A LEO satellite is a satellite that orbits the Earth usually at an altitude between 160 – 2000 kilometers. LEO satellites are small and usually more than one is required in a network to provide internet coverage.
Although LEO satellites aren’t as good as fibre in terms of speed and latency, LEOS offer a quick way of providing internet connectivity in remote and other difficult to serve locations.
They can offer good download speeds (100 – 300Mbps), acceptable upload speeds (10 – 30 Mbps) and relatively low latency (10s of msec). These are broadly comparable with public 5G cellular services.
In principle the advantage of LEOS is the ability to be used almost anywhere. By comparison 5G cellular services are generally concentrated in urban areas.
In reality LEOS have some limitations, for example the system needs experience to setup in order to ensure antenna (dish) alignment. The system needs a clear unobstructed view of the sky which restricts use in city locations, hilly or heavily wooded areas etc. The system suffers the effects of contention so the more user there are in a given area the less satisfactory performance is likely to be.
LEOS can suffer outages / downtime due to poor weather (rain / snow) or issues with hand off between satellites, completeness of the orbiting satellite network etc. Mitigating these issues would be a reason for using in conjunction with a WAN router eg i-MO 255.
Costs for business grade services start from approximately £2500 (kit) plus £100/month (use) for Starlink Business. Higher prices apply to the Starlink Marine and Mobile solutions and to the OneWeb service which provides some QoS type undertakings.
The obvious alternative to LEOS is 4G / 5G cellular which can (location dependent) offer similar performance but is more straightforward to setup, more tolerant of environmental factors (buildings, trees etc) and typically cheaper; but of course dependent on the availability of mobile network services (public or private).
The two products can of course also complement each other. A LEOS system can be cabled to the WAN port of a cellular router (eg EMS i-MO 225) and that device configured to either failover from one service to another (eg Starlink to cellular) or alternatively to bond or load balance over all the available links eg Starlink plus diverse cellular.
EMS iMO OptiBond routers provide connectivity with Starlink and other LEOS as well as failover to other available networks. Find out more here.
Featured image NASA