Rural Internet Options: Satellite vs. DSL

Rural Internet: Satellite Internet vs DSL

You need internet for your rural home or business, and you want to find the best possible broadband option for your region. You did some research online and realized several options are available to you. So, when comparing satellite vs. DSL, how do these options stack up against each other in terms of performance, speed, bandwidth, cost, and availability?

Understanding the Broadband Gap

The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) definition of high-speed internet is 3 mbps for upload speeds and 25 mbps for download speeds.

In 2018, the FCC found that roughly 21 million Americans still don’t have access to these speeds. If you live in a rural area, you’re probably one of them.

“Broadband gap” is the term used to describe the disparity between urban and rural areas regarding internet access.

DSL and satellite internet are two of the most popular options for rural households or businesses without access to a wired connection. But how do they stack up against one another?

This guide will break down each technology and compare them side by side across several categories, including speed, cost, and availability.

What Is DSL?

DSL stands for digital subscriber line and refers to several types of high-speed internet connections that use copper telephone lines to deliver data.

DSL uses specific frequencies to transmit data and leaves the lower frequencies free for voice calls. DSL signals don’t interfere with the phone service you (or your neighbors) may have connected through those same lines.

How Does DSL Internet Work?

DSL works by using the copper wire that carries your phone signal and an internet signal. The data coming from your modem travels through this wire to reach your ISP’s digital subscriber lines.

The subscriber lines have a connection to modems at their end. The modems translate the digital signals into analog, allowing the information to be transmitted to and from your computer.

DSL works well because of how its data signal operates on a different frequency than your voice telephone signal. You can talk on the phone while surfing the web using a DSL connection — something that isn’t possible with dial-up or cable internet service.

The main benefit of DSL providers like EarthLink over other fixed alternatives like cable internet is that it uses dedicated infrastructure — meaning there are no shared connections or contention for bandwidth with other users on your line.

However, DSL speeds can be slower than those offered by cable or fiber optic carriers like Verizon Fios, and availability may be limited in certain areas.

What Is Satellite Internet?

Satellite internet is a broadband service delivered via geosynchronous satellites orbiting 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface. These satellites transmit signals back and forth between themselves and receivers installed at your home or business, allowing you to access the internet.

To connect to the internet, you can either use a satellite dish or a small antenna mounted on your home. Satellite Internet providers like DISH Network, HughesNet Gen5 use advanced technology available to offer Internet speeds up to 25 Mbps download speeds, with enough speed for all of your online activities.

Satellite internet is a great alternative for rural homes since you can install it no matter where you live. Satellite internet connectivity does not require any ground-based cables or wires. Satellite internet providers have coverage in all 50 states and most remote areas.

How Does Satellite Internet Work?

Satellite Internet uses a satellite dish to send and receive information to and from the internet. The dish transmits the data from your home into space. A satellite receives the signal and sends it back down to Earth.

A second satellite dish (usually located in a town or city) receives the signal. The second dish sends the data to an Internet Service Provider (ISP), who then returns it to your device.

The two-way transfer of data from the user’s computer to the ISP via satellite requires constant bandwidth, which can cost more than other Internet options.

DSL vs. Satellite Internet: Speed and Bandwidth

The first consideration when selecting an ISP should be speed. Both DSL and satellite internet can deliver enough download speed for the average user, but latency is the real difference maker. You know what you’re missing if you’re used to fast broadband in a city.

Latency is the lag between requesting data and receiving it. The delay is more pronounced with satellite internet because of the distance signals needed to travel through space.

Latency won’t matter much for most users surfing the web or watching videos, but it can make video chats difficult and gaming nearly impossible.

Satellite Internet uses a dish mounted on your home or business to deliver service from a geosynchronous satellite in space. Therefore the lag time between requests and delivery makes it too slow for most applications.

For most plans, the satellite internet has typical download speeds of 12 Mbps or less. Streaming video and other data-heavy tasks are often a challenge with satellite internet.

Your internet service provider delivers DSL service through cable lines from your local telephone company, providing faster speeds than satellite Internet.

DSL is thus much faster than satellite internet, with typical plans ranging from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps or more in some areas. That makes it easier to stream video in HD or 4K.

DSL vs. Satellite Internet: Availability

DSL is widely available in the U.S. But to receive DSL internet service, you need to be within a certain distance of a telephone exchange. Thus, people who live far from an exchange (usually 3 miles or more) don’t have access to DSL.

But even if you are near an exchange, your home might not get DSL service because of issues with your phone line, like the wiring or how many splitters you have installed.

Satellite internet has much greater availability than DSL. It’s the only choice if you live in a very remote area and cannot access cable or fiber internet.

If you have satellite TV service, you probably already have a dish on your roof — most satellite internet providers use that same dish to provide internet service.

DSL vs. Satellite Internet: Cost

Satellite service tends to be more expensive than DSL, making it more expensive than cable and fiber. Satellite Internet packages usually range from $86 per month. DSL can start as low as $51 per month for introductory packages and reach $60 per month for top-tier plans.

DSL plans typically include unlimited data usage and don’t charge overage fees for a monthly data cap. In contrast, satellite internet caps data usage and charges extra if you go over your limit. If you do lots of streaming or downloading, your bill could get quite high with a satellite internet plan.

Choosing Between Satellites and DSL Internet

It doesn’t matter which side you fall on in the satellite vs. DSL debate. What matters is that you choose wisely based on your needs:

You Live in a Desert or Somewhere Relatively Empty

Satellite provides equal access to all country areas, no matter how rural your location. It’s also useful for people who travel frequently and need internet access wherever they are — as long as they can see the sky. DSL is dependent on physical infrastructure, so if you live in an area with more cattle than people, it will be hard to get.

You Have a Big Family With Multiple Devices That Need to Be on the Internet at Once

Satellite internet has a much higher bandwidth than DSL. Satellite internet is well-suited for households where multiple family members use the internet simultaneously — especially for things like online gaming or streaming movies.

You Want a More Stable Connection for Online Gaming or Streaming Netflix

Because satellite connections are vulnerable to interference and bad weather, they’re less reliable than DSL connections. While they’re adequate for browsing websites and checking social media accounts, you’ll likely benefit more from DSL internet if you play online games or stream Netflix.

You Spend Most of Your Time at Home With No Need to Travel

DSL isn’t portable, so if you spend most of your time at home and don’t need to travel around much, it’s probably the best option for you.

A satellite connection will work anywhere your dish has a clear view of the southern sky. It’s ideal for people who travel frequently and want to take their internet connection with them. You can also get high-speed internet for your boat or recreational vehicle by installing a satellite modem and dish.

You Run a Business in Remote Areas

The diverse nature of rural businesses means that there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to internet connectivity. Some businesses, especially those with many employees and which consume a lot of bandwidth, may want to consider satellite internet.

DSL may be a better option for businesses with smaller bandwidth requirements or can tolerate less than optimal performance during periods of high activity. There are many different options available for DSL, and it’s important to investigate the best providers in your area.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to some of the commonly asked questions regarding satellite vs. DSL internet connectivity:

How fast is DSL?

DSL internet service can reach 400mbps for downloads and 8mbps for uploads.

How fast is satellite internet?

Satellite internet service can be as fast as 15 Mbps or 25 Mbps, but it’s typically closer to 5–10 Mbps.

Does satellite internet service have a data cap?

No, satellite internet does not have a data cap like DSL and cable plans often do. However, you will pay extra fees if you go over your monthly bandwidth allowance.

How is satellite internet different from DSL?

Satellite internet is delivered wirelessly to your home rather than through copper phone lines like DSL. The other major difference is that satellite speeds tend to be slower than DSL.

How much does DSL cost?

DSL prices start at $51 per month for 12 months of service (with a contract). Prices increase with speed and services added on like Wi-Fi and VoIP calling. Typically, the lowest price offered by any provider will be around $19.99 per month for the first year (with a contract).

Satellite and DSL for Rural Connectivity

While satellite internet providers have emerged as frontrunners among rural broadband options, DSL still has advantages. The big question is: can a rural community afford to support one of these technologies while lacking the other?

It’s hard to say, but ultimately each community should assess what they need and whether or not it will make sense to merge the two services. In many cases, the answer may be “no,” but the opposite may prove true in others.

We believe that a combination of satellite internet and DSL may be a winning recipe for small towns and large rural communities alike.

Blair Campbell

Founder of GetInternet. Blair studied computer science at the California Institute of Technology Computing and Mathematical Sciences program, but he enjoys writing on the side. He grew up in southern California and now lives in Denver, Colorado.