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April 16, 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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Who uses 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 telephone or cable TV infrastructure. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 8.4 million Americans had satellite internet service in 2018.

People living in urban areas have several ways to access the web, including cable, DSL and fiber-optic internet services. Those types of internet access offer fantastic connections, with download speeds exceeding 1,000 MB (1 GB) per second. Satellite internet, however, tops off at around 100 Mbps.

Even so, a 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.

Which companies are satellite internet providers? 

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


HughesNet internet

Starting at $49.99 /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. However, customer reviews on the BBB website don’t always support that with an average rating of one out of five stars.

  • 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 to 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, 2:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. From time to time, the provider offers new customer specials, such as $20 off for the first six months.


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. More than 200 Viasat customers have written reviews on the BBB website rating the internet provider one out of five stars.

  • 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 United States.

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
  • Higher latency than cable, DSL and fiber-optic internet
  • Data caps on some plans

How does satellite compare to other internet types?

Cable, DSL and fiber-optic connections are the most common types of internet services in most urban areas. Here’s how they compare to satellite internet service:

Satellite internet vs. DSL internet

DSL providers deliver internet service over existing infrastructure, typically copper telephone lines. In some areas, you can find DSL service that offers download speeds up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps). However, data traveling along copper lines reduces in speed over long distances. So if you live on the edge of town or in a rural area, you could expect slower internet speeds and higher latency.

By contrast, current satellite internet technology can only deliver download speeds up to 100 Mbps. DSL also requires less equipment. If you have an existing phone line, WiFi installation is as simple as connecting a modem to the telephone jack box.

Satellite internet vs. fiber-optic internet

Fiber-optic internet offers lightning fast web surfing, up to 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps), download and upload. Fiber internet provides better service because it has a lower latency rate.

While satellite internet only offers speeds from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, fiber networks aren’t available in most areas. In fact, Google Fiber only currently offers service in 18 cities.

Satellite internet vs. cable internet

According to the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, 98% of American households have access to a cable television provider. Cable providers deliver television and internet service over the same infrastructure, typically through a coaxial cable. In most cases, cable internet installation only involves installing the cable and modem. Some cable internet providers claim download speeds up to 2,000 Mbps, but most top out at around 1,000 Mbps (1 Gbps). Satellite internet can’t match cable internet’s speed or ease of installation.

Frequently Asked Questions about satellite internet

What is satellite internet?

Satellite internet delivers internet service over a satellite dish installed at your home. The technology enables you to connect to the internet using WiFi or a network cable.

Who should use satellite internet?

With the widespread availability of cable, DSL and fiber-optic internet service, most households shouldn’t consider satellite internet. Typically, satellite internet service is only a good option for households in remote locations that do not have access to telephone or cable TV infrastructure.

What equipment and installation is needed for satellite internet?

To set up your satellite internet service, a technician must install a satellite dish on your home or on a pole on your property. The technician then runs a cable from the dish, through an exterior wall to the interior of your home and attaches it to a modem. Most modems have network cable inputs for hardwire connection to a computer and many feature WiFi, enabling you to wirelessly connect a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

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 that do not have telephone infrastructure.

How much does satellite internet cost?

It depends. You can often find introductory offers ranging from $50 to $150 per month. 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.