Cable vs. Satellite Internet: Which Should You Choose in 2023?

Hey there! With more options cropping up for home internet, you may be wondering how plain old cable stacks up against fancy new satellite technology. I‘ve dug deep into the nitty gritty details so you can decide what best suits your needs.

The OG: A Brief History of Cable Internet

Before weighing cable against satellites, let‘s explore how cable internet came to be.

Way back in the 1940s, community antennas were set up on mountains to capture over-the-air TV signals and feed them to homes via coaxial cables. This concept was the genesis of cable TV delivery as we know it.

Over the years, companies like Comcast and Spectrum acquired these local cable TV companies. They saw the opportunity emerging in the late 90s to transform these coaxial networks into broadband internet pipelines.

So by leveraging existing cable infrastructure, they delivered modem internet access to people‘s homes. This gave rise to the cable internet service millions subscribe to today as their primary source of connectivity.

Satellites: Bringing the Internet From Up Above

Meanwhile, satellites have been floating around up there for decades transmitting data signals. But it wasn‘t until recently that private companies worked to turn them into consumer internet providers.

The earliest commercial satellite internet services (like Direcway in the early 2000s) mainly served rural and remote communities. Performance was notoriously poor – we‘re talking 1 Mbps on good days!

But then Elon Musk‘s SpaceX entered the chat with Starlink in 2015, determined to make satellite internet fast, responsive, and widely available through swarms of satellites in low Earth orbit.

Amazon saw this space race heating up and threw their hat into the ring. They‘re planning to put over 3,000 of their Project Kuiper satellites into orbit in coming years.

So in short, satellites went from being clunky and laggy to potent challengers of traditional internet in just a few years thanks to massive innovation and investment!

How Do Today‘s Speeds Compare?

These days you can expect to enjoy some pretty zippy internet speeds no matter if you get it from a wire or outer space. But latency and consistency still differ quite a bit between cable and satellite.

Cable Speeds

ProviderDownload SpeedUpload Speed
Xfinity5 – 50 Mbps10 – 500 Mbps
Spectrum200+ Mbps10+ Mbps
AT&T75-100 Mbps8-20 Mbps

Satellite Speeds

ProviderDownload SpeedUpload SpeedLatency
Starlink100-200 Mbps10-20 Mbps25-35 ms
Kuiper (target)100-1000 MbpsTBD25-35 ms

So you can see satellites like Starlink and Kuiper promise speeds on par with if not faster than cable…at least in theory! Real-world performance tends to be less consistent than laboratory demonstrations.

Let‘s break down why satellites have the potential for lightning quick internet and where they still falter.

Why Satellites Have the Latency Edge

Latency refers to the time it takes data to make a round trip when you click, swipe, or stream. Lower latency equals snappier internet.

Satellite handily wins on this front with latencies around 25-35 milliseconds versus 13-30 ms for cable. Light moves quicker through the vacuum of space than it does traveling through hundreds of miles of buried fiber optic cables.

"The kinds of applications that need low latency connectivity, like video conferencing or multiplayer gaming or virtual reality…that‘s where satellite really shines," said Teresa Mastrangelo, principal analyst at Broadbandtrends.

This superior latency gives you that real-time internet experience that cable can struggle to deliver. But satellites have Achilles heels that counter their theoretical advantages.

Why Satellite Consistency Disappoints

You may be surprised to know that major cable providers deliver speeds extremely close to advertised rates under Federal Communications Commission testing. They utilize tried and true physical infrastructure that reliably performs.

Meanwhile, satellites contend with all the unpredictability of space. Weather disruptions, solar activity, brief gaps in coverage as satellites circle into position – this interference leads actual satellite speeds to underdeliver:

"Starlink adoption saw a dip this past year after initial excitement because consistency problems persisted," reported Ars Technica senior space editor Eric Berger. "Users experienced more lag, jitter, and outages than expected."

Amazon aims to overcome these hiccups through Kuiper‘s sophisticated self-healing network. But we won‘t know if they deliver until those satellites actually start spinning around Earth.

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest barrier curbing widespread satellite adoption…

Deployment Delays Dampen Potential

While Elon Musk loves making bold promises from his SpaceX HQ, rocketing thousands of satellites into orbit turns out to be pretty complex!

Amazon‘s Project Kuiper has faced years of delays itself. Some analysts doubt whether Amazon will hit their coverage targets before 2030 given the production and launch challenges.

These setbacks mean many interested users get stuck playing the waiting game for service to become available in their area. And by then, they may have little reason to switch from the cable internet already serving their needs.

But if Amazon manages to deploys their satellites swiftly and performance lives up to hype, they could disrupt the ISP industry‘s dynamics.

What Does the Future Hold?

Can emerging satellite networks revolutionize home internet with faster speeds, lower latency, and competitive pricing?

Well, analysts expect the satellite share of the US broadband market to grow from about 1% today to over 10% by 2030. However, some say that outlook depends on the FCC freeing up more radio spectrum.

Meanwhile, cable will continue dominating thanks to their entrenched position in populated areas. But competition may indirectly force them to invest in upgrades like DOCSIS 4.0 technology enabling multi-gigabit download speeds.

Between reliability improvements, proliferating satellite networks, new low orbit spectrum bids, and next-gen cable offerings – it‘s an exciting time in internet connectivity!

Which Should You Choose: Cable or Satellite?

So when it comes down to actually deciding how to get the internet piped into your home, should you stick with cable or take a chance on satellites?

For those with access to fast and consistent wired internet, cable likely still makes the most financial sense. Consumers often have bargain options under $50 a month that deliver plenty bandwidth for most needs.

Satellite shines for rural users lacking solid connectivity options. The coverage reach increases yearly as more celestial networks come online. Satellite really is the internet of the future for underserved areas!

Performance-wise, satellites show immense promise but have yet to demonstrate cable-like consistency. Gamers, streamers, and remote workers thirsty for low latency could trial run satellite given the high upside.

At the end of the day, I suggest letting your specific usage needs and location determine whether cable or satellite reigns supreme. Both technologies will continue pushing boundaries in the race to connect homes across America!

Let me know if you have any other questions – happy to chat more about your personal internet requirements.

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