There are two main competitors when it comes to satellite internet in the US: Viasat and HughesNet. Both offer their customers unlimited data… of a sort. What this really means for you as a customer and how to manage your satellite internet data is what we want to help you with.

Viasat vs. HughesNet and Their Unlimited Data

Both of these top satellite internet companies claim to offer some kind of unlimited data. This is technically true, as there is no limit to the amount of data you use each month. But it’s not everything you hope it is. Viasat and HughesNet internet plans still come with data caps (or thresholds), which we’ll discuss below.

Do Any Satellite Internet Providers Offer True, Cap-less Unlimited Data?

We know what you want. We want it, too: unlimited, lightning fast internet that never slows down no matter how long you leave Netflix up and streaming in 4K. HughesNet and Viasat are the only major satellite internet providers in the US, and both of their claims to “unlimited data” come with caveats. With their versions of unlimited data, your internet will indeed never get cut off and you won’t get surprised with extra charges for going over a limit, but you won’t get the same speeds after you pass the thresholds. It’s not what we want most, but it’s still good to know that our necessary internet activities won’t get cut off at the end of the month. (Satellite internet through Space X’s Starlink is currently offering unlimited data without reduced speeds, but this is only during the current beta phase and may be changed once it is made more widely available.)

Viasat Satellite Internet

Data caps
Viasat offers a large variety of internet plans depending on your locations and your specific internet needs. These plans come with a variety of speeds and data allowances. New plans have data allowances that range from 15 GB with the Basic 12 plan (12 Mbps download speed), all the way up to 300 GB of data with the Platinum 100 plan (100 Mbps download speed). So what happens when you surpass your data allowance?

Beyond the Cap
The good news is that when you go over the cap, you won’t lose your internet connection and you won’t get any extra charges. But your internet speeds will get deprioritized behind users who haven’t passed their monthly data cap.

Viasat satellites only have a certain amount of bandwidth, and each user uses up some of that bandwidth when they use the internet. In order to make sure users who are below their threshold get their advertised bandwidth, Viasat will reserve a smaller amount of bandwidth for users who have gone over their threshold. This means slower speeds at times of heavy internet traffic when all the satellite’s bandwidth is being used, usually first thing in the morning and in the evening when people are back from work. It also means your speeds should be unaffected at times of day when there is plenty of bandwidth to go around. If you go over your data cap and get deprioritized, don’t worry. You’ll go back to receiving prioritized data at the beginning of your next billing cycle.

Free Zone
Viasat’s Free Zone is a time in the early morning (between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.) when customers can use as much data as they want without adding to their monthly data usage. Customers have used the Free Zone to do their major downloading so as not to go over their monthly data cap.

This is a great idea, but unfortunately it is a feature only available with some older Viasat plans but not available with Viasat’s newer unlimited data plans.

Adding More Data
If you are getting close to your data cap and don’t want to go over, you can purchase extra data for about $10 per GB. Just log into your Viasat account and click on “Buy More Data”.

HughesNet Satellite Internet

Data caps
HughesNet also advertises unlimited data but will throttle your speeds after passing a data cap. All HughesNet plans come with the same download speed (25 Mbps) and upload speed (3 Mbps) and only differ in data cap. Unfortunately, the highest monthly data cap available is 50 Mbps, only one-sixth that offered by Viasat.

Beyond the Cap
Just like with Viasat, your HughesNet internet won’t get cut off and you won’t receive any extra charges when you surpass your monthly data cap, but you will get your speed throttled. With HughesNet, your speed will decrease to 1-3 Mbps for the rest of the current billing cycle.

Bonus Zone
HughesNet’s Bonus Zone works very similarly to the way Viasat’s Free Zone worked in the past. When you use your HughesNet satellite internet between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m., your data usage isn’t added to your monthly total. The time frame is really wide, but you can’t take advantage of it without limit. Your account comes with 50 GB of free Bonus Zone usage, which is usually plenty. After that, any data used during those hours will count toward your monthly data cap. By downloading videos during the Bonus Zone, you can watch them offline later in the day and save your precious data allowance.

Adding More Data
Though HughesNet plans come with less data allowance, buying extra data is cheaper than Viasat, only costing you about $3 per GB.

Satellite Internet For You

Even though satellite internet comes with its downsides when compared to some land-based broadband internet providers, its unparalleled reach makes it one of the most popular choices among rural internet users. The data thresholds can be a holdup for many, but choosing plans with higher limits and carefully managing your data usage can make satellite internet a reliable, high-speed alternative that gives you good performance all month long.

FAQs and TL;DRs

Are there any satellite internet providers that offer unlimited data?
Yes. Also no. Yes: HughesNet and Viasat both offer the kind of unlimited data that means your internet doesn’t get cut off and you won’t receive extra charges. No: your internet speeds will get slower if you go over your plan’s data threshold. This is the best you’re going to find with residential satellite internet.

Is HughesNet internet unlimited?
HughesNet customers won’t get cut off from the internet if they use too much internet but passing the data allowance will get their download speed throttled down to 1-3 Mbps. If you want to keep the 25 Mbps download speed that your HughesNet plan offers, make sure to stay below the data cap.

Is Viasat internet unlimited?
Viasat works in a similar way to HughesNet. Each plan has a data allowance that guarantees full speed as long as you’re below it but potentially throttled speeds when your data usage is above it. You should still get normal download speeds when network traffic is light.

Do Viasat or HughesNet have free data zones?
Viasat used to. If you’re signing up for a plan today, you’ll have a lot of regular data to use but no free zone. HughesNet gives customers a generous 50 GB of data to use during their bonus zone (2:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.) during which your internet usage isn’t added to your total.

What are HughesNet data tokens?
Data tokens are how you buy extra data with HughesNet. If you pass your monthly data cap and are sick of slow download speeds, you can get your internet back to normal by purchasing data tokens, extra chunks of data added to the top of your data cap. Here are the token available:

Token Size Price
3 GB $9
5 GB $15
10 GB $30
25 GB $75

What’s the best satellite internet?
Viasat and HughesNet are very similarly priced, but Viasat offers higher download speeds and data allowance. Anywhere both are available, we’re choosing Viasat.

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