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What is satellite internet?

Satellite internet is an internet connection that uses satellite signals to send and receive data. Using geostationary (fixed position) satellites, providers can offer a high-speed internet connection from 25-100 Mbps to nearly anywhere in the U.S.

You can use a satellite internet connection for downloading, streaming, uploading and even some gaming. Just like other types of internet providers, satellite internet requires a modem and a router for home Wi-Fi service, in addition to a stationary satellite dish.

The best satellite internet providers

There are only two nationwide satellite internet providers: HughesNet and Viasat. Both have different options for households of various budget, speed and data needs.

Best value for price

Best high-speed options

Satellite internet service from HughesNet and Viasat 

Will there always be just two satellite internet options?

No. Starlink, developed under the SpaceX umbrella headed by Elon Musk, is a new type of satellite technology that uses low-orbit satellites. However, as of 2020, the internet service is still in its beta testing phase. 

In June 2020, MarketWatch reported that “Amazon.com Inc. has won approval from the Federal Communications Commission to build a $10 billion satellite-internet network that would rival SpaceX’s Starlink network.” 

And, in October 2020, Business Insider reported that “SpaceX’s internet satellite project, Starlink, had launched enough satellites for its public beta.”

Is satellite internet a good option?

Satellite internet is available virtually everywhere, but it’s not for everyone. Why? Because satellite lacks the speeds and bandwidth capabilities of cable and fiber internet

However, in areas where satellite and DSL internet are the only available options, satellite internet may be your best choice for high-speed broadband. Satellite internet is best for residents of rural or suburban areas where cable or fiber internet connections are not available

Advantages of satellite internet

  • High speeds comparable to DSL internet.
  • Satellite internet providers are perfect for rural areas where DSL and cable internet are not available.
  • Service usually has enough bandwidth to support light to moderate usage, web browsing and streaming movies and music.
  • Faster and more reliable than dial-up internet.

Disadvantages of satellite internet

  • Prone to weather-related disruptions or lags in speed.
  • Service can be more expensive than cable or DSL service.
  • Satellite internet providers place monthly data caps on how much data a user may download or upload.
  • High latency makes playing real-time online gaming impractical.
  • Not known for being a cheap internet option.

HughesNet satellite internet plans

Take a closer look at HughesNet plans, pricing and data limits.

Why choose HughesNet?

  • HughesNet internet prices are typically $10/mo. less than Viasat. Keep in mind that price point will come with less data and lower download speeds. 
  • HughesNet customers can also take advantage of “Bonus Zone” data – an extra 50 GB of data/mo. available from the hours of 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. – a feature that Viasat doesn’t have.

Viasat satellite internet plans

Take a closer look at Viasat plans, pricing and data limits.

Why choose Viasat?

  • Viasat is the only satellite internet provider that offers speeds up to 100 Mbps.
  • Viasat has data caps as large as 150GB. 
  • For rural areas that need faster download speeds and more flexible data limits than what HughesNet has to offer, we recommend Viasat internet.

What is Viasat doing to make your satellite internet more reliable?

Viasat Flex is a new service that Viasat introduced to improve satellite internet connections in rural areas. Viasat Flex allows your internet connection to automatically switch between DSL and satellite service to reduce lag and latency.

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. 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.

How much data am I using?

  • Browsing the web/social media for 200 hours – 3 GB
  • Streaming 200 hours of music – 0.8 GB
  • Streaming 50 hours of SD video – 35 GB
  • Streaming 20 hours of HD video – 50 GB
  • Downloading a full-length SD movie – 4 GB
  • Downloading a full-length HD movie – 10 GB
  • Downloading a video game – 40+ GB

Why does satellite internet come with such low data allowances compared to other internet types?

Where a single fiber-optic node or cable internet hub may serve a dozen or more houses in a neighborhood, a single satellite may serve thousands of satellite internet customers all across the U.S. Consequently, available bandwidth capacity is limited with satellite internet, and providers use data caps to help ensure there is enough bandwidth for all.

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.

Satellite vs. other types of internet

How does satellite internet compare to these other types of internet service connections?

Our take on satellite internet

If you’re looking for reliable satellite internet in a rural area, Viasat or HughesNet are your best options. Use 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. 

Satellite internet FAQs

Is satellite internet as fast as cable internet?

Current satellite internet technology offers speeds comparable to DSL internet, but cannot deliver the high-speed internet available with cable or fiber-optic services. Satellite internet speeds max out at up to 100 Mbps, while most cable providers can offer up to 10 times that speed.

No. There is not a way to get home satellite internet for free. However, many internet providers offer discounted or low-cost internet.

Bad weather and extensive cloud coverage can interfere with your satellite signal, but if that doesn’t seem to be an issue, check out our tips to boost your satellite Wi-Fi signal.

HughesNet plans come with download speeds up to 25 Mbps, which is considered broadband and is fast enough to support browsing the web, video streaming and downloading music. Viasat plans may come with download speeds ranging from 12-100 Mbps depending on your location, also fast enough for most online activities. For more information, see our guide to finding the right internet speed.

Due to 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.

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David Anders

Written by:

David Anders

Senior Writer, Broadband Content

David joined the Allconnect team in 2017, specializing in broadband and TV content. As a Senior Writer, David is passionate about making sure our broadband content provides vital information to consumers and hel… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband & Wireless Content

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