Ofcom reports says satellite broadband ok for web browsing
Ofcom has published a report that should be required reading for local authorities taking part in the BDUK process, Understanding Satellite Broadband, though at 95 pages long, and 69 pages of appendixes it is not a quick read.
The report used volunteers to assess how good a Ku Band service was, i.e. what was available prior to July 2011 when the data for the report was being compiled.
Satellite services were compared to an ADSL service in four areas:
- Web browsing/streaming video
- Remote Desktop/VPN
- Online gaming
Now many would assume that people would prefer the ADSL service over satellite on all of these, but web browsing was actually scored as the better service. The extensive use of caching and pre-fetching by satellite services can explain some of this (HTTPS - secure pages are not cached of course), but the report did add the caveats that web browsing is increasingly featuring more interactivity and AJAX technology allows parts of a webpage to update outside the normal page load cycle.
Including streaming video in the web browsing category is odd, while many people launch video playback from a browser link, the actual playback is largely in a Flash control. Only short 2 to 3 minute news clips were used for the video testing, which given the usage limits many satellite services have may reflect the sort of usage people are limited to.
"Understanding the trend in Internet usage patterns for those in rural communities appears to be essential. The results of this trial indicated that QoE is highly dependent on application and so must be thought about in that context. A better definition of what are basic Internet services and what are luxury services would help guide future studies and understanding of what is ―good enough."Extract from Understanding Satellite Report
While the report focused on Ku band services, Ka band will have the same latency component but support higher speeds, though a warning is given that Ka band services may be more affected by weather conditions.
For those where satellite service is the only solution, services like Skype do work, but you often have higher contention to work with, resulting in latency and contention reducing video quality. For a small rural business that limits itself to sending/receiving email satellite is perfectly good, but if updating an online shop the web based applications can prove very frustrating, and the caching can result in you not seeing changes update. Video conferencing is adequate, though even a slow 300 Kbps ADSL service would generally offer a better quality two way stream. These comments come from experience, helping a rural broadband satellite service user who runs a small business from home.