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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 (ISP), 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.
Should I Get Satellite Internet?
In rural areas of the U.S., cable and fiber internet providers often have no availability in areas outside of the cities they cover. For those living in rural America, satellite internet may be the best, or the only, option.
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 who 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 or DSL service, a high-speed satellite internet connection provides enough speed for most people’s needs. 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.
Best 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. Why are there only two satellite internet providers?
Over the years, other satellite internet providers entered the market but were either bought out or discontinued service. HughesNet and Viasat remain the only satellite internet providers to build and launch their own satellites. This is an expensive and complicated process due to NASA and FCA regulations and may explain why the satellite internet market isn’t booming with providers.
|Provider||Price Per Month||Download Speeds||Data Caps||Contracts||Equipment||Additional Features|
|$59.00||Up to 25 Mbps||Up to 50 GB||24 months||$9.99/mo. to rent||Bonus Zone: Extra 50GB/mo. during off-peak hours|
|$30.00||Up to 50 Mbps||Up to 100 GB||24 months or month-to-month (with fee)||$9.99/mo. to rent||Voice Bundle available for home phone service|
HughesNet keeps it simple by offering one speed and may be the best option for someone seeking the lowest cost option for satellite internet.
- Download speeds up to 25 Mbps
Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed. Free standard Installation applies to new Lease subscribers only. Not valid with Purchase option. Limited-time offer. If you exceed your monthly plan data, you will experience reduced data speeds, which are typically in the range of 1-3 Mbps, until your next billing period.
- 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: 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 non-refundable. To terminate your contract early, you’ll be charged $15 for each remaining month in your contract.
- 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.
Offering speeds of up to 100 Mbps, Viasat may be the best option for those seeking high-speed internet.
- Download speeds up to 100 Mbps
Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract, unless otherwise stated. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing may or may not reflect promotional, bundle and/or other offers available. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. Speeds may vary.
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.
Fastest Satellite Internet
Viasat offers speeds up to 100 Mbps, exceeding the 25 Mbps offered by HughesNet. Speeds of 100 Mbps are considered fast, and most internet usage should be supported by that speed, excluding multi-device HD streaming and online gaming.
It is important to note that both providers offer speeds “up to” a certain amount. This is not a guarantee of that speed. Whether or not you will receive the highest speed available will depend on your location. You can easily run our speed test to see what kind of speeds you are currently getting.
Cheapest Satellite Internet
Upon initial glance, it can appear that Viasat offers the cheapest satellite internet. But looking closer and comparing equivalent speeds, HughesNet comes out ahead on lowest cost for the speed. For a 25 Mbps package, Viasat charges $70/mo. while HughesNet charges $59.99.
However, Viasat’s 25 Mbps comes with 60 GB of data while HughesNet’s only comes with 10 GB. As a result, Viasat is cheaper per GB.
Guide to Buying Satellite Internet
There are some important things to take into consideration when shopping for the right satellite internet provider and plan for your needs.
Adding Data to Your Plan
If you choose a data plan that turns out to be lower than what you actually need, you can increase your plan but it’s going to cost you more money.
With Viasat, there are a variety of data options. If you want the 100 Mbps download speeds, assuming those are available in your area, you’ll need to go with their largest package which is $150/mo. and 150 GB of data. If you do not use all of that data within the billing period, it will not rollover into the next billing period. In other words, what you don’t use, you lose.
HughesNet is a bit different because all of their packages offer the same speed, up to 25 Mbps. However, there are different price levels for different data plans. Their largest plan is 50 GB and costs $150/mo.
You may notice that both of these providers listed unlimited data. This means neither Viasat or HughesNet will shut your service off after you reach a certain amount of data used. However, they do reserve the right to throttle your speeds down once you have exceeded your limit.
Installation and Equipment
Both Viasat and HughesNet offer free installation of their services and equipment. Viasat’s monthly equipment charge is $5 while HughesNet’s is $14.99. Both providers offer the option to pay for the equipment upfront. With Viasat, that will run around $299.99, while at HughesNet it will run $449.99 with a $100 installation fee.
How Much Speed Do You Need?
This is an important question to answer. Otherwise, you may pay for more speed than you need or end up with not enough speed for your tasks. The speeds you need will depend on your internet activities and how many users will be using the internet at the same time.
Here are the things you can usually do at different speed levels:
Below 25 Mbps
- Send and receive email
- Basic web browsing
- Basic SD video
- Music streaming
- One device
Between 25 Mbps and 100 Mbps
- Sending and receiving emails
- Basic web-surfing
- Basic video
- Streaming music
- Multi-party video conferencing
- Online gaming
- Four to five devices
100 Mbps or above
- Sending and receiving emails
- Basic web-surfing
- Basic video
- Streaming music
- Multi-party video conferencing
- HD video streaming
- Large file downloads
- Multi-playing gaming
- More than five devices
Recap on Satellite Internet Service
Utilizing satellite internet can 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.
Pros and cons of Satellite internet
- Available almost anywhere, even in rural areas
- Faster download speeds than a dial-up connection
- Download speeds fast enough to stream music and video
- Service is typically more expensive than DSL or cable internet
- Installation and equipment fees apply
- Higher latency than cable, DSL and fiber internet
- Data caps on some plans
Frequently Asked Questions about Satellite Internet
Satellite internet does not require a phone line, which is why satellite internet is so beneficial to people who live in remote areas.
It depends. You can often find introductory offers ranging from $30 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.
Current satellite internet technology can deliver internet access at speeds of up to 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps.