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For New Zealanders in regional areas out of reach of fixed-line services, satellite internet is often the best way to access a connection.

While many Kiwis have easy access to fibre, wireless and copper broadband, those that live outside urban areas do not have the same amount of options. Satellite internet is one alternative that New Zealanders in rural and remote locations can use to get connected when other forms of broadband are not available.

What is satellite internet?

Satellite internet is a broadband service that is mainly useful for people in rural or regional areas who don’t have access to high-speed fixed-line connections. It uses satellite signals to send and receive data. The service operates via an orbiting satellite in space which relays signals between a house and a fixed tracking station on the ground to allow internet access.

In order to connect to the internet this way, a house or business must have a satellite dish installed on its home to exchange data with the satellites circling the Earth. For Kiwis who can’t access ADSL, VDSL, Fibre or 4G, satellite internet is a last resort but one that works.

Where is satellite internet available?

Satellite internet is available throughout the country including Stewart Island, Kawau Island and Great Barrier Island. It is also accessible on the Chatham Islands. There are some geographical requirements (like having no overhanging obstructions) that must be met before proceeding with installation, but your provider will discuss any issues at the time of installation.

How does satellite internet work?

While the technology involved in satellite Internet is complex, there are only a few pieces of equipment required on your end to get it working:

  • Satellite dish. This is a big metal dish installed on your roof that can send and receive signals from an orbiting satellite. The satellite dish enables the signal to reach into your home and to your modem so that you can connect your various devices. No underground cables are needed, just a clear line of sight to the sky so that the data can be transmitted. If you have room for a large satellite dish, then this could be the option for you.
  • Cable. High-speed fibre optic cable connects your satellite dish to an ISP (internet service provider) connection box and allows for rapid transmission of information.
  • Modem. This hooks up directly to your ISP connection box and allows your devices to communicate with it, completing the connection between them and the ISP network. An appropriate modem will be supplied by your provider if you don’t already have one.

How fast is satellite internet?

Historically, satellite speeds have been very slow at 2 Mbps download but are increasing as technology improves. Gravity reports that its broadband speeds can reach up to 50Mbps since a new satellite was installed, while Farmside advertises top speeds of 16Mbps download and 2Mbps upload.

How much data do I need for satellite internet?

This largely depends on what you’re planning to use the Internet for. The table below gives you a rough idea of how much data certain online activities use up:

ActivityAverage data use
Web surfing2.5MB per page (about 60MB per hour)
Social media2.5MB per minute (with video content)
Music streaming1.5MB per minute
Standard video streaming12MB per minute
HD video streaming25MB per minute

Data usage calculator
Not sure how much data you use each month? We’ve got an easy data usage calculator that will give you an estimate in 90 seconds.
Click here to calculate your usage

Of course, when you use that data is very important, since peak data limits are generally much lower than off-peak. If you download a bunch of movies during the early hours of the morning and watch them during the day, you’ll be able to get away with much cheaper satellite plans.

Is satellite internet a good option?

When it comes to getting an internet connection in rural areas, it’s less about what makes a ‘good’ option and rather doing the best with what connection type you’re dealt.

The good news is that if you’re unhappy about the speeds and service you’re receiving from satellite internet, there may be other alternatives to satellite, so long as you have enough mobile network coverage. A huge number of rural and regional areas will soon enjoy improved mobile coverage thanks to Vodafone, Spark and 2degrees who are collectively working together to cover mobile blackspots by 2022.

With mobile broadband, you’ll be able to get data via the regular mobile network, and it could potentially be easier to set up and faster than what satellite internet can offer. There’s still a decision to make, though, because mobile broadband works out to be more expensive for the same amount of data. It might only be worth it if you don’t use the internet much or you can stomach the extra cost.

You can use Vodafone’s network coverage map or Spark’s map to check whether you’re within their coverage area.

What are the disadvantages of satellite internet?

Compared to fixed-line connections, satellite internet has a few downsides:

  • More variable speeds. Because you’re beaming a signal through the sky, satellite internet can be very prone to interference from weather and other things. Speeds in general are lower because of the way data is transferred.
  • Lower data caps. Due to the limited capacity of the satellites, data caps are much lower on satellite plans and data costs more.
  • Latency. Data has to travel a long way on a satellite connection. This can make online games very difficult to play.

Despite this, satellite internet has overall been a great boon for rural and regional users, boosting speeds over previous technologies.

3 things to help you find the best satellite internet plan

To help you find the best satellite Internet plan for your needs, here are 3 things we think you should keep in mind when comparing plans:

1. Speed

The speeds you can get with satellite differs with each provider, and you may have the option to choose from different options.

Think about how often and what you use the Internet for – if you’re not online very frequently, you could save by choosing a slower connection which will still allow you to do ‘light’ activities like browse the web and check emails.

If you want to be able to stream Netflix and have faster downloads, it makes sense to look for the best speed available.

2. Cost

Pricing will vary across different providers, depending on speed and data inclusions but most plans cost anywhere between $99 and $290 per month.

Keep in mind that while cheap plans might seem like they offer a solid chunk of data, these cheaper plans are often skewed towards having significantly lower peak-time data allowances, which is when most people spend their time online.

In addition to your monthly cost, there are installation and equipment costs to consider. These can be upward of $500, and may also include transportation costs for technicians to come out and set everything up.

3. Data allowance

Satellite plans are available with varying data allowances. The smallest data allowance currently available is 10GB but you can also get unlimited. Watch out for plans that seem to offer high data allowances but actually give you more data during hours you won’t be using it (off-peak times).

Since there can be a big difference in cost between data amounts, it’s important to work out what you will need before signing up. If you are not sure which option to choose, try our data usage calculator.

For the times when you need a little extra data than usual, data packs are usually available.

Which providers offer satellite broadband?

Choosing the best satellite Internet provider is highly dependent on where you live and what you’re looking for. The following providers offer satellite broadband in New Zealand:

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