What Is the Difference Between Satellite and Cable Television?

A primary difference between satellite and cable television is service availability, wherein satellite TV provides a wider coverage compared to cable TV. As long as the satellite antenna has an unobstructed line-of-sight to the broadcasting satellite, the antenna, or satellite dish, can be set up anywhere in the country. Cable TV, meanwhile, is usually limited within urbanized areas.

Cable and satellite TV are two of the leading broadcasting options that offer a wide selection of entertainment, news, family, lifestyle or sports channels for a specified subscription fee, usually paid on a monthly basis. Premium programming and pay-per-view services are generally available for an additional cost.

Cable TV subscribers usually receive access to around 80 channels, including 20 basic and another 50 to 60 standard channels. Basic satellite TV subscription packages, meanwhile, only carry around 40 to 50 channels. For extra content, premium offerings for cable TV programming include 200 to 300 additional channels compared to only 140 to 250 channels for satellite TV premium services.

Satellite and cable television also differ in the transmission process of the programming service to subscribers. Satellite TV transmits through the air, usually via a satellite dish, without relying on a physical connection between the service provider and subscriber. Cable TV, meanwhile, requires a hard-wired connection to a provider's wiring system, typically with the use of a coaxial or fiber-optic cable, before a subscriber gains access to the company's cable TV services.