What Is the Difference Between Microwave and Satellite Communications?

Microwave communications are used for short-range communications, while satellite communications can be established over long distances. Microwave communications are ideal for television and radio broadcasts, while satellite communications are used for communicating to ships and aircrafts, relaying telephone calls and providing communications to remote areas.

Microwaves can be focused and received via aerial antennas. Microwave signal range does not extend far beyond the visible horizon. Receivers are commonly placed on top of high buildings or hilltops and mountain peaks because the higher the receiver is, the farther the signal can be broadcast. The United States has been spanned by a network of microwave relay stations since the 1960s.

Satellite communication transfers signal via satellite and, depending on the type of system used, can reach all areas of Earth. They do not require installed fixed assets, ground infrastructure or specifically located ground stations. They are used for providing satellite telecommunication, links to direct broadcasting, satellite phone service and individual satellite communication links.

Microwave and satellite communications work together through passive and active satellites. Passive satellites are plastic balloons with a metal coating that reflect microwave signals coming from one part of the Earth to another. Active satellites amplify the microwave signals received.