Understanding VSAT Technology

What is VSAT Technology?

VSAT stands for “Very Small Aperature Terminal.” In layperson’s terms, it’s satellite internet. VSAT systems are used where it’s impossible to get internet through normal methods, for example while at sea or in a remote area.

How is VSAT Technology different from regular internet?

VSAT systems use more technology than a regular internet connection. In addition to the router, Wi-Fi, etc, there’s special equipment for communicating with the satellite.
There are two important ways that the customer experience is different with VSAT compared to home or business internet. Speeds are generally lower, but still high enough to stream in many cases. Latency is higher as well. Latency describes the amount of time you wait after clicking on something. It’s what makes the internet “feel” fast or slow.

What extra equipment is used for VSAT systems?

VSAT systems need an antenna. This is a complicated, self-aiming satellite dish usually enclosed in a white “gumdrop.” This dish keeps in constant, two-way communication with a satellite 22,000 miles up which links up to the rest of the internet. The antenna works with a below decks unit, or BDU, which lets the satellite antenna know which satellite to aim at and gives billing information like the access card in a satellite TV system. Finally, a special internet service provider is needed. Regular internet companies like Charter and Spectrum don’t have the tech to work with VSAT. Signal Connect is an internet service provider for VSAT systems.

Where can I use VSAT technology?

Most VSAT systems work up to 100 miles offshore. Compare this to cellular systems which stop working once you are 3-5 miles offshore.

Who are the major players in the VSAT market?

Signal Connect works with all the big manufacturers in order to make sure that our customers get the internet service they need. Here are the companies we recommend to our customers:

  • Intellian provides satellite antennas and support for VSAT equipment.
  • iDirect makes below decks units for Intellian VSAT antennas.
    WorldLink and Isotropic sell satellite internet service in bulk, that dealers can sell to customers. Signal Connect buys this service and resells it. WorldLink and Isotropic do not sell to customers.
  • Viasat sells their own antenna and BDU, as well as their own service.
  • Signal Connect buys this service in bulk and offers it to customers.

Will my customer be happy with VSAT?

We find that most customers are very happy with VSAT service. Unfortunately it’s not possible to get speeds fast enough for 20 people to stream Netflix at the same time. However, the speed is fast enough for a large number of people to shop online, get emails, and use social networking. It’s generally fast enough for 1-2 people to stream video at the same time. Once you understand this limitation, it’s very satisfying.

Customers need to know up front that VSAT is much more expensive than traditional home internet. The cost of equipment is higher, and the monthly charges are higher. Most of the time, people who travel more than 5 miles offshore want the best of everything, exclusive of cost.

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.