Satellite vs LTE For Back-up Services

Satellite vs LTE For Back-up Services

Defining the key reasons why satellite is an attractive option

VSAT Broadband Satellite Internet

Network reliability – customers need it, yet don’t want to pay for it, and network architects want to deliver it, yet are not using the most effective tool. Physics and network fundamentals make satellite services, the most effective, highest spec back-up services. If this is true, then why is satellite not used by every network engineer and specified by every customer request?

Facts or Perception?

The true answer – perception. Years of marketing indoctrination by the major and most effective telco marketing machines have created the belief that VSAT services are “old”, expensive and has a latency problem. Right? …mmmm maybe not anymore.

According to Statista the entire advertising market in South Africa in 2019 is estimated to be worth R30.4 billion and that some of the largest advertisers are the telcos such as Vodacom and Mobile Telephone Network. (

As a network architect and system engineer, it is critical that we base our views and recommendations on the latest facts and not on perceptions we unconsciously formed by very effective marketing campaigns.

As we will discuss in this article the facts for satellite services build a compelling case as a back-up medium, much more compelling than the popular 5G thinking.

Key user requests

We live in a real world, with real challenges and daily risks to the implementation and operation of all networks. All these challenges have to be solved in order to meet the demand for “anywhere, always-on” connectivity.   From a user perspective the summary requirements are actually very simple:

100% Uptime

100% uptime, anywhere and all the time. This means at all business premises regardless of the location and the available fixed infrastructure. It also means at all times regardless of macro challenges such as power load shedding or damage to physical networks through theft or construction.

Low cost

The second requirement is the cost. In today’s world, “always-on” is the norm, the default expectation, it is not a justification for extra expenses.

Requirements Translated

While the user requirements are neatly defined as reliability and cost, for the network architect these include some tough design requirements such as:

Power Resilient. Any network primary or back-up link must remain in service regardless of power disruptions or load shedding, a SA reality for the foreseeable future. This applies to power disruption at the customer premises as well as in the region.

Full National Coverage. A back-up network solution must provide guaranteed available at all possible business locations. This includes all metro areas, all development areas and all business spots throughout the country.

Guaranteed SLA. Your back-up network provider must be able to commit to service levels and site repair times contracted with the end user. When the primary link fails, and your back-up service is “best-effort” then the net service to the user is going to be “best-effort”. 

Alternative, Seamless integrated and managed. Simplicity is extremely complex (Richie Norton). Back-up networks must be seamlessly integrated with the primary network with full end-point management access and guaranteed service levels.  

Cost. The customer wants low-cost or free, either way, you do not have the option to bill for a duplicate link. The back-up solution must allow for “pay-per-use” or “included as part of the primary” costing models so that the value of “100% uptime” is not translated to a double charge for the link.

Satellite vs LTE

With the end user requirement defined as 100% available plus low-cost operation and these then further translated to 5 key requirements, we can now have a much more quantitively discussion to evaluate satellite vs LTE for back-up services.

Coverage. Satellite provides 100% signal coverage at literally any location whereas LTE is only available in selected areas.  LTE services is further compromised through power failures and load shedding making the possible LTE coverage even less.

Power. Satellite services are totally independent from any network power or possible load shedding. If the end user has power on site the satellite service will be operational and undisrupted. While LTE services are generally not affected by power availability the situation in South Africa with the regional load shedding has now greatly compromised the continued availability of LTE services.

Guaranteed SLA. Satellite service provides are mostly private operators who readily commit to service uptime and site response SLA’s terms while LTE services provided by the mobile operators remains a best-effort service with now service guarantees or response SLA option.

Integration and Managed. Satellite networks provide closed end user network options with full end-to-end layer 2 integration and seamless management integration options. LTE services remain part of the public mobile networks which limits the integration thereof with end user services

Low cost. The recent industry developments and the introduction of high throughput satellite has enabled a total change in satellite service costing models. This has enabled service options at as low as 5c/MB compared to LTE services at around 15c/MB.


In the continuous drive to meet end user network requirements for 100% uptime and lower cost, a quantitative review of the satellite provides as outlined in this discussion clearly provides significant advantages over LTE. The question then is: Is your view of LTE as the preferred back-up service option still based on marketing conditioning or on objective facts?

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