Without satellite communications, global enterprises and essential government services would grind to a halt. Learning the basics of how satellite communications work and their benefits can help organizations select the best service providers.

Global enterprises and international institutions require timely access to data anywhere in the world. Whether sailing across an ocean or conducting military operations in the desert, satellite communications form the bedrock of modern connectivity.

Even under the most adverse environmental conditions, satellites can provide reliable, continuous communications when cellular networks and internet service providers fail or don’t offer private, secure enterprise-grade telecommunications. Understanding the basic principles of how satellite communications work can help organizations choose a full-service provider.

What are satellite communications?

The technology behind satellite communications has evolved to accommodate internet connectivity and high-speed, low-latency capabilities. Previously, satellites were mainly deployed to transmit and receive radio and television broadcasts, which both require a robust and reliable signal.

The technical term for a communications satellite is a “very small aperture terminal,” or VSAT. The advantages of VSATs over larger devices are better portability, less energy required to operate them and less upkeep to maintain the system. Currently, VSATs can be as compact as an average-sized suitcase, which has made them more widely accepted for business continuity and disaster recovery.

Before the advent of VSATs, satellite dishes were much more complicated, making it almost impossible for an organization to utilize them for business communications. Aside from science studies and military purposes, satellites in the enterprise weren’t nearly as common decades ago as they are today. Now, they’re business-critical assets that can transform the enterprise when properly configured and optimized.


How do satellite communications work?

At its core, satellite communication service combines several technologies, such as digital signal transmission and encryption, to send and receive information across vast distances. Inadequate or non-existent telecommunications infrastructure makes it hard to transmit data to remote or underdeveloped areas reliably, so satellite communications services fill the void.

There are two necessary components in any satellite configuration:

  • Terrestrial stations.
  • Space modules.

Transmissions originate from a terrestrial station, most often from a parabolic dish antenna, and travel to a space module (i.e., a satellite) that orbits Earth. Upon receiving signals, the satellite amplifies transmissions before resending messages back to Earth.

When transmissions arrive at a different terrestrial station, VSATs re-amplify the signal. The result is faster, more resilient signal integrity as satellites operate as a geographically dispersed network with multiple endpoints.

Types of satellite communications

Generally, there are three different types of satellites. Each one works best for different use cases, which is why companies can benefit so much from X2nSat’s expertise. Using the wrong kind of satellite can be detrimental to the business since global enterprises depend on constant connectivity. These are the three main types of satellite communications:

  • Fixed-satellite services.
    • Fixed-satellite services are a general arrangement, which consists of satellite stations that don’t change locations. Multiple satellites may connect to the same fixed locations to form a network, but sometimes this configuration also includes satellite-to-satellite networking. Broadband internet providers rely on fixed-satellite services to achieve high availability, minimize downtime and backup their communications.
  • Mobile-satellite services.
    • Mobile-satellite services include terrestrial stations that are both portable and compact. Organizations can configure and operate mobile-satellite services very quickly in case of emergency. One example of mobile-satellite service in action is when a hospital needs a failover system when it loses power. Without mobile-satellite services, doctors may not be able to deliver life-saving care during a disaster.
  • Broadcast-satellite services.
    • This type of satellite service is the easiest to relate to since it’s precisely how television providers transmit signals directly to consumers. Fixed services and mobile services don’t reach the general public in most cases. Broadcast satellites work best when transmissions need to have a consistent strength, which consumers have come to expect.

These three varieties of satellite communications all have their perks; however, the benefits of using each type vary depending on an enterprise’s needs, resources and IT maturity.

What are the benefits of satellite communications for enterprises?

Every enterprise, whether in New York or Hong Kong, has unique business challenges, so maximizing the benefits of satellite communications depends upon how the technology aligns with a company’s goals. At a fundamental level, satellite communications must support the business and its customers.

For example, an oil and gas company that operates dozens of drilling rigs around the world needs a different grade of connectivity than a startup investment firm. Generally, the financial industry at large has no use for mobile-satellite services when fixed-satellite services will suffice and keep connectivity costs low.

The expertise that X2nSat’s engineers can provide is indispensable when seeking ways to get the most value from a satellite communications provider. A quick look at each benefit shows why.

  • Global coverage
    • Satellites make it possible to network communications around the world in a versatile, secure way. Service levels are comparable or better than cell tower connectivity without the need to implement the additional technology.
  • Reliability
    • Reliability refers to how robust a system is when unexpected events happen. When local telecommunications go down, including internet service, satellite communications can take their place when enterprises need connectivity the most.
  • Security
    • Transmitting proprietary information over the public internet is a non-starter for many industries, such as aerospace and defense. Likewise, the U.S. military would never risk having communications intercepted by a foreign adversary. Satellite communications give enterprises a way to secure their most sensitive information in an encrypted, private network.
  • Scalability
    • Scalability is arguably the most significant benefit. Even top-dollar VSAT systems don’t require substantial capital investments in infrastructure. Enterprises have the advantage of building a modular communications system one step at a time as needed.
  • Fast deployment
    • Satellite communications also have a better deployment time. Since satellite services can reach remote regions and underdeveloped areas, there is no need to invest in landline or mobile infrastructure to remote areas. Satellite communications require so little setup that emergency responders use them frequently in disaster zones when local support goes down.
  • Cost savings
    • The cost benefits of satellite communications give enterprises more flexibility to build systems at a reasonable price. Other than deploying the VSATs themselves, there is no need to purchase expensive hardware, middleware and custom software. X2nSat has plenty of experience pinpointing opportunities to cut costs and improve service.

What is the role of satellite communications in emergency management and disaster recovery?

Emergency situations, such as hurricanes and urban flooding, are when satellite communications shine most. These types of natural disasters often wipe out cell towers and mobile infrastructure, which places first-responders in harm’s way without a reliable means to coordinate life-saving operations.

With no downtime, hand-held satellite phones can take the place of mobile communications until providers can restore service. Sometimes, restoring full service to a major metropolitan area can take several days, if not weeks. Modern satellite phones are nearly the same size as smartphones and work just as well in an emergency situation.

Why are some businesses hesitant to use satellite communications?

Many enterprises may not understand how affordable satellites communications have become. There is a misconception that satellite networks don’t have a place in the enterprise since mobile communications work so well.

The problem is, many companies don’t realize that satellites are an option and provides many of the same benefits as mobile services. The following myths are common among businesses with a negative stereotype of satellite communications.

  • Myth 1: Satellite communications cost too much
    • Among several misconceptions, the price tag is the number one reason why enterprises think that there is no need for satellite services. A well-configured VSAT network may cost less than a newly implemented enterprise mobility solution, which often needs more IT resources to function well.
  • Myth 2: Satellite communications have high latency
    • High latency is another common myth, especially for telecommunications operators that depend on the speed of service to differentiate themselves from competitors. The limitations of shared wireless resources may pose more of an issue than minimal satellite latency if the worst-case scenario occurs.


What are the things to look for when working with a satellite communications provider?

Satellite communications require a systematic approach, but the good news is that a proven provider knows how to make a system operational in as little as 30 days. Offering a breadth of additional capabilities, such as voice support and ongoing maintenance, is another feature of the top providers.

The professionals at X2nSat have the experience to help enterprises understand the benefits of satellite services and implement the solution at a lower cost than the typical telecommunications provider. At a minimum, a quality satellite provider will guide an organization through the implementation process and integrate the solution seamlessly with other enterprise systems.

About the Author

Cara is the marketing coordinator at X2nSat. She's a social media maverick, a content genius, and an author in her spare time. Writing and marketing are her true passions.