How satellite fits into the puzzle to deliver internet to almost everyone

No plan for digital inclusion is complete without including all technologies, from satellite to fiber and wireless

mountainous scene
Many areas of the U.S. lie far beyond the practical reach of terrestrial broadband providers. In mountainous areas particularly, satellite is often the best solution.

Today, many people living in rural America cannot enjoy the benefits of high-quality broadband internet because they’re caught on the wrong side of the digital divide. That means they either can’t get speeds fast enough to meet their needs or, in some cases, there’s simply no service available where they live or work.

People who live in these areas know very well that they’ve been left behind: They can’t connect with families, can’t use online healthcare services, and don’t have access to the same educational opportunities. But that situation is changing: Viasat is bringing reliable, high-speed satellite internet to many of the hardest-to-reach places in the United States.

With access to more spectrum, Viasat can connect more Americans today and in the future without the long waits and expense of buildout of terrestrial technologies.

Cable and fiber can’t reach everyone

The digital divide in America has left millions of Americans without access to broadband (download speeds of 25 Mbps or better). Too often, the solutions discussed focus solely on terrestrial technologies — cable/fiber, DSL and earth-based wireless. To solve a real problem, though, shouldn’t all potential solutions be brought to bear?

On a Forbes forum about “Broadband for All — a national campaign to connect every American community to broadband infrastructure in two years” — a contributor explains that different telecommunications technologies should “all be embraced,” including wireline, wireless and satellite. It is this call for a mix of technology that almost all underserved communities in America can rally behind to bridge the divide to digital inclusion.

Millions of Americans waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide are hoping terrestrial providers will expand broadband infrastructure by laying cable, fiber optic or even copper to connect them to the nearest internet node. Telecom incumbents are declining to upgrade legacy facilities because the “density math” — serving places with high enough populations to support the large investments necessary for a profit — just doesn’t add up.  These circumstances are leaving many rural subscribers without urban-quality alternatives.

In a Wall Street Journal feature about the digital divide, the cost to install optical fiber in rural America was estimated to be about $30,000 a mile. A physician quoted in the article — who was hoping to take his rural practice into the information age with broadband — was quoted an installation cost by the local telecommunications provider of $563/month for 20 Mbps — or $1,190 a month for 200 Mbps service.

Where wireless falls short

Theoretically, wireless (LTE, 4G, 5G) broadband service could span a country mile as easily as a city mile. But wireless services require direct line-of-sight visibility to achieve connectivity between a home or business and a cell tower. This may be an adequate solution for flat terrain, with no buildings, but it is not feasible for many underserved communities in more mountainous or spread-out regions of the country. Distance from the home to the closest cell tower is a major factor, and once again the “density math” comes into the equation as wireless operators look to maximize their investment in more populated areas.

Satellite, on the other hand, can reach almost any location. Once the satellite and gateway (ground antenna) infrastructure is in place, subscribers only need a small antenna installed at their home or business. Satellite broadband service, with unlimited* data plans, is now available across the contiguous United States from Viasat. We can install service, usually within just a couple of days of placing an order, with speeds ranging from 25-100 Mbps, depending on location.

We recently reached out to several rural residents in areas where it had been challenging to get broadband. In Mississippi, one family always on the move to grab a Wi-Fi signal was able to get our service and spend more time together. Another woman getting our service was able to stay in closer contact with her family while taking advantage of telemedicine tools to help her husband. In West Virginia, satellite broadband gave a family with an autistic child a critical link to the world they’d otherwise be without.

Our higher-capacity satellites are now capable of handling the increased speed and data needs of today’s internet — with all of its streaming video and more. At Viasat, we are always looking for ways to innovate and eliminate bottlenecks to improve the broadband experience for users.

Viasat will continue to invest in broadband for all. In 2020, Viasat plans to launch an even more powerful satellite over the Americas, Viasat-3, to help ensure that the United States has the most competitive and innovative services. And when we hear people talk about wanting to “bridge the digital divide,” we hope they remember that, in many areas, satellite is the best solution.

 

*Unlimited data plans have some conditions. Read more here.
Carley Brennan
About Carley Brennan 8 Articles
Carley Brennan manages the corporate advocacy program – faces of the digital inclusion – at Viasat. Over the next few years, she is traveling across the world to tell the stories of those isolated by the digital divide while highlighting the power of satellite to connect the unconnected.