Compare Your Options for Satellite Internet Service

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Satellite Internet Options for 2021

Viasat HughesNet
  • 15-300 GB of monthly data
  • Up to 100 Mbps download speeds
  • $50 - $200 per month (with discount for first three months)
  • 10-50 GB of monthly data
  • Up to 25 Mbps download speeds
  • $60 - $150 per month

Viasat and HughesNet are currently America’s top two satellite internet providers, reaching many of the small towns and rural areas that the major broadband companies haven’t reached. If you live in an area where cable and fiber internet don’t offer service, satellite internet is probably what you’re looking for.

Between the two, Viasat offers the faster download speeds and the higher data allowances. Viasat’s top plan, Unlimited Platinum 100, is the perfect satellite internet solution for the household that needs high speeds and lots of data. It comes with 100 Mbps download speeds and 300 GB of priority data per month, with unlimited data at reduced speeds after that allowance is used up (more on data later). If your household has a lot of devices connecting to the internet or does a lot of HD streaming, Viasat’s Unlimited Platinum 100 is probably the plan you need.

Future Satellite Internet Options

For now, Viasat and Hughesnet are your only real options when it comes to satellite internet. But there are some other projects in the works that are worth keeping an eye on.

Starklink
SpaceX’s Starlink is run with a constellation of 1,500 satellites, and that number is projected to grow significantly. The Low Earth Orbit satellites provide Starlink’s high speed internet with significantly less latency than your traditional satellite internet provider. However, Starlink is only in its beta phase right now and availability is low. The incomplete system is also making the service less reliable than is hoped for in the future. If you live in certain parts of North America or the UK, and you’re able to get your hands on a Starlink subscription, it will set you back $499 for an equipment fee and then $99 per month afterward.

OneWeb
OneWeb is one of the companies battling to be the first to offer global internet connectivity. OneWeb is now owned by Bharti Global and the British Government and is currently working on its goal of offering internet services to the Arctic, with the goal of offering more global coverage before the end of 2022.

Project Kuiper
Project Kuiper is a long-term goal from Amazon. The satellites for this service are currently in construction, but it is not expected to be ready until 2026.

Best Satellite Internet Plans in America

Best Performance: Viasat Unlimited Platinum 100

Best Basic Plan: Viasat Unlimited Bronze 12

In What Ways is Viasat Better than HughesNet?

Honestly, Viasat is usually going to be our easy choice here, and there are two main reasons. The first is speed. Viast offers plans that can hit up to 100 Mbps. HughesNet’s plans all offer the same slow speed of 25 Mbps. The second reason - and this is probably the biggest difference - is the data allowance. Both offer some form of unlimited data, but throttle speeds after you use a certain amount. That amount for HughesNet can be up to 50 GB with it’s most expensive plan; on the other hand Viasat offers up to 300 GB on a plan that is comparably priced.

In What Ways is HughesNet Better than Viasat?

HughesNet has some great low-priced plans. If you don’t need much speed and you don’t do any data-heavy activities, like video streaming, HughesNet has some affordable options. But at second glance, Viasat is actually much more comparable in this category as well. Even though Viasat has higher subscription fees, HughesNet’s equipment fees are higher, which balances the prices a lot more than at first glance. The real reason you might choose HughesNet is availability. Not all plans are available everywhere. Depending on where you live, HughesNet may be offering better options. You can see what plans are available in your area by visiting the HughesNet and Viasat websites today.

What about Starlink?

The benefits of Starlink as it stands now are that it has unlimited data at top speed (whereas Viasat and HughesNet have data allowances), and it has low latency. Satellite internet is notorious for high latency, since the satellites are so high in space. But Starlink uses low-Earth orbit satellites, which makes the signal’s travel times much quicker. The downsides are that it’s not clear if this unlimited data will last past the beta phase and it’s not that easy to get signed up. The wait time to sign up is months long at this point.

Viasat and HughesNet Unlimited Data

Both providers offer unlimited data. But if you read the fine text you’ll see that this is technically true, but also maybe not what you thought. If you were thinking unlimited data meant you could use the internet all day, every day without any effect, then keep reading.

First let’s talk about what unlimited data does mean. In traditional data capped plans, once you use a certain amount of data, you’re done. No more internet for the rest of the month. There’s a hard cut off after you use your designated gigs. Or equally bad, some plans would surprise you with additional charges if you went over the set monthly amount. Viasat’s and HughesNet’s versions of unlimited data are better than this traditional model. You won’t run out of internet data and you won’t get extra charges.

Now let’s talk about the limitations. Because satellites don’t have infinite capacity, Viasat and HughesNet have to limit people’s use in order to maximize performance. This is done by giving a monthly data allowance. Once you go over that allowance, your speeds will be reduced. HughesNet says your speed drops to 1-3 Mbps. Viasat says your speed is “deprioritized” behind other users, which means lower speeds during high levels of traffic and more normal speeds when traffic is light.

Satellite Internet Pros and Cons

Pros:

Speed: Satellite internet doesn’t offer some of the same insane speeds that some fiber and cable companies provide. Many of those plans are measured in Gbps, not Mbps. But few people need that much performance. Satellite internet offers plans that can give you up to 100 Mbps. That’s a great speed and more than enough for most people.

Reach: This is the real reason you might choose satellite internet. It’s no surprise that the companies racing to be the first global internet providers are all doing so by launching satellites into space. The infrastructure necessary for cable and fiber to reach the world, or even all of America, would be prohibitively expensive. But satellite internet’s reach is its biggest strength. This is why it is the chosen internet type for rural customers, airlines, and boats all around the world.

Reliability: Are you afraid of political insurrections destroying your precious internet infrastructure? No? Okay, that’s reasonable, but satellite internet is probably the best equipped to handle such events. On a more useful note, natural disasters, pandemics, and other catastrophic events are less likely to break satellite internet than the internet types that rely on thousands of miles of out-in-the-open cabling and other infrastructure. Though very severe weather can sometimes have a temporary effect on satellite internet connections, permanent damage is rare.

Cons:

Cost: Satellites are expensive. This isn’t going to make the cost of satellite internet preposterously unaffordable, but it might come in around double that of other service types. Your typical plan will cost around $100 per month, plus decently expensive equipment fees.

Latency: Latency, also known as lag, is the time it takes a signal to travel to its destination and back. With the top satellite internet companies using distant geostationary satellites, that travel time - and thus latency - is very long. This has an unnoticeable effect on most internet activities, but for others, like fast-paced online gaming, the difference may be too limiting. With more low earth orbit satellite options coming in the future (like Starlink), this latency could be significantly reduced.

Data: Most land-based internet providers come with either no data limitations or sky-high limitations. Satellite internet usually comes with some form of data allowance that slows your speeds after you use a certain amount.

How Does Satellite Internet Work?

For all wire-based internet types, such as cable and fiber, there have to be lines between every customer and the network base. That adds up to millions and millions of wires across the United States (and the world!). And those wires - and the network equipment they run to and from - can be really expensive. Running a wire to an apartment building (or a neighborhood, even) and then getting a hundred subscribers is well worth the company’s investment. But running that wire to a single user a few miles into the countryside would lose them money. This is why it’s hard to find decent cable and fiber internet providers in areas with low-density populations.

60 million Americans live in rural areas. How are they supposed to get the internet they need for school, work, and staying connected to friends and family? For many of those rural internet users, the answer has been satellite internet. The infrastructure necessary for satellite internet has already been installed… 22,000 miles above the earth in space, so setting up a rural user for satellite internet requires practically the same cost and effort as doing so for someone in the city.

When you sign up for satellite internet, a technician will install a modem and a satellite dish at your location. Let’s say you want to watch a YouTube video. Your computer sends a request to view the YouTube page. The request is sent in a signal to your modem (via Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable), which forwards the signal to your satellite dish, which shoots the signal 22,000 miles into space to be received by the satellite, which shoots the signal back down to the internet providers ground network, which sends the signal on to the server that holds that YouTube page. That server sees that your computer wants to view a particular page, so it starts sending the data for that page all the way back through the same channels until it reaches your computer.

This multi-step process that sends the request and response into space and back again a couple times means the signals are travelling almost 100,000 miles before you get the first bit of data from that webpage. Astonishingly, the whole thing takes less than a second. About 600 milliseconds usually. This technology allows people in remote locations - even people working in the air or at sea - to get the internet access they need.

How will low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites change satellite internet?

Some internet companies are investing in satellites that orbit the earth at a much closer range. The biggest name in LEO satellite internet right now is Starlink, whose satellites orbit the earth at just 340 miles.

A constellation of LEO satellites must be much bigger to provide the same degree of coverage as traditional satellite models. Many Viasat and HughesNet services are provided by a single satellite that is high enough in space to cover a large geographical area. Starlink, on the other hand, is currently operating with a constellation of about 1,500 satellites. Even at that number, the reception so far is a little bit unreliable at times. But Starlink is only in its beta phase and there are hopes to increase that total to 42,000 satellites! That should significantly improve the reliability.

There are also some advantages. You remember that the process of sending and receiving a signal through satellite internet usually takes about 600 milliseconds. That’s unnoticeable when doing most internet activities, and thus not a problem, but some internet activities require quick reactions and time-sensitive choices, like playing first-person shooters online. Such action-packed online gaming can be frustrating with 600 millisecond lag. LEO satellites provide a huge improvement in this area. Lowering the satellites from 22,000 miles above the earth down to 340 miles above the earth can bring that latency down to 30 milliseconds or less. That is literally the difference between life and death (in that first-person shooter, at least).

Other satellite internet companies that are developing LEO satellite internet include OneWeb, whose focus is currently on the Arctic and providing service to airlines, boats, and government agencies more so than the public, and Project Kuiper, run by Amazon, which is too far out to predict exactly what it will be offering.

Comparing Satellite to Other Internet Types

If you have access to other internet options, such as cable, fiber, fixed wireless, and sometimes DSL or 4G home internet, you should look into their plans first. Cable and fiber especially usually offer plans with better data allowances (if any) and lower latency than satellite internet, and usually at a lower price.

If you don’t have access to these, or if the options aren’t too promising, we recommend satellite internet. Here’s a table to help you compare some typical offerings of different internet types.

Internet Type Max Download Speeds Max Upload Speeds Availability in the US*
Satellite 100 Mbps 3 Mbps 99.9%
Fiber 1,000 Mbps 1,000 Mbps 39%
Cable 1,000 Mbps 1,000 Mbps 89%
DSL 100 Mbps 30 Mbps 89%
4G Home Internet 60 Mbps 3 Mbps (Data Unavailable)
Fixed Wireless 100 Mbps 3 Mbps 26%

* Data as reported by FCC Fixed Broadband Deployment

Now let’s compare the prices of comparable plans from different internet types. All the plans below have a download speed of 25 Mbps, which is the minimum download speed requirement to be considered broadband internet and is enough to perform all basic internet tasks.

Internet type Price per month
Satellite $50-$150
Cable $25-$45
DSL $45-$50
4G Home Internet $40-$60
Fixed Wireless $50-$80

While most internet types come with unlimited (or nearly unlimited) data, the biggest difference between their plans lies in download speeds. That’s why they have narrower price ranges. Satellite internet will have multiple plans at 25 Mbps, but each with a different data allowance, thus the wider price range.

If you live in an area with many internet options, it is unlikely that satellite is your best choice. At the very least, look into fiber, cable, and DSL options before choosing to get your internet via satellite.

How to Get Free and Subsidized Internet in Rural Areas

If you are a rural or low-income American who wants internet service, there are many programs available that may be able to help.

The FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit provides low-income Americans with the funds necessary to get the internet and technology they need. If you qualify, this program could provide you with a one-time bonus of $100 to help with the purchase of a computer, laptop, or tablet and up to $50 per month to help pay for internet. For more information, visit the FCC Emergency Broadband Benefit web page.

The Lifeline Support for Affordable Communications provides low-income Americans with $9.25 every month to help pay for internet costs. The FCC has made this program more readily available during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other programs aiming to end the digital divide that exists between families of different income levels include the Connect America Fund and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Satellite internet for business

Using satellite internet as a backup internet service is a common precaution taken by many businesses. Satellite internet doesn’t operate under the same infrastructures as land-based services and will usually keep running when other internet types are experiencing outages. Whether you run a business in a rural area where satellite is your only option or in the city but your business needs a backup internet service, satellite internet is the best choice for you.

Both Viasat and HughesNet offer plans that are specifically designed for keeping businesses online. Not only do they offer the speeds a business needs, some plans also offer unlimited data for businesses. As a business internet customer, you also get quicker repairs, higher security, and overall better service.

This extra performance does come at a higher price though. The Viasat for Business plan comes with unlimited data and will cost between $175 and $500 per month. The HughesNet Business plan provides 32-250 GB of data per month and will cost between $70 and $200 per month.

FAQs and TLDRs

What are my options as a rural internet customer?
With the technological advances of companies like Viasat, rural internet customers don’t have to suffer through slow internet. You can still get speeds of up to 100 Mbps. But depending on where you live, you may have other options. Many rural locations can also get high-speed internet through 4G LTE home internet, fixed wireless, and DSL.

Is satellite internet a good option?
Satellite internet is a great option for many people across the country. Some plans offer up to 100 Mbps download speeds. This is slower than the fastest cable and fiber internet providers, but still respectable. The best thing about satellite internet is its reach. If you live somewhere that other internet types can’t get to, you are almost guaranteed to be able to get satellite internet.

It’s also a great option for businesses as a secondary internet source. When land-based lines fail and you need to keep the company moving, satellite internet is a good protection to have.

But because of lower data allowances and higher prices, most people will opt for other internet options. However, if satellite is your best option available, you’ll still be able to do all sorts of internet activities, including browsing websites, using social media, studying, working, and streaming video.

How fast is satellite internet?
Viasat download speeds start at 12 Mbps with their smaller plans and can go all the way up to 100 Mbps with Viasat’s Unlimited Platinum 100 plan. HughesNet offers only one speed: 25 Mbps. These are advertised speeds. Actual performance may vary. There’s also Starlink. Starlink is only in beta and doesn’t have that many users yet, but their speeds are testing between 50 and 150 Mbps.

What equipment will I need for my satellite internet?
You will need a satellite dish, a modem, and whatever wires connect the two. If your modem doesn’t have a built-in router, you will need a router as well. The good news is that these devices are usually provided by the satellite internet provider. Then you’ll have everything you need to connect your computer, phone, or other device to your new network.

Is satellite internet faster than cable?
The fastest satellite internet plans are faster than slower cable plans. But generally, no, cable is faster than satellite. Satellite internet is also sometimes faster than DSL, but sometimes slower. However, the speeds offered by satellite internet providers, even the measly 25 Mbps offered by HughesNet, are enough for most online activities. You can browse, use social media, send emails, and even stream video. If several devices are trying to stream at the same time, you may notice some speed issues.

Is satellite internet faster than DSL?
Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. It depends on the plans available in your location. The plus side of satellite is that it is more widely available in remote areas. The plus side of DSL is that it often has higher data allowances. So it all boils down to where you live.

What’s better, satellite internet or fixed wireless?
Fixed wireless is usually cheaper than satellite internet and usually provides more data, sometimes even unlimited. Satellite internet’s often lower data caps can be a big hassle. There may be situations where the available satellite plans have better download speeds than the available fixed wireless plans, but the lower prices and large data allowances often make fixed wireless the better choice.

What is the timeline for Starlink?
Starlink already has limited availability in the US, the UK, and Canada and can only support a limited number of users in each region. But Starlink is adding satellites quickly, which will increase the number of users it can support and the areas it can reach. Starlink hopes to have world-wide coverage by the end of the year. You can currently sign up for Starlink on their website and be put on a waiting list. You will be notified when Starlink satellite internet is available to you.

What is the fastest satellite internet?
In most areas, Viasat provides the fastest download speeds. Viasat’s Unlimited Platinum 100 provides download speeds of up to 100 Mbps, though this plan isn’t available in all areas. Starlink has reported widely varying speeds, even up to 150 Mbps, but it’s hard to say what its performance will be like as Starlink continues to add both satellites and customers.

How does satellite TV work?
Satellite TV works the same as satellite internet, sending messages between the dish and the satellite, but it transmits TV data instead of internet data. This is good news for those who are worried about their satellite internet data. With satellite TV you can watch as many shows as you want without using up your monthly data allowance.

Can I get satellite internet if I live in a remote location?
Yes, that is satellite internet’s specialty. It can reach almost any location. Rural areas are often not reached by land-based internet providers, including cable and fiber. For such users, the best option is often satellite internet. With a satellite dish installed at your location by a professional technician, as long as you have a clear view of the southern sky, you can get high-speed internet, even in your remote location. With providers like Viasat and HughesNet, even rural customers can get access to reliable broadband internet.

This is also true for those living in federally recognized Tribal lands. According to NPR, only about 50% of people who live on Tribal lands have access to high-speed internet. Tribal lands sometimes have access to the same internet options as everyone else, including cable, DSL, or fixed wireless, but for many, their options are few. That’s one of the strengths of satellite internet. As long as the view of the sky isn’t blocked by heavy tree cover or other formations, satellite internet can be available even to those living in remote Tribal lands.

There are also programs being run by the FCC to help low-income and rural customers get connected, and many of these programs give special consideration to those living in Tribal lands. For help getting connected and to get more information on internet subsidization in Tribal lands, visit the FCC website today.

Do I qualify for subsidized internet service?
The FCC’s Lifeline program could provide you with up to a $9.25 discount on your monthly internet bill. If you live on federally recognized Tribal lands, this discount could be as high as $34.25. To see if you qualify, and to get more information, visit the FCC Lifeline website.

Can I get satellite internet for my RV?
Technically yes, but it’s usually not your best option. Satellite internet requires a strong connection between your satellite dish and the satellite. This is difficult when you’re constantly on the move. There is an option called VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal), but it is prohibitively expensive (more than $5,000) and incredibly slow (not even 1 Mbps). Unless this is your only option, we’d recommend considering something else.

If you want high speed internet for travelling in your RV, the best option is probably going to be mobile internet. You can sign up with a mobile provider to get a portable 4G LTE home internet plan. There are also signal boosters made specifically for RVs that will enhance the signal for a better connection. The simplest way would be to just use your phone as a mobile hotspot. If you choose this method, make sure to purchase a plan that has a high hotspot allowance.

Is satellite internet good for gaming?
Yes and no. If you want to download and play games single player, then absolutely. If you want to play turn-based or slower-paced games online, then that will also work just fine. But if you want to play games that require live speeds and split-second reactions, then no. The latency inherent in most satellite internet providers means everything you see and everything you do are delayed. If you really want to play Fortnite on satellite internet, go for it, but don’t expect to have the same experience you have when using cable or fiber.

This could all change with the introduction of low-Earth orbit satellite internet. Starklink is boasting ping rates of less than 30 milliseconds. This is way down from the 600 milliseconds you get with Viasat. Once Starlink is finished and more widely available, gaming on satellite internet might just be possible.

Is satellite internet good for streaming?
Yes, satellite internet speeds are more than enough to stream Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, Disney+, YouTube, or whatever service you prefer. Before jumping right in, though, it’s important to remember the limitation on data that comes with satellite internet plans. If you start streaming HD videos all day, you’ll run out of data before you know it, and your internet speeds will suffer until your next billing cycle. It’s important to conserve data by choosing lower resolutions to make sure your data lasts all month long.

Fortunately, Viasat and HughesNet are aware of the data issue and have tools to help you keep streaming all month long. With many plans, you also have the ability to purchase more data in case you run out.

Viasat Satellite Internet Areas Served:
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Viasat Internet

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Speed of service and pricing can vary greatly based on where you live. Internet and TV service providers often advertise prices that seem great, but have hidden clauses and asterisks. The price may only be available in a bundle, or it may be higher in your service area. The goal is to get the most reliable, highest internet speeds and television service at the lowest cost possible, and we can help!

High speed internet options:


What is Broadband?

Broadband internet is high speed internet. You can get it via DSL (digital subscriber line), fiber-optic, cable, and satellite. Before broadband internet, there was dial-up internet. Dial-up is notoriously slow and requires a telephone line for a connection. You must choose between surfing the web or talking on the phone. Dial-up is still available today, at a very reasonable price, but is not widely used because of the pitfalls.

Cable Internet

Cable internet is the most popular high-speed internet option. It works using underground cable lines established by your local cable provider. A cable modem is placed in your house, and a service technician connects the underground cable and your modem using a coaxial cable. The modem is then connected to a router, which can be wireless.

The internet speeds are very fast and reliable. Cable internet is only available where cable lines are located. If your area is served by a cable provider, then you will be able to use both cable internet and TV. Your connection will be faster and stronger the closer you are located to the provider. Cable internet does require a physical wire, but is typically less noticeable when using a wireless router. Many residential areas and apartment complexes use cable internet, making it a favorite for renters. You can typically pay monthly and rent the hardware needed.

Satellite Internet

Satellite internet uses a dish, typically mounted on the roof, receiving signals from the satellites orbiting Earth. The dish must be facing south, in a spot that will allow the signal to be transmitted, uninterrupted by buildings, trees or other structures. Satellite internet service (example: exede internet plans and How much does Viasat cost?, can be interrupted during bad weather or if something blocks the dish, preventing the signal from being communicated. The connection will be best on clear, sunny days. Satellite internet may not as fast today as cable, but a new generation of satellites will soon allow Satellite Internet service to be the fastest available. The difference in speed is less noticeable for basic browsing, but downloading or uploading big files, including video, can be slower. Compare with a Hughsnet speed test or to compare Viasat vs Hughesnet . Does Viasat Report To Credit Bureaus

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Satellite internet has greater availability since all you need is a dish and a clear area. It may be the only high-speed internet option for those living in remote areas, where cable internet service providers are not available. The hardware needed for satellite internet is a satellite dish, coaxial cable, modem, and router. Click here to view Viasat 2 plans or for Viasat reviews.

TV: Cable vs Satellite

Satellite TV, like satellite internet, requires a physical dish that faces south in an uninterrupted area. It can be less reliable in storms and bad weather. Cable TV is typically more expensive, but is more reliable. Satellite TV has more availability, especially in remote areas. It is typically easier to pay month-to-month with cable TV compared to satellite, making it more popular with renters, particularly those in more densely populated areas and adding the factor of satellite internet unlimited data.

Digital Service Line (DSL) Internet

DSL internet uses the existing telephone network, but allows you to still make phone calls while using the internet. DSL is typically available anywhere with a telephone pole. It is the improved dial-up and often cheaper than cable internet, but not as fast. DSL connection is distance sensitive, working best when close to the internet service provider.

Fiber Optic

Fiber optic internet is the fastest and often the most reliable option. Data is transmitted using fiber optic cables. Fiber optic internet is typically only installed in densely populated areas, like big cities. It is normally more expensive than other broadband internet options.

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