option, unless you really can’t get it!
The image featured at the top of this post is ©iStock.com/NicoElNino.