Satellite broadband service is inferior to landline broadband offerings, according to a new report from Vantage Point Solutions. NTCA- The Rural Broadband Association filed the report with the FCC yesterday – a move that appears aimed at protecting the interests of the association’s rural telephone company members.
The FCC has previously stated that as it transitions today’s voice-focused Universal Service Fund to focus instead on broadband, it envisions that homes in the areas that are most expensive to serve would receive broadband from a satellite (or possibly broadband wireless) provider. And depending how far the FCC is able to stretch its limited pool of USF dollars, it wouldn’t be surprising for the commission to consider expanding the number of homes targeted for satellite service – a move that eventually could leave some NTCA members without USF funding.
“The broadband performance of satellite services in terms of latency, jitter, capacity and speed will always remain inferior in terms of latency, jitter, capacity and speed will always remain inferior to modern fixed wireline technologies,” said Vantage Point Solutions in the new report, titled Analysis of Satellite-Based Telecommunications and Broadband Services. “Some satellite limitations may be less severe with technical advances, but some limitations, such as high latency and weather interference, cannot be solved. While satellites will continue to provide an important role in global communications, satellites do not have the capacity to replace a significant amount of the fixed wireline broadband in use today nor can they provide high-quality, low-latency communications currently available using landline communication systems. While recent advances have increased satellite capacity, the capacity available on an entire satellite is much smaller than that available on a single strand of fiber.”
Two satellite providers compete in the U.S. against landline broadband, including Hughes Network Systems and ViaSat, previously known as Wild Blue, which offers service under the Exede brand. Both of those companies have launched new satellites and kicked off new service offerings that provide higher speeds than they offered previously. In addition, both companies’ new satellites provide greater total capacity than earlier-generation satellites.
HughesNet’s new satellite supports speeds between 10 Mbps downstream/ 1 Mbps upstream and 15 Mbps downstream and 2 Mbps upstream. ViaSat offers a single data rate – 12 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream and according to the FCC, regularly delivers the speeds it advertises.
Despite the greater total capacity of the new satellites, however, the new services have data caps ranging from 10 gigabytes to 40 gigabytes per month. Customers may be able to purchase additional capacity for an additional fee.
The Vantage Point report sees the satellite data caps as a major drawback to satellite services. “Data intensive applications such as streaming content, online back-ups, videoconferencing and downloading of large files can cause subscribers to quickly exceed these monthly capacity limits,” the report states. “Other applications that are extremely data intensive, such as telepresence and some medical and educational applications are not even practical.”
Other key drawbacks to satellite broadband include higher latency and environmental impacts, the report says. With satellite services such as those from Exede/ViaSat and HughesNet, communications must travel from the earth to the satellite and back which, according to the authors, creates a latency of between 250 and 300 ms. That means interactive voice and data communications are degraded when using those service providers, the authors state.
HughesNet earlier this year added voice to its satellite service offering. The company told Telecompetitor at that time that it used “better codecs” and “tweaked” the network to improve voice quality. The company said the quality of its voice service should be at least as good as cellphone-to-cellphone service quality.
The Vantage Point report notes, however, that real-time communications may be especially degraded if one satellite broadband user contacts another, thereby doubling latency.
“This ‘double-hop’ scenario is likely for people who have satellite as their only communications option because they often live in close proximity with others that are served by satellite,” the authors wrote. “Unacceptable communication delays would be experienced when calling a neighbor, friend or local business that also uses satellite service, even though the two customers may be geographically close.”
As for weather concerns, the authors said that heavy rain and the accumulation of ice or snow on dishes can create transmission errors. They note that satellite providers have implemented adaptive power control and more robust modulation techniques but argue that weather interference problems persist.
A spokeswoman for Hughes Network Systems said the company was still reviewing the Vantage Point report and had no comment at this time. ViaSat did not immediately respond to a request for comment.