Photo illustration by John Lyman

Choosing the best Internet for your home or business is a minefield. Here’s a handy guide before calling any Internet provider.

The Internet has taken over almost every aspect of our modern-day lives. These days we cannot even imagine spending a single day without a reliable Internet connection. From shopping to bill paying to entertainment to even education, everything has moved online.

Over 90% of Americans have direct access to high-speed Internet. Yet, despite this penetration and dependency very few of us have any idea about the types of technologies that help us stay connected to the world.

There are two distinct categories of Internet technologies: satellite and terrestrial. As the names suggest, satellite technologies rely on satellites that beam down signals onto dishes installed on roofs, while terrestrial connections deploy various types of cables to connect users to high-speed Internet.

So, let’s take a deeper look at what these technologies are and what are the unique advantages and disadvantages of each one so that you can make the most informed decision about which connection to get.

Satellite

As mentioned above, these types of connections use satellites to beam down wireless Internet signals to a customers home or business.

Two types of satellites are primarily used by Internet companies. Low Earth orbit, or LEO satellites, like the ones used by Starlink and Kuiper, and geostationary orbit, or GEO satellites, like the ones used by HughesNet and ViaSat.

Both these types of satellites differ based on their distance from the surface of the Earth. GEO satellites are higher and cover greater portions of the globe while LEO satellites are lower and cover less surface area.

Here are a few advantages and disadvantages of getting your Internet connection from satellite-based Internet service providers.

Pros

The biggest advantage of a satellite-based Internet connection is its accessibility. Satellite-based providers only need to launch a few satellites into orbit which in turn cover almost the entire surface of the globe. For this reason, this Internet is available to Americans living in rural, remote, and sparsely populated areas because satellite Internet does not require a lot of physical infrastructure to establish, and the same satellite can serve vast regions.

Cons

The biggest disadvantage of satellite-based Internet is the latency or the ping rate. Internet signals have to travel huge distances between a user’s dish and the satellite, as a result, the signal takes longer to complete one round trip, and this adds to the over latency of the satellite-based connection.

Newer technologies like LEO satellites are launched closer to the surface of the Earth to resolve this exact issue. Since the satellite is near the surface the signal has less distance to cover, so it travels faster, reducing the latency.

Terrestrial Internet

Terrestrial Internet providers normally rely on underground or sometimes even tension cables to connect their customers to the Internet.

There are basically three different kinds of cable technologies used by Internet providers: DSL, cable, and fiber optic. DSL is an older technology that relies on phone cables to connect users. DSL is widely available but being an older technology does not provide users with sufficient speeds.

Cable Internet on the other hand relies on coaxial cables like the ones used by your cable provider to connect you to high-speed Internet. The technology is considerably faster as compared to DSL and is also very widely available.

Fiber optics is a relatively recent technology and utilizes high-performance glass cables to provide download speeds ranging into multiple GBs per second. But since the technology is dedicated and expensive it is not widely available.

Terrestrial Internet is more established. Internet service providers like Spectrum have been relying on this technology for years. In addition to high speeds, Spectrum’s customer service much like any other terrestrial provider is better than those offered by newer satellite providers like Starlink.

Pros

Terrestrial technologies are faster, more reliable, cheaper, and have much lower pings as compared to their satellite-based counterparts.

Cons

Since terrestrial Internet requires dedicated cable-based infrastructure for each area, newer technologies like fiber optic are not available to Americans living in remote, rural, or sparsely populated areas.

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Internet providers rely on a vast variety of different technologies to provide high-speed Internet to their customers. Knowing the unique advantages and disadvantages of each will help you choose the best option that suits your usage needs.

So, give this write-up a read before you call your cable guy.