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satellite internet: Explained: What is satellite internet and what it means for you

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Elon Musk is already providing it. Jeff Bezos is also in line to launch it. And there are other players as well. Bharti Airtel has also thrown its hat in the ring. This means that it is a big and serious business. The ‘it’ here is satellite internet. Musk’s Starlink has already launched its satellite internet service in ‘beta’ and is being used by people in some countries. Airtel has also announced that its satellite internet services will be available starting next year. So what is satellite internet? We explain what it means for you, how it will work and whether it’s safe or not.

What is satellite internet?

Remember how satellite TVs work? Satellite internet is similar in that sense. You will have a satellite dish installed in your house and the internet is beamed from the space. There’s no cable or anything required for satellite internet as it comes ‘directly’ from satellites orbiting in space.

How does satellite internet work?

A satellite orbiting the earth communicates by using radio waves. However, Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites use lasers to make it work. A communication network sends and receives data to your internet-enabled device and connects through a modem and satellite dish to a satellite in space. It is then routed back to Earth to something called NOC or network operations centres.

How useful will satellite internet be?

It will be handy to connect people who live in remote or rural areas where ‘regular’ internet cannot reach. Further, it is expected to deliver faster speeds. The average internet speed is anywhere from 10-40 Mbps depending on where you live. Satellite internet promises to take it up to as high as 300Mbps — or at least that’s Musk promised with Starlink.

What hardware do you need for satellite internet?

You would require a few things at your end: a device that can be connected to the internet, a modem/router and a satellite dish. Starlink sells a ‘kit’ that included a satellite dish and a router. Similar hardware should be given by other players in the satellite internet space.

If it’s satellite-linked, how important is the role of weather?

Well, quite important. For instance, with a satellite TV dish, at times heavy rains or wind can disrupt your connection. The same is applicable for satellite internet as well. The FAQ page on Starlink mentions “Heavy rain or wind can also affect your satellite internet connection, potentially leading to slower speeds or a rare outage.”

How much will it actually cost?

It’s still in the infancy stage so it’s not clear. However, SpaceX has revealed that internet service will cost $99 per month (excluding taxes) plus another $500 for the Starlink kit. So it is an expensive proposition as of now. There are companies in the US and UK that have plans across the price range of $50 to $150 per month.

When can you expect satellite internet to launch?

Bharti Airtel has said by the middle of next year, its service might be ready. Elon Musk’s Starlink has indicated that it might launch in India but there’s no definite date or concrete plan that is known as of now.

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