Will Satellite Internet Ever Replace Fibre?

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The race for faster, better bandwidth is going to infinity and beyond, but that doesn’t mean we’re ever going to cut ties with the king of fixed line.

In the 21st century, access to reliable broadband has almost become as important to daily life as electricity and clean water. And yet, for various reasons, only 60% of the world’s population have access to the Internet. As the pandemic has proven, connectivity is an essential service – one that has allowed most to continue to work and learn safely from home during lockdown.

Where traditional fixed line and wireless options like ADSL, Fibre, LTE and 5G continue to fail to reach, satellite promises to fill that void.

Let’s be honest – satellite Internet just sounds cool.

And, with Elon Musk leading the charge in new generation LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite connectivity with the promise of providing high-speed broadband to all parts of the globe, it might seem as though Fibre is about to be overshadowed by tens of thousands of shiny faux-stars glimmering in the sky.

The truth is satellite will never replace Fibre, here’s why:

Price and Performance

To really have a chance at competing with Fibre on a large scale, satellite Internet will have to be as fast, reliable and affordable as its fixed line competitor.

As we’ve seen in the past year, Fibre is becoming more widely available (believe us, we’re working on it) and more affordable than ever before and this is a trend that’s set to continue. Fibre allows for the delivery of incredible link capacities that can be easily increased in short timeframes. It also exhibits an extremely low latency, which, up till now, satellite really couldn’t compete with.

Traditional GEO (Geostationary Earth Orbit) satellites are ‘parked’ at a staggering altitude of 36000km above Earth’s equator, which means the signal has quite a journey before breaking out in your home, resulting in a round-trip latency of 700ms (that’s milliseconds) compared to Fibre’s latency of seven to 15ms (Fibre is access circuit dependent).

Musk’s Starlink LEO satellites are only about 645km away, which means they’ll close the gap on both latency and speed. Here’s the catch: it costs R7000 to buy a Starlink Internet terminal and the monthly subscription will be at least R2000 per month. If you already have access to uncapped, unshaped high-speed broadband at a fraction of that cost, opting for satellite over Fibre really makes no sense.

Fibre will also remain the terrestrial backhaul for fixed line services for years to come, not to mention provide backhaul for the other buzz-worthy wireless disruptor: 5G cellular networks. Unfortunately, Fibre will never be everywhere.

The Future of Satellite

Satellite Internet is invaluable for closing the digital divide in areas where fixed line and traditional wireless connectivity just can’t and, frankly, might never, reach. LEO satellites are also going to play an even greater role in the widespread adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) technology.

If it moves, LEO satellite Internet will be able to cover and connect it – plane, train, or automobile. Oh yes, ships too.

As the only truly global connectivity, LEO satellite Internet will act as the carrier, allowing companies to remotely monitor and manage their assets anywhere in the world and finally help usher in the new era of self-driving trucks and cars.

LEO satellites also offer myriad of applications for military use, particularly for the US, whose Space Force (yes, it’s real) is already looking into its potential use cases, including data collection for surveillance, reconnaissance and missile detection to send in real-time to soldiers on the ground.

If you ask us, everyone should have access to the best connectivity possible – whether it’s satellite, Fibre, wireless, LTE or DSL.

About Author:
Guin Davies
Guin Davies

Guin is an avid storyteller with a love for random pop culture facts and, yes, dad jokes. After writing about everything from celeb gossip to pool covers for magazines (remember those?) she's thrilled to join the team at Vox as...