In areas without land-based broadband service, satellite service is often the next best choice for high-speed internet. However, satellite broadband can be a little more complex to optimize than cable, fiber optic, or DSL service. Satellite-based internet can be viewed as a system with two main segments: the satellite system and the home network system. While this may sound confusing, it really isn’t. You just need to understand line of sight transmissions. Once you have that concept in mind, optimizing a satellite connection is no different than optimizing a traditional land-based home network. The basic steps to optimize your satellite connection are as follows:
- Make sure your dish is unobstructed and aimed correctly
- Make sure your modem or router is running the latest firmware
- If you are on Wi-Fi, place the router in the open and in the room where you use the web most
- For the fastest connection and best streaming, use a wired connection
The basics: Getting the signal to the dish
Your satellite dish receiver has two main components: the dish and the receiver. The role of the dish is to focus radio signals and reflect them onto the receiver, which sits in front of the dish. A satellite signal is what’s called a line of sight signal. That means that if there is something in the way between the line of sight from the center of the dish and the satellite in space, the signal will be degraded. The most important part of maximizing your satellite internet quality is properly orienting and placing the dish. To do this, you must first get the most accurate information that you can about the location of your satellite in space.
Your broadband satellite is in what is called a geosynchronous orbit, which means that it is about 22,000 miles above Earth’s surface, and its location is in a fixed point rotating with Earth. That means you can always know where your satellite because it is always in the same place. This is important because an ideal orientation of your dish relies on pointing it towards the satellite.
If your dish was set up by a professional installer, it should already be properly oriented. If you received your dish as a self-installation kit and are experiencing service issues, you should check a few things before moving inside and checking your network hardware. The first step is to call your service provider and asking for dish aiming assistance. A good provider should be able to ask you for your city and tell you the bearing of your satellite. Since geosynchronous satellites are located at the equator, the aiming direction should be generally south if you are in the Northern Hemisphere, and north if you are in the Southern Hemisphere.
To really tune in though, it’s best to get the direct bearing to your satellite; your service provider should be able to do this. For example, if you live in Tampa, Florida and your service is based on ViaSat-1 located at 115.1°W, the bearing to the satellite is roughly 235 degrees. If you get yourself a compass app for your smartphone and rotate yourself until it reads 235 (roughly southwest) you are facing your satellite. You should point your dish in this location and angle it upward at about 30 degrees. Finally, you need to make sure there are no obstructions in the way of your satellite’s view of the sky. If trees or buildings are in the path, you need to do your best to move the dish or alter the obstruction to give it a good view. If you do these steps, your dish should be optimized.
Optimizing your home network
Once you have ensured that your satellite dish is aimed correctly with an unobstructed view of the sky, the next step is to optimize your home network equipment. Your equipment will consist of either a combination modem and router, or separate modem and router boxes. Whether you have separate or combo units, these instructions will be the same. The main goal here is to ensure that the firmware is updated on the devices and get ideal placement of your wireless router.
On your router or modem, there should be a sticker that lists its IP address along with some other information. In case you don’t know what an IP address looks like, it will generally be a number with a format like this: 192.168.xx.xx. It is possible that your router and modem will have an IP with a different prefix than the 192.168, but those are less common.
Once you locate the IP address of your hardware, you should be able to sign onto your network and enter the address into a web browser. This should take you to the internal web page generated by the device. From there, you should see an option to update the firmware of the device. Locate that option and follow the instructions to update the firmware on your modem and router.
Finally, it is important to understand that Wi-Fi, while not a line of sight signal, is degraded by passing through solid objects. This means cabinets, walls, floors, and any other solid object. Generally, the denser the material, the more it will degrade the signal. For an optimum configuration, the router should be out in the open, in the upper third of the room, and in the same room as where you use the service most. For the best possible connection, a hard cable is always best.
Optimizing a satellite internet connection involves a little extra effort than optimizing a landline connection, but it isn’t as difficult as it may sound.
The takeaway is that you need to make sure that your satellite dish is properly oriented in both bearing and antenna elevation (point to the satellite bearing and tilt 30 degrees up) and that there are no trees or buildings between the dish and the sky. Secondly, optimize the components inside the house by updating the firmware of your devices and make sure your router is in the open, as unobstructed as possible, and ideally in the room where you use the service the most.
Finally, the fastest and most reliable connection is still with a good old-fashioned cable.
Bonus segment (do the math)
In general, a satellite dish elevation angle of 30 degrees will work fairly well in the Northern Hemisphere. If you want to get even closer to your exact elevation angle, you can use the formula below which is based on the distance over ground between you and your satellite. In our example, the distance from Tampa to ViaSat-1 is 2,483.3 miles as shown by Google Earth, and is at a bearing of 234.31°. The calculation only involves the distance, and makes the assumption that Earth is a perfect sphere of radius 3,958.75 miles and circumference of 24,901 miles. The formula for exact elevation angle is below: