Which is more reliable, cable or satellite?

There’s a myth that cable is more reliable. And folks, it’s just a myth. But to be fair let’s look at both systems and talk about why one would be more reliable than another, and why people would have those false notions.

Cable is going to vary in reliability. You can say that 98% of cable customers aren’t having problems at any given time. However, the most common issue with any sort of TV signal that comes from the ground is going to be a cut wire. Most likely, a piece of fiber or coaxial cable is cut because you dig in the wrong place, because of rodents or decay or something like that. A repair of that type will always take a visit from a cable installer and will usually require some sort of digging to find the problem, unless it’s pretty obvious from the hole you created.

This means that outages for cable tend to last longer because you have to call and then get an appointment and wait for the person and then they have to show up, and sit in the van and do whatever they do before they ring your bell. If you are in an apartment complex matters could be worse because usually those issues are solved by a contractor who may or may not try to pawn the problem off on the main company.

OK, let’s say this up front: satellite signals sometimes fade out when it rains. Although recent numbers say that satellite TV is up for customers over 99.5% of the time, when signal does go out it’s usually weather-related. The good news is that as soon as the rains are over the signal comes back and you don’t have to wait for an installer to show up. This gives satellite a clear edge on reliability.

Yes, sometimes there is a cabling problem or a dish aiming problem or something that requires an installer and in a case like that you could have to wait for an appointment. Or, you could follow easy steps to make replacement cables for yourself, learn how to aim a dish by yourself using just your satellite receiver, or even replace your own hardware. Unlike cable TV, that’s completely ok with a satellite TV company. Even if you are waiting for a service call, you could certainly try and even if you don’t do a perfect job, you might do well enough that you can wait for a tech to come by.

Why do people think satellite reliability is an issue?
It comes down to quantity, really. In the very rare case that there’s an outage caused at the system level (for example a satellite failure or something like that) then millions of people are affected at the same time. If you stick a shovel down in the ground and hit a buried fiber line, you’re affecting just yourself. So obviously a real satellite outage (which is super-rare) is going to be big news and you’re going to hear about it. Cable providers have national outages too, but I’ll admit they’re also super rare.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.