The internet is an essential need in today’s world. It allows people to learn, work, consume entertainment, plan their schedules, and pay their bills, among other functions. However, not everyone enjoys the benefits of the internet equally. One factor that prevents people from accessing the internet in the same way is the type of internet connection. Internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T and Viasat offer various kinds of internet connections depending on one’s location, preferences, and infrastructure coverage.The most common internet connection types are cable, satellite, fiber optics, and phone-based DSL. This article will focus on the most popular internet connections: cable and satellite. Below is a review of cable internet vs. satellite. Let’s get to it.
Cable Internet vs. Satellite: Side-by-Side Comparison
|What It Is||Internet transmitted via cable TV transmission lines.||Internet transmitted from a satellite in Earth’s orbit.|
|Speed||5 to 1,000 Mbps||10 to 150 Mbps|
|Most Popular In||Urban areas||Rural and remote areas|
|Availability||Areas with cable TV coverage||Almost anywhere|
|Price||From as low as $30 depending on download speeds||From as low as $50 depending on download speeds and data cap|
Cable Internet vs. Satellite: What’s the Difference?
Cable internet is the most popular type of internet connection in the United States, covering about 90% of the population. On the other hand, satellite-based internet is the most widely available internet connection. Below are the factors that differentiate cable internet from satellite internet.
Cable internet uses the same infrastructure as cable television. In fact, Cable TV uses coaxial cables to transmit signals to homes. Similarly, cable internet utilizes copper coaxial wires to provide internet service simultaneously. The coaxial wire consists of an inner wire surrounded by a foil that acts as a shield.
Most American homes have one coaxial cable split into several wires to serve multiple rooms. Therefore, most of the infrastructure needed to set up a cable internet connection is available, which explains the popularity of cable internet over other options. Other equipment for setting up cable internet includes ethernet cables for wired networks, a Wi-Fi router for wireless internet connections, and cable modems. During installation, the ISP will also use coaxial grounding blocks to disperse static charges, coaxial splitters to separate one cable into multiple lines, and coaxial attenuators to reduce the signal level.
On the other hand, satellite internet does not rely on transmission via cables buried in the ground. It facilitates internet access via satellites in Earth’s orbit. A satellite internet connection needs three essential pieces of equipment: a satellite dish, a transceiver, and a modem.
ISPs mount satellite dishes (usually on the roof) on properties requiring an internet connection. On the other hand, you will find the transceiver on the satellite dish and the modem inside the property. Transceiver is a portmanteau conceived by combining the words transmitter and receiver. It refers to a device that can transmit and receive signals.
For satellite users to access the internet, their satellite dish has to send a signal to a satellite owned by an ISP in Earth’s orbit. The satellite in orbit then transmits said signal to another satellite dish belonging to the ISP on the ground, which sends the signal to the internet, relaying what a user needs to access. Then, the ISP’s satellite dish will then transmit the signal from the internet back into orbit, after which the satellite will relay the signal to a user’s satellite dish. The complexity of the process indicates why satellite internet remains popular only in remote areas.
There are two internet speeds to consider when comparing cable internet and satellite. The first is download speed, which refers to the number of megabits per second (Mbps) it takes to download data from the internet and onto a device. The second is upload speed, which refers to how many Mbps it takes to transfer data files from a device onto the internet.
Before comparing the internet speeds of cable and satellite internet, it is vital to note that many consumers make a common mistake when choosing an internet package based on internet speed. That mistake is thinking that, for example, an internet speed of 10Mbps means the connection can download a 10MB file in one second.
However, that is not the case because ISPs measure internet speed or bandwidth in bits per second. A bit is the smallest unit of data measurement. It is smaller than one byte, whereby one byte is equivalent to eight bits. Therefore, a speed of 10Mbps is ten megabits per second, which means it can download a 10 megabyte (MB) file in eight seconds. Lastly, convert all the units to one standard unit to avoid making mistakes when calculating internet speeds and data files.
Cable internet provides a wide range of internet download speeds, which ISPs bundle into different packages. The lowest internet download speed offered by most ISPs is 10Mbps, though some offer packages as low as 5Mbps. On the other hand, most ISPs offer internet speeds as high as 500 and 1,000 Mbps. Some claim to offer speeds up to 2,000 Mbps, meaning you can download a 2,000MB file in 8 seconds.
On the other hand, satellite internet has limited, constrained internet download speeds. Most ISPs that offer satellite-based internet will offer packages with internet download speeds ranging from 10Mbps to 100Mbps. However, the entry of Starlink, a satellite internet provider operated by SpaceX, offers hope for better speeds for satellite internet users. The company claims it can offer as much as 500Mbps of internet download speed.
Regarding internet upload speeds, you will find that cable and satellite internet offers lower upload speeds compared to their download speeds. The average upload speed in cable internet packages is at least 5Mbps, while the average satellite internet upload speed is 3Mbps.
Cable internet offers significantly superior downloading and uploading speeds compared to satellite internet. Thus, it is advisable to use a cable internet plan over a satellite one, especially if you are a heavy internet user.
Latency or ping rate refers to the delay it takes for an action or request made on a device to reach its destination, often measured in milliseconds. An internet connection’s latency value determines how fast your device can receive data packets.
Cable internet has the second lowest latency rate compared to other internet connection types, with fiber internet having the lowest latency rate. On the other hand, satellite internet has the highest latency rate. That is because signals sent via satellite internet must travel longer distances. The signal has to bounce off a satellite located hundreds or thousands of miles in orbit before being sent back to the ground.
Cable internet is typically more reliable than satellite internet in terms of performance. Cable internet has higher speeds and lower latency rates compared to satellite internet. That means you can consume more data with fewer delays when using cable internet. Conversely, using satellite connections when online gaming, online gambling, or using VOIP services like Zoom can be frustrating.
Moreover, cable internet connections experience fewer connectivity disruptions compared to satellite internet. The most significant hindrance to cable connections is peak time. Peak time refers to a time in the day when multiple cable internet users within a specific location access the internet simultaneously, resulting in lower-than-expected internet speeds.
Satellite internet also experiences issues with peak time; however, it gets more affected by other factors. For instance, bad weather can disrupt internet connectivity. An area’s terrain and surrounding objects can also influence the strength of satellite internet connections. For example, mountains and dense forests can disrupt signals; high-rise properties can block internet connections to low-rise buildings.
Satellite internet has the upper hand over cable internet regarding availability. You can use a satellite internet connection nearly anywhere worldwide because it uses hardware in Earth’s orbit. On the other hand, cable internet is only available in areas with existing cable TV hardware, usually in urban and suburban areas.
ISPs often impose a data cap on cable and satellite internet. A data cap limits the data a user can consume within a specific period, usually per month. Data caps allow the ISP to conserve internet bandwidth usage and regulate internet traffic.
Though users might experience data caps when using cable and satellite internet, the latter has tighter restrictions. Most ISPs offering cable internet have a data cap of about 250-500 gigabytes (GB), with some offering a cap of 1 terabyte (TB). Conversely, consumers will be hard-pressed to find a satellite internet provider offering data caps higher than 500GB per month.
When you reach your data cap, your ISP will either charge you extremely high fees for every GB over the cap or lower your internet speed to a frustration level that will force you to renew your bundle. Therefore, you must be careful about consuming data, especially when using a satellite internet connection. Consumers can consider using techniques like watching and downloading low-resolution videos and images and adjusting browser settings to prevent video auto-play and pop-up adverts. They can also avoid streaming and use compression browser extensions.
Satellite internet is quite expensive compared to cable internet. That is because cable internet relies on existing infrastructure, meaning ISPs spend significantly less on building and upgrading infrastructure. In addition, cable internet has broader coverage, meaning ISP can spread capital investment costs to more customers, thereby keeping costs low. Conversely, satellite internet is expensive because it has higher capital investment costs and fewer customers, meaning the only way to recoup investments is to charge substantially high monthly rates.
Cable Internet vs. Satellite: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Satellite internet does not work well with virtual private networks (VPNs) because of its high latency and low internet speeds.
- The Federal Communications Commission approved satellites for internet service in 1993.
- Cable internet offers internet connection to over 80% of American households.
- Most cable internet packages cost less than $100 a month, while most satellite packages cost at least $50.
- Satellite internet often has more restrictive data caps than cable internet.
Cable Internet vs. Satellite: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
Cable internet is the obvious choice when looking for an internet connection. There is greater variety in terms of companies offering the service than satellite internet service providers. Cable internet also offers higher quality services than satellite, including better internet speeds and lower latency.
In addition, cable internet providers often offer pricing plans that bundle together an internet connection and cable TV, meaning consumers can enjoy both at a lower cost. However, that does not imply satellite internet lacks benefits. It is ideal for remote and rural areas neglected by cable internet providers. It is also suitable for disaster-prone areas as it guarantees service restoration faster than other internet connection types.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock.com.