Communication satellites handle three main types of traffic: data, broadcasting and telecommunications. Communication satellites' main advantages over other types of information delivery systems are that they can distribute signals from one satellite to many locations, and they don't require extensive infrastructure and capital investment.
Much of the world's Internet traffic goes through data satellites. Corporations and other organizations also buy satellite time or have their own satellites with very small aperture terminal networks used to send financial information and other types of data.
Radio and television broadcasts go out over satellite services offered to paying customers, who have satellite dishes set up on their homes or in their yards or have receivers in their automobiles. Network broadcasts and cable programming are largely delivered by satellite. Satellites also deliver programming to mobile devices, laptops and cell phones.
Telecommunication satellites deliver telephone calls and other types of services for telephone companies and cellular, mobile and wireless network companies.
As data, voice and video traffic increase, companies anticipate a corresponding increase in demand for communication satellites. Advances in technology are expected to allow satellites to handle more traffic as they gain more computer-processing power, and larger-aperture antennas are expected to accommodate more bandwidth. Also, improvements in propulsion systems should increase satellite life spans from 10 to 15 years to 20 to 30 years.