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June 15, 2020

What is Satellite Internet?

Satellite internet relies on satellites orbiting about 22,000 miles above the earth’s surface, sending and receiving data between users and data repositories. As with satellite television, you need a satellite dish to send and receive information from your computer to the internet. When you conduct an internet search or click on a link, the satellite dish on your house sends the request to an orbiting satellite. The satellite forwards the request to your internet service provider, which is your gateway to the internet.

The lag time between making a request and seeing it fulfilled is called latency. Network latency varies based on several factors. With some types of wired internet connections, your proximity to the service provider’s control center can increase or decrease latency. The number of people using the network at a given time can also be a factor.

Satellite internet service has a higher latency than some other types of connections. For surfing the web or watching a movie, satellite latency probably won’t cause a problem, but for fast-paced online gaming, which requires split-second reactions, satellite internet might not make the grade.

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Should I Get Satellite Internet?

Many people who don’t have broadband access rely on their cellphones to surf the web, while some turn to satellite internet service. Satellite internet is best suited for people who live in outlying areas that don’t have a telephone or cable TV infrastructure. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 8.4 million Americans had satellite internet service in 2018.

While not as fast as fiber-optic or DSL service, a high-speed satellite internet connection provides enough speed for most people’s needs, especially if there’s no other internet options available. Casual internet users only need a download speed of around 3 Mbps, and you can stream high definition movies with 8 Mbps download speed. Even streaming in 4K HDR can be achieved with just 18 to 25 Mbps. Gamers need a minimum download speed of 3 Mbps while it only takes 1 Mbps to browse social media. 

Consequently, the best satellite internet companies can handle average use of online activities. An exception would be if multiple family members are on devices at the same time. It may be difficult to stream, play games and hold a video conference all at once.

Satellite Internet Providers: HughesNet vs. Viasat

Currently, two companies – HughesNet and Viasat – provide satellite internet service in the U.S. Both internet providers also sell their satellite service through authorized retailers.

HughesNet

HughesNet internet

Starting at $59.99 /mo for 24 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 25 Mbps

HughesNet has not earned an American Consumer Satisfaction Index ranking, but the Better Business Bureau gives the provider an A+ rating.

  • Data: Choose from four plans, all offering download speeds up to 25 Mbps and 10 GB to 50 GB of data. Once you surpass your data limit, you can continue to surf the web at reduced speeds of around 1 Mbps to 3 Mbps.
  • Installation: HughesNet provides professional installation of the satellite dish and WiFi modem, along with LAN connection of up to two devices, like your desktop and laptop computers. If you need to add additional devices, you must pay the technician an additional fee. To connect the dish to the modem, the technician must run a cable through the exterior wall of your home into an interior room. If you choose pole installation, the technician may need to dig a trench to bury the cable.
  • Features: HughesNet customers can get an additional 50 GB of data during off-peak hours, 2 to 8 a.m. From time to time, the provider offers new customer specials, such as $20 off for the first six months.
  • Contracts: To get internet with satellite dish from HughesNet, you’ll need to sign up for a 24-month contract. There are no termination fees if you cancel your plan within 30 days of activation. After that period, the termination fee jumps to $400. You can, however, receive a $200 credit for returning your modem and radio.
  • Additional costs: HughesNet currently offers free standard installation. You can rent your equipment for $9.99/mo. or purchase it for a one-time cost of $449.98.

Viasat

Viasat internet

Starting at $50 /mo for 24 months

Plans Include

  • Download speeds up to 100 Mbps

Viasat has not earned a rating from the ACSI or the BBB.

  • Data: Choose from four unlimited data plans, with download speeds of 12 Mbps, 25 Mbps, 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps.
  • Installation: Viasat dispatches certified technicians to install your satellite system. The technician will install the satellite dish and configure your primary computer to use the service. Installation requires routing a cable through one exterior and one interior wall. If your home has a basement or crawlspace, the technician might be able to route the cable through a floor.
  • Features: New Viasat customers can receive an introductory three-month discount depending on the plan chosen. You can also add DIRECTV and digital phone service, which features unlimited calls throughout Canada and the U.S.
  • Contracts: You can either lock-in your contract for two years or opt out of a long-term contract. To qualify for the no-contract option, however, you’ll need to pay an upfront $300 fee that’s nonrefundable. To terminate your contract early, you’ll be charged $15 for each remaining month in your contract.
  • Additional costs: If you don’t return your leased equipment within 30 calendar days after cancellation, you’ll be charged $300.

Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet

Pros

  • Available almost anywhere, even in rural areas
  • Faster download speeds than a dial-up connection
  • Download speeds fast enough to stream music and video

Cons

  • Service is typically more expensive than DSL or cable internet
  • Installation and equipment fees
  • Higher latency than cable, DSL and fiber-optic internet
  • Data caps on some plans

Recap on Satellite Internet Service

Utilizing satellite internet can help keep you connected online no matter where you live. Unless you have a large household with everyone online at the same time, you’ll likely be able to keep up with daily internet activities like streaming, emailing and scrolling through social media with satellite internet.

The two primary providers in the industry are HughesNet and Viasat. They both offer a range of options to meet your needs for price and speed. 

ProviderStarting PriceSpeed ContractsData CapsEquipmentAdditional Features
HughesNet$39.99/mo.Up to 25 Mbps24 monthsUp to 50 GB$9.99/mo. to rentBonus Zone: Extra 50GB/mo. during off-peak hours
Viasat$50/mo.Up to 50 Mbps24 months or month-to-month (with fee)Up to 100 GB$9.99/mo. to rentVoice Bundle available for home phone service

Frequently Asked Questions about Satellite Internet

Does satellite internet use a phone line?

Satellite internet does not require a phone line, which is why satellite internet is so beneficial to people who live in remote areas.

How much does satellite internet cost?

It depends. You can often find introductory offers ranging from $50 to $150/mo. Satellite internet service providers usually offer several plans. Some plans differ based on internet speed, while others are priced-based on data usage. You must also pay installation fees and equipment costs. 

How fast is satellite internet?

Current satellite internet technology can deliver internet access at speeds of 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps.