The top 3 satellite internet providers
|Starting monthly price range*|
|Download speed range**|
*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. 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. As of 02/01/22. **Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed.
Plans starting at $64.99/mo.
Plans starting at $69.99/mo.
What satellite internet providers are available to you?
When shopping for satellite internet, you’ll likely find two available options: HughesNet and Viasat, and with availability growing rapidly, Starlink. Which provider is best for your home may come down to your location as HughesNet is the faster, more affordable option in select areas while Viasat may be the better option in others. Starlink offers the fastest speeds regardless of where you live but its starting price is steep at $99/mo.
Although all three satellite providers do offer high-speed internet options, satellite internet is not known for being as efficient as other connection types, such as fiber or cable internet. This is due to its high latency. Its biggest selling point, however, is that satellite internet is available nearly everywhere in the U.S. so areas of the country that do not have other internet options are still able to connect to the internet.
How we evaluated satellite internet providers
Although satellite internet is not competitive when compared to fiber or cable internet providers, it still gets the job done in areas of the country that lack the infrastructure needed for other connection types. Starlink is beginning to change how we see satellite internet since its latency is considerably lower than Hughesnet and Viasat. This means Zoom calls and live streaming are much more realistic options.
When comparing Viasat, Hughesnet and Starlink to one another, we considered cost, speeds, latency, contracts and data caps. Below is a breakdown of the three providers.
Our opinion on satellite internet providers
If you’re looking for reliable satellite internet in a rural area, Viasat or HughesNet (and in some areas, Starlink) are your best options. Choose HughesNet if you want a simple, less-expensive plan, with options for extra “Bonus Data.” Go with Viasat if speed and larger data amounts are among your internet priorities. If your address is eligible for Starlink’s beta service, we’d recommend trying it out to experience the faster speeds and lower latency, but beware that starting pricing is higher than HughesNet or Viasat.
HughesNet internet plans
|Plan name||Best for||Starting price*||Download speeds**||Monthly data allowance|
|15 GB||Single-subscribers who browse||$64.99/mo.||25 Mbps||15GB|
|30 GB||Small households that don’t stream video||$74.99/mo.||25 Mbps||30GB|
|45 GB||Mid-sized households who stream some TV||$109.99/mo.||25 Mbps||45GB|
|75 GB||Households who work and learn from home||$159.99/mo.||25 Mbps||75GB|
*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. Pricing varies by location and availability. All prices subject to change at any time. May or may not be available based on service address. As of 02/01/22. **Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed. ***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.
HughesNet service highlights
Compared to Viasat, HughesNet has more consistent pricing and speed tiers, plus more “free” data available and lower equipment costs each month. According to the 2018 FCC broadband report, HughesNet is also more likely to reach advertised speeds than Viasat.
- Plan price and speed consistency – HughesNet speeds (up to 25 Mbps) are standard, as is plan pricing, whereas Viasat speeds and pricing may vary by location.
- “Bonus Zone” data – HughesNet customers can enjoy an extra 50GB of data/mo. available from the hours of 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. – a feature that Viasat doesn’t have.
- Low equipment fees – HughesNet equipment lease starts around $10/mo., a few bucks cheaper than the Viasat rental fee.
- Actual vs. advertised speeds – HughesNet is one of the few ISPs that actually provides faster speeds than what is advertised. The FCC reported that HughesNet’s median download speed is 31.27 Mbps for its advertised 25 Mbps plan.
Viasat internet plans
|Plans||Intro price*||Price after 3 mos.*||Download speed||Data cap|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$49.99/mo.||$69.99/mo.||12 Mbps||40GB|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$69.99/mo.||$99.99/mo.||25 Mbps||60GB|
|Unlimited Gold 50||$99.99/mo.||$149.99/mo.||50 Mbps||100GB|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||$149.99/mo.||$199.99/mo.||100 Mbps||150GB|
*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. 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. As of 02/02/22.
Viasat service highlights
Viasat offers faster speeds than HughesNet, but only in select areas. Regardless of available speeds, customers will appreciate higher data allowances than what’s available with most HughesNet plans, plus a two-year price guarantee.
- Speeds up to 100 Mbps – Viasat offers four times the speed of HughesNet, but only in select areas. In some locations, available speeds may top out at 50, 30 or 12 Mbps.
- Higher data allowances – With data plans ranging from 40-150GB, Viasat plans give you more data for the price compared to HughesNet.
- Two-year contract – Viasat plans require a two-year contract lock, but your price will be guaranteed for the length of it once the three-month introductory pricing ends. HughesNet customers may see a price increase after six months of service.
- Actual vs. advertised speeds – Expect Viasat’s service to be slightly slower than what is advertised. The FCC reported that the median download speed for Viasat’s advertised 12 Mbps plan is 10.75 Mbps (89.6% of the advertised speed).
Starlink internet plans
|Plan||Starting price||Download speeds||Latency||Data caps||Equipment costs|
|Starlink beta plan||$99.00/mo.||100 – 200 Mbps||40 – 60 ms||Unlimited||$499|
*Pricing per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply. 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. As of 02/01/22.
Starlink service highlights: Fastest satellite internet provider
Starlink internet is potentially a game-changer for satellite internet. With faster speeds, lower latency and unlimited data, Starlink will allow residents of rural households who currently are unable to work and learn remotely, to finally be able to do so. Starlink’s only downside is that it is quite expensive, with prices starting at $99/mo.
Starlink is currently only in a beta phase, which means Starlink is only available to a limited number of users right now, and pricing and data caps could be subject to change. Starlink is offering its services on a first-come, first-served basis and is currently only available in the Northwest region of the U.S. Sign-ups require a $99 deposit.
- Speeds up to 200 Mbps – Starlink speeds currently range between 100 and 200 Mbps. However, as more satellites enter the network, Starlink’s speeds will likely increase up to 300 Mbps. Starlink only offers one plan, so the speed range refers to what any customer can expect to experience.
- Low latency– The greatest difference between Starlink and other satellite companies has to do with latency. Starlink’s latency is significantly lower than HughesNet or Viasat, which means it will be easier for users to work or learn from home using Starlink.
- Unlimited data – Although Starlink is currently not imposing data caps, it is unclear whether this will remain true after its beta phase. Starlink has only stated that there are no data caps “at this time.”
How satellite internet works
How HughesNet and Viasat satellite internet work
Satellite internet is an internet connection that uses satellite signals to send and receive data. HughesNet and Viasat use geostationary (fixed position) satellites that are about 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.
From this height, a single satellite can cover a broad area. However, since so many customers are connected to the same satellite, access to data is shared by potentially thousands of customers at once. With so many people connected at once, satellite internet providers use data caps to help ensure there is enough bandwidth for all.
Additionally, 22,000 miles is a long way for data to travel, which is why satellite internet has such high latency (600+ ms). Such high latency makes real-time online gaming and live streaming difficult if not impossible.
You can use a satellite internet connection for downloading, on-demand video streaming, uploading and some gaming (turn-based strategy games are best for satellite internet).
How Starlink satellite internet works
Starlink, developed under the SpaceX umbrella headed by Elon Musk, is a new type of satellite technology that uses low-orbit satellites. With the use of thousands of these low-orbiting satellites, Starlink aims to remove some of the pain points that come with satellite internet, namely latency and data restrictions. For instance, while HughesNet and Viasat have latency speeds at 600 ms or higher, Starlink’s latency is much lower, ranging between 20 to 40 ms. Starlink speeds (50-150 Mbps) rival DSL and basic cable internet service, but may get faster as more satellites enter the network.
Satellite equipment needed for this service
What you should know about satellite internet data caps
Both HughesNet and Viasat plans have monthly data allowances. Viasat plans tend to offer a higher monthly data allowance than HughesNet.
Viasat plans generally come with more data than HughesNet – 40-150GB/mo. vs 15-75GB/mo. – but data allowances from both providers are significantly lower than other internet types which tend to offer 1 TB/mo. or more.
Starlink does not have data caps currently, but that may change as the program expands.
HughesNet and Viasat both offer “unlimited” data
Fortunately, both HughesNet and Viasat plans come with no hard data limits. Once you reach your data limit, you will experience reduced, or throttled internet speeds, but not an interruption in service or fees for going over your data limit. Your regular speeds will resume after the billing period in which you’ve gone over your limit ends.
Both providers also give you the option to purchase additional data “tokens” if you don’t want the speed reductions. Price and data amount for data tokens varies by satellite internet provider and plans. However, if you do not want to go over your data allowance, you can read about how to beat low data caps.
You can also purchase more data if needed
Both HughesNet and Viasat sell extra data blocks if you think you’ll need to use the internet more some months. Viasat charges $10 for 1GB, $48 for 5GB, $67 for 7GB and $95 for 10GB. HughesNet is a little cheaper, with 3GB of extra data for $9, 5GB for $15, 10GB for $30 and 25GB for $75.
How much data do I need?
To give you an idea of how much data you’ll need with your satellite internet plan, here is an estimate of data consumption for various online activities.
- Browsing the web/social media for 200 hours – 3GB
- Streaming 200 hours of music – 0.8GB
- Streaming 50 hours of SD video – 35GB
- Streaming 20 hours of HD video – 50GB
- Downloading a full-length SD movie – 4GB
- Downloading a full-length HD movie – 10GB
- Downloading a video game – 40+GB
If you’re worried about running over your monthly data cap, you can take advantage of HughesNet’s “Bonus Zone,” which gives you 50GB of extra data per month between 2am-8am local time. If you want to download games or movies without using all of the month’s data allowance, this is a great workaround. Closing background apps on your computer and phone is also an effective way to avoid excess data consumption.
Satellite internet FAQs
HughesNet and Viasat are the two most popular satellite internet providers with service available throughout all 50 states. Starlink, a new satellite internet provider using low-orbiting satellites, has recently launched a beta version of service in select areas.
The speeds available with satellite internet (12-100 Mbps) are good for streaming on-demand video, but the high latency makes it difficult to stream live TV. Keep in mind that streaming video can consume a lot of data, which may quickly use up the relatively low data allowances that come with satellite internet plans.
Due to high latency, playing real-time multiplayer online games with any satellite internet provider is impractical. Turn-based online games should work fine.
Where available, Viasat offers the fastest satellite internet speeds with download speeds up to 100 Mbps. These speeds are not available in all Viasat service areas, however. In some areas, Viasat only offers speeds up to 12 Mbps, which would make HughesNet the fastest satellite internet provider in that area with speeds up to 25 Mbps.
If you can get it, Starlink is the best satellite internet overall, including for those in rural areas. It offers the fastest speeds by far, and it doesn’t have any data caps or contracts. If you can’t get Starlink, HughesNet is a slightly better option than Viasat in rural areas.
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Written by:Ari Howard
Associate Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content
Ari is an Associate Writer for the Allconnect team. She primarily writes about broadband news and studies, particularly relating to internet access, digital safety, broadband-related technology and the digital d… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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