Satellite internet providers
Compare plans from HughesNet, Viasat and Elon Musk’s new service, Starlink, to determine if satellite internet is a good fit for you.
The best satellite internet providers
When shopping for satellite internet, you’ll likely find two available options: HughesNet and Viasat, and coming soon, 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.
Compare satellite internet providers
|Starting monthly price*|
|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 03/05/21. **Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed.
HughesNet satellite internet plans
|Plan name||Starting price*||Download speeds**||Monthly data allowance|
|Gen5 10GB||$59.99/mo.||25 Mbps||10GB|
|Gen5 20GB||$69.99/mo.||25 Mbps||20GB|
|Gen5 30GB||$99.99/mo.||25 Mbps||30GB|
|Gen5 50GB||$149.99/mo.||25 Mbps||50GB|
*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 03/05/21. **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 satellite internet plans
|Plans||Intro price*||Download speeds||Data cap|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$50.00/mo.||12 Mbps||40GB|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$70.00/mo.||25 Mbps||60GB|
|Unlimited Gold 50||$100.00/mo.||50 Mbps||100GB|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||$150.00/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 03/05/21.
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 price lock – Standard Viasat plans come with a two-year price lock while 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 satellite internet plans
|Plan||Starting price||Download speeds||Latency||Data caps||Equipment costs|
|Starlink beta plan||$99.00/mo.||50 – 150 Mbps||40 – 60 ms||Unlimited||$499|
Starlink service highlights
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 150 Mbps – Starlink speeds currently range between 50 and 150 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
HughesNet and Viasat
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).
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.
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, fiber and even some DSL internet connections.
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.
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 or working from home impractical (Starlink will have much lower latency than HughesNet or Viasat).
Not known for being a cheap internet option.
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 10-50GB/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.
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
Satellite vs. other types of internet
How does satellite internet compare to these other types of internet service connections?
- Speeds – Max download speeds for satellite internet are currently lower than you’ll find with fiber or cable internet connections, but may be faster than DSL service in many areas.
- Pricing – Considering the speeds you get for the price, satellite internet is one of the more expensive internet options. While starting pricing for HughesNet and Viasat is around $50/mo., the speeds and data that come with it are lower than you’ll find from other internet types with plans around the same price.
- Data caps – As we’ve mentioned above, satellite internet plans typically come with far less data than DSL, cable or fiber plans. However, HughesNet and Viasat do not charge overage fees for going over your data limit.
- Latency – Also as mentioned above, latency is much higher with satellite internet than other internet types, which can limit what you do online.
- Contracts – HughesNet and Viasat service comes with a two-year contract. While contracts vary more by provider than internet type, a two-year contract is still longer than what is required from many other internet providers.
Our take on satellite internet
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.
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.
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Written by:David Anders
Senior Writer, Broadband Content
David joined the Allconnect team in 2017, specializing in broadband and TV content. His work has been referenced by a variety of sources, including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. As a Senior Writer, David is motivate… Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband & Wireless Content
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