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Understanding Broadband Satellite Internet Speeds

As a consumer of broadband internet access in general, and specifically broadband satellite internet access, it can sometime be confusing just what you are getting with all the various service offerings that are available. This discussion will attempt to clarify some of the issues involved. We will use the HughesNet products as an example internet access product. However, the points of discussion are also valid for other fixed site satellite internet access services like WildBlue and the Inmarsat portable Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) products, as well as to DSL and Cable internet service.

First, it is important to note that most internet access speeds are quoted using two numbers. For example, the HughesNet HOME service plan provides data speeds of 700 Kbps / 128 Kbps. What do these numbers mean to the average user?

The first number in the data speed (700 Kbps) refers to the speed with which data can come from the internet down to the user’s computer. Kbps refers to Kilo Bits Per Second. You will sometimes see the term “KBps” with a capitol “B”. This refers to Kilo Bytes Per Second, and can be derived by dividing Kbps by eight.

The second term in the data speed reference (128 Kbps) refers to the “upload speed”, or the speed with which data can be sent up to the internet from a user’s computer. So in this example, the user can send 128,000 bits (or 16,000 bytes) of data to the internet each second.

Why are there two speeds? Studies have shown that the vast majority of internet data transfer is going from the internet to a user’s computer. Only a small percentage of the total data transferred is going in the “upward” direction, toward the internet. For example, when a user enters a website address into a web browser, only the website address is sent “UP” to the internet. This uses only a few bytes. The selected website code is then sent back “Down” to the user’s computer, where it is decoded by the web browser (like MS Internet Explorer) and displayed on the user’s computer display. This downward direction data may be many thousands of Bytes.

Therefore, for the average user it makes sense to make the downward internet speed much faster than the upward speed. This allows the most efficient use of the available bandwidth. However, users with heavy upload requirements may experience slower overall speeds than a typical user. In this case, the user may need to select a product like the HughesNet ElitePlus package. ElitePlus provides speeds of 3 Mbps / 300Kbps, or about two times as much upload speed (4.2 times as much download speed) as the Home plan.

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