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Survey Wrongly Claims 1.3 Million UK Homes Use Satellite Broadband

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 (12:01 am) - Score 3,888
space satellite broadband spacecraft

A somewhat questionable new survey from Uswitch, which is based on feedback from a nationally representative sample of 4,002 UK adults, has boldly claimed that 1.3 million UK households are already using a satellite broadband connection. But we can’t find anything to substantiate such a figure.

The survey is designed to examine the potential market for satellite based broadband services and to highlight what caveats may exist, at least from the consumer perspective. For example, it found that 66% of respondents would be “put off” buying such a service because of the huge setup (hardware) costs, which in some cases can reach about £500 (e.g. Starlink), although others (e.g. KONNECT) can add this through an affordable monthly rental.

Interestingly, those who said they used a Satellite connection were asked how much they paid (per month) for the service, which returned an average result of £29.70 (the average for all broadband users was £33.60). This, to us at least, suggests that most are taking entry-level packages from the existing generation of GEO / GSO satellites in a higher earth orbit (around 35,000km), rather than Starlink’s £89 per month LEO solution (still technically a beta).

The advantage of such services is that they can technically achieve virtually universal coverage (i.e. provided the dish is mounted high enough and your view of the sky isn’t obstructed), which makes them useful in remote rural areas. But despite this, some 27% of households told the survey that they didn’t believe the service was available in their area, while 46% fear the weather in their area would be too bad for it (this can be an issue during certain events, but modern services can cope reasonably well with bad weather).

Overall, only two fifths of consumers (41%) are aware of satellite broadband, while just 14% have considered trying it out. Part of the problem may be a lack of brand recognition, with three quarters of UK consumers not having heard of any satellite ISPs. Starlink, which hasn’t even had its full commercial launch yet, is however the best known, recognised by 1 in 10 UK people.

Finally, more than half of satellite broadband users (53%) say it offers a better alternative than traditional connections, with two fifths (41%) saying it is faster than the alternatives (obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t have resorted to it), and three in ten (31%) believing it to be cheaper, but the latter really requires a more involved comparison (i.e. gauging value to rural users).

Admittedly, services that use GEO / GSO satellites tend to run into problems with much slower speeds at peak times, as well as terrible latency performance (no good for fast-paced online games) and restrictions on data use. The new generation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) systems, such as from SpaceX’s Starlink or OneWeb, seem like they could resolve many such bugbears, but only time will tell how sustainable they are.

Now back to that figure of 1.3 million, which is based on just 189 people in the survey saying they had satellite. We think it’s wrong. Ofcom said a few months back that “in recent years, we have reported GSO satellite customer subscriptions in the low tens of thousands” and we’d tend to agree with that.

Looking at some company data – the largest UK satellite ISP bigblu, before being acquired by Eutelsat, had “several tens of thousands of subscribers” across the whole of Europe. But a case could perhaps be made for c.100,000 or a bit more – across all ISPs – in the UK. However, ISPreview doesn’t even remotely see the level of feedback you’d expect from a service with 1.3 million UK households under its belt. We think some respondents may be confusing Sky’s Satellite TV dishes with broadband connectivity, which does happen.

The good news is that a new generation of satellite broadband solutions, particularly LEO providers, but also modern GEO/GSO platforms, are starting to foster somewhat of a renaissance of this technology. But one thing this survey clearly shows is that if the Government wants to push those as a rural connectivity solution, then they’ll have to do a bit more work on the awareness and affordability front.

We’d also like to see Satellite ISPs being held to tougher quality standards by Ofcom and the advertising authority (ASA), as at present it’s more like the wild west of markets. But admittedly this can be tricky because many of the actual operators are not UK based, even if some ISPs are.

UPDATE 8:54am

Ofcom has kindly furnished us with a more specific figure than the one we used above. The regulator estimated there were around 27,000 fixed satellite broadband connections at the end of 2020 (residential and SME), based on data from providers, and estimates for providers who haven’t submitted data to Ofcom. So.. not quite 1.3 million there 🙂 .

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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35 Responses
  1. JP says:

    April 1st…. nope…. check….

    Uswitch, Yes…. ahh that explains it.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      I’m sure Uswitch just get asked to provide survey results and go away and come up with exactly what they’re clients ask for. Bit like a bargain basement ONS then!

    2. Mark says:

      @Buggerlugz

      To be fair that’s what most polling companies do – keep the client sweet and they’ll come back for more.

    3. Buggerlugz says:

      Guess Uswitch are outside the remit of OFCOM and the ASA then……even though they’re basically selling broadband products.

    4. CarlT says:

      What have the ONS said that you don’t like so therefore must be inaccurate, Lugz?

    5. Buggerlugz says:

      I find that almost everything that comes out of the ONS is politically skewed to result in the “required” figures for one reason or another. You can’t trust anything when the data you’re given always has some agenda behind it.

      The truth and accepting the real results regardless of the outcome seems to have gone out the window these days. Its always about following a narrative.

  2. André says:

    Yet another useless survey with conclusions derived from statistical models a 5 year old would have come up with.
    Mark, one does wonder if there is any point in publishing this sort of thing.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Often the reason for publishing is precisely because I want to give such studies the correct context or balancing arguments. Otherwise, what happens is that you see mainstream media just re-pasting them as factual or one-sided articles, which can influence politicians and other decision makers into believing something that may not be correct.

    2. André says:

      Fair point, I did notice that you tend to counterpoint many of them.
      Thank you for that 😀

    3. Buggerlugz says:

      Yes, I can certainly see our totally untechnical, unqualified and easily corruptible politicians believing this. In fact, having those traits makes it all the more likely!

  3. Justin says:

    Oh good grief. An un-validated survey cross referenced with no other data sources (like Connected Nations Data) or common sense.

    Q/ “Do you use satellite broadband?”

    A/ “Yes of course, I get my broadband from Sky and it all comes through the satellite dish doesn’t it?”

    Errrr….. no

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Ask the right question, get the answer you want.

    2. Pezza says:

      You’d be amazed at how many people think that, or asked why it doesn’t do that.

  4. DaveG says:

    Maybe they should have followed up by asking which company they got their satellite broadband from.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      ^ Exactly 🙂 .

  5. James says:

    Potentially a mix-up people thinking they meant having satellite as in Sky TV

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      Which is what Uswitch obviously wanted to skew the results.

    2. Phil says:

      Yep, I have family members that have Sky with broadband and they think the broadband comes via the satellite.

    3. Paul M says:

      Sky did say that they use the satellite service to preload popular programs into three sky+ boxes before making them available for on-demand.
      It’s hard to beat the effective bandwidth of a 50Mb/s broadcast data stream too many millions of homes.

    4. Paul M says:

      Sigh. Autocorrect.

      three -> their

  6. Pezza says:

    The sample size they used for their survey would be instantly void anyway, it’s far too low for any meaningful data, U Switch do make stuff up a lot, I don’t think their awards mean much either.1.3 million, I’m surprised they didn’t claim it was 5 million as it would be just as much a fantasy figure they’d made up.

    1. Paul M says:

      1.3M seems like a specific number. If they were making it up, then “up to two million” would sound better while being suitably vague.

  7. Jacob says:

    Also note that many customers using fixed wireless networks with dishes to connect to the internet e.g., from quickline may call there connections satellite.

    1. wirelesspacman says:

      I agree with you Jacob. We are a very small FWA provider and over the years I have had quite a few of our customers refer to our service as “satellite”. Would thus not surprise me at all if a chunk of those responding had FWA (albeit from one of the much larger providers).

    2. craski says:

      ++ on this. Also running a tiny fixed wireless network and almost everybody refers to it as satellite despite having explained the differences to them many times!

  8. Terry says:

    To play devil’s advocate, if 189 people out of a 4,000 respondent, nationally representative survey said they had satellite broadband, that’s roughly 5% of adults. That will be how they got the 1.3 million figure.

    My guess is that people didn’t fully realise what satellite broadband is and maybe thought that mobile broadband counts as satellite because it comes from a phone mast. Either that or Ofcom are really behind on tracking these types of connections.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of people looking into satellite broadband is growing though. Look at all the investment going into OneWeb and Starlink, not to mention all the other providers like Broadband Everywhere, Konnect, Freedomsat etc.

  9. Christine conder says:

    gotta love statistics. they can be made to say anything you want them to. Bit like the claim of BT calling FTTC ‘fibre’ broadband. No decent regulator or advertising standards authority to sort it out, and the comparison sites are, as this article proves, deliberately misinforming people.

    1. HDB3 says:

      That was Virgin Christine. Virgin claimed in a TV advert with Dawn French that their HFC network was fibre. A complaint was made to the ASA and they ruled that it could be called fibre because it did include an element of fibre in the last mile.

      Following that ruling, everyone who sold FTTC adopted the term fibre broadband.

    2. Winston Smith says:

      Actually, in both FTTC and HFC networks, data travels in fibre everywhere *but* the ‘last mile’.

    3. Buggerlugz says:

      The difference is last mile is coax with Virgin and with BT’s its 50 year old 1mm twisted pair. Virgins HFC may as well be fibre, twisted pair on the other hand isn’t (and never will be) anything close.

    4. GNewton says:

      “Virgin claimed in a TV advert with Dawn French that their HFC network was fibre.”

      Two wrongs don’t make a right. Neither coax nor twisted pair copper is fibre.

  10. I am Dave says:

    I used a satellite service about 8 years ago, no fttc, adsl 500Kbs 28 euro’s per month, constant loss of service due to the line.
    Costs
    Hw 199 euro’s
    Installation 0 (did it my self, tricky but not impossible) alt price 199 euro’s
    Monthly 30 euros 8Mbs 8Gbytes
    95% availability (snow and heavy rain blocks signal very effectively)
    Skype no issues
    Gaming, no time for gaming
    Web/email/ftp no problem

  11. Mr F says:

    I would have thought the answer is obvious: 1.3 million people are ignorant to the fact that their sky broadband subscription is NOT ‘satellite broadband’

    This also emphasises the public’s general ignorance to a plethora of ‘BS’ marketing ploys by BT and other Telco’s in advertising ‘super fast fibre’ and ‘the UK’s fastest WiFi’ etc etc

  12. Optimist says:

    This report was discussed on Talk Radio this morning. Neither James Max nor his guest queried the veracity of the 1.3 million figure.

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