Weather influences our lives in ways small and large — from the clothes we wear each day to travel plans, and even where we choose to live. It can also impact our internet service.
No type of internet service is completely immune from weather impacts, and weather extremes have the potential to wreak temporary havoc on communications systems of all kinds.
Wind can damage cell towers. Moisture may seep into underground cables. Raindrops can absorb and interfere with wireless signals, while snow and ice may accumulate on antennas. Intense heat may trigger increased demand for energy and strain electrical grids which, in turn, may affect some internet services. A cycle of freezing and thawing may cause ground heaves with the potential to move, split, or break fiber lines.
“If conditions are severe enough, all communications systems are susceptible,” said Remberto Martin, Viasat’s chief technical officer for global fixed broadband. “And all systems have methods to mitigate the effects.”
Mitigation methods are not foolproof, however, and customers may still be affected by weather-related impacts to internet access. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must also weigh the cost to stem such impacts, and the secondary and tertiary effects these mitigation efforts may have in the long term.
“To mitigate these impacts 100% of the time is not economical,” Martin said. “People would have to pay many times their current monthly service fees.
“If these weather-related disruptions affected subscribers frequently, it certainly wouldn’t be acceptable, but these disruptions typically occur briefly and infrequently.”
How weather impacts satellite internet
Because a satellite in space communicates through the atmosphere with terminals on the ground, certain kinds of weather between those two points can potentially interfere with the signal.
Another factor is signal frequency. Viasat primarily uses higher-frequency Ka-band technology. The advantages are significant. It provides speeds far beyond lower-frequency technologies, at costs competitive with terrestrial broadband service. But these higher-frequency bands may be more affected by moisture in the atmosphere.
Rain and wet snow, which can also interfere with cell phone and satellite TV signals, can absorb and temporarily degrade Ka-band radio frequency signals. But a storm must be heavy and prolonged to cause any disruption to satellite internet subscribers.
“ViaSat-3 will improve resiliency because rain at any one SAN site will be less likely to affect your performance.”
While outages are possible under such extreme circumstances, customers are more likely to notice only a temporary dip in speeds – if anything.
“While we know there are extremes, we try to engineer strategies that address both the duration and frequency of the inconvenience, based on average weather events,” Martin said.
Part of that strategy includes testing Viasat’s equipment to ensure it can withstand the elements.
As part of the manufacturing process, Viasat antennas, receivers, and other equipment are installed on simulated building structure roofs, walls, and ground poles. They are then subjected to wind load testing with a machine that produces gusts up to 120 mph.
Viasat also measures signal integrity. That includes several tests designed to ensure customers stay online without signal disruption.
Additionally, engineers at Viasat’s Network Operations Centers are constantly monitoring not only the health of the network itself, but mitigating against weather conditions that could impact it. That could include increasing power up to the satellite, giving the signal a better chance of pushing through a storm.
“We often mitigate by adjusting the technical characteristics of the transmission, so we trade speed for connectivity,” Martin said. “Your system may slow down in some cases, but we maintain your connection.”
Complicating the issue for customers, weather-related service disruptions don’t always originate close to a customer’s home. Bad weather could occur between a gateway antenna — a ground station that transmits data from the satellite to a particular region — and the satellite. But gateways can be connected to customers hundreds of miles away, so a customer may experience a weather disruption even when skies in their area are sunny and blue.
New satellite technology designed to lessen impacts
In keeping with Viasat’s belief in continuous improvement and always finding a better way, the latest generation of Viasat Ka-Band satellites features technology that aims to further mitigate these issues.
The upcoming ViaSat-3 global constellation is designed to rely on a ground system with a configuration unlike its predecessors. Each ground station or Satellite Access Node (SAN) will be smaller in size, yet there will be a greater number than with previous satellites. That means an issue impacting one SAN is unlikely to impact the system as a whole.
“ViaSat-3 will improve resiliency because rain at any one SAN site will be less likely to affect your performance,” Martin said. “If weather knocks out 10 sites, it’s probably not a high enough percentage of the network that it will impact your service.
That’s not the only improvement Viasat subscribers could see as the network expands.
“We think the addition of our ViaSat-3 satellites will create a better user experience for both current and new subscribers,” Martin said. “I think people are going to be thrilled with this new experience. You’ll be able to have faster broadband and a more resilient service, virtually anywhere.”
Today, independent evaluators rank Viasat a top provider for unserved and underserved areas. The popular technology website CNET recently named Viasat the “fastest satellite internet provider” on its 2022 list of best rural internet providers. It noted that “almost half of Viasat’s coverage area — essentially half of all households in the US, Alaska and Hawaii — are eligible for speeds up to 100Mbps.”
Viasat is excited to continue to improve service offerings to enable customers to live, work, learn, and do the things that most matter to them whenever and wherever they call home.
To learn more about Viasat’s plans, visit our website.