by Garrett C. Hill, X2nSat CEO

Maybe you’ve used a hand-held satellite phone in a crisis situation. Watched DIRECTV at your remote cabin retreat in the Sierra Nevadas. Checked your Facebook account from your great-uncle’s Wisconsin farm via satellite Internet. If you were alive in 1973, you might have been one of a billion viewers who tuned in for Elvis’ blockbuster performance Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite.

But do you really know what a satellite is? It’s a word that gets bandied about incorrectly quite often.

Let’s start with the “big picture” definition. According to NASA, a satellite is a moon, planet, or machine that orbits a planet or star. For example, Earth is a natural satellite because it orbits the sun. Moons are natural satellites of planets.

Artificial satellites – devices created and designed to be launched into orbit – are the variety we’re interested in here at X2nSat. But that’s still a broad category. It’s important to me that people understand the variety of satellites that are out there. As someone who works in the satellite industry intimately and daily, I’m acutely aware of the many myths and misconceptions about satellites, specifically regarding their reliability and uses.

Satellites exist in several different forms and functions. Let me explain using a simple analogy.

If you were put in charge of planning a business retreat or conference for a large group requiring quality, adaptable conference room facilities, you probably would be embarrassed and disappointed if you – not knowing anything about a particular hotel chain – booked a Motel 6.

Your group would arrive and quickly discover that the rooms were small and difficult to share, that there was no restaurant or bar on the premises (which would really ruin my day!), and that there were no conference rooms or meeting facilities.

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Motel 6 – it’s an efficient, low-cost motel chain that provides a particular experience in appropriate situations. But for a convention or meeting location catering to business travelers, the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, which has 59 meeting rooms and 117,000 square feet of total meeting space – including a ballroom offering a capacity of 5,500 – would be a much better choice.

The confusion in understanding satellites lies in the fact that they are often defined by tech types who categorize satellites based on the type of orbit they’re in: Low Earth, Sun Synchronous, Geosynchronous or Geostationary. If you really want to understand the distinctions between these types, as well as read tomes on satellite sub-systems, early satellite conceptions and the full history of artificial satellites, check out this exhaustive page on Wikipedia.

But it makes more sense to me, and usually to my audience, to explain satellites in terms of their function rather than their orbiting habits.

Put simply, satellites are manufactured equipment shot into orbit and specifically designed to provide some sort of service to us here on Earth: research, communication, weather, navigational and/or application services. Some are designed to provide us with television access, some for handheld phones, some are blasted up into space to measure weather patterns, and some have had their beams aimed right at Elvis in the Hawaiian islands.

Our satellite services here at X2nSat are specific to the business world, and are designed to work efficiently and unfailingly to provide communications on a larger, more corporate level than, say, an individual residential use with which most people are familiar.

Go outside at dusk, or dark, and look up for a few minutes. Before long, you’ll probably see one of thousands of satellites that have been launched into orbit, including one or two that allow X2nSat to provide our communications solutions to businesses, public utilities, and more right here on Earth.

As a shout-out to you tech types who have been wondering this whole time what we use, I’ll appease your curiosity: Geosynchronous Ku-band satellite.

As Elvis sang on that night in February 1973, “Welcome to My World.”

Coming up: Next month, I’ll delve into the above hotel analogy and how it applies to the features and amenities you need from your satellite provider.

About the Author

As CEO and founder, Mr. Hill guides the vision and cutting-edge culture of X2nSat, one of the most veteran VSAT providers in North America. In 1996, he founded this forward-thinking satellite communications company with a mission to provide highly reliable, wireless network and communication solutions to a variety of North American industries.