In a year where living, working, and socializing from home is not only a luxury but a necessity, it’s more important than ever that we’re connected with fast and reliable internet access. Of course, depending on where you live, you might have access to a plethora of options—cable, DSL, fiber, fixed wireless—from a number of providers. But for those in more rural areas, or even just small suburban towns, satellite might be the only option available. To find and compare the best satellite internet providers, check out our full guide below.
Satellite Internet in 2021
- In the U.S., the 2018 American Community Survey reports 8.4 million households rely on satellite internet, or roughly six percent of America1.
- Satellite internet is the most widely available ISP, with the FCC reporting that 99.85 percent of the population has access to their service2.
- Despite the relative lack of current satellite options, several companies like SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, Telestat, and Starlink are planning to offer a new type of high-speed service called low-Earth orbit broadband in the coming years3.
Comparing the Best Satellite Providers Today
While satellite is the most widely available internet service in the U.S. with almost 100 percent coverage, it’s often considered slower and more expensive to operate than other options. As a result, there hasn’t been much competition in the satellite ISP space, and there are currently only four companies offering satellite internet. Of these, two—Viasat and HughesNet—are the best satellite internet providers of 2020.
|Monthly Price Range||$50-$150||$59.99-$149.99|
|Plan Options||Internet-Only; Internet + Phone||Internet-Only; Internet + Phone|
|Data Cap Range||12 GB – unlimited data||10-50 GB|
|Speed Range||12-100 Mbps||25 Mbps|
HughesNet is the largest satellite provider in the U.S., offering service in 53 states and territories, while Viasat is the second largest satellite provider, with service in 51 states and territories. For those in the market for packaged service, both companies offer internet and phone plans.
Viasat vs. HughesNet
Viasat and HughesNet have broadband plans that work for both home and office. Viasat offers the fastest speeds available with speeds reaching 100 Mbps while HughesNet offers a reliable 25 Mbps across all their plans. For cheaper rates, HughesNet starts at a lower price point, but has lower high-speed data caps. When it comes to contract lengths, installation and equipment rental rates, both companies are pretty similar. Both ISPs do not offer contract-free options and typically require a 2-year contract. The equipment rental fee for Viasat is $10 per month while for HughesNet, it’s $14.99 per month.
The Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet
Those who live in rural or poorly connected areas will understand the struggle of lost connections, internet lag or even no internet access. Trying to binge-watch your favorite Netflix show only to be met with the never-ending loading icon can really put a damper on an evening in quarantine.
For those without internet or with an impossibly slow connection due to their area, satellite is a great way to stay connected as it’s available nationwide and much more cost effective than mobile hotspots.
But keep in mind that satellite internet is generally slower than other options, like DSL or cable, and factors like bad weather can disrupt service. With low high-speed data caps, it’s best for light internet usage, as heavy users may find themselves with throttled, or extremely slow, service.
Satellite Internet 101
What Is Satellite Internet?
Basically, satellite is internet service delivered via satellite. Rather than traveling via a cable or traditional DSL line, data travels from remote servers to broadcast stations connected to a provider’s satellites. This satellite then transmits directly to consumers, by dishes installed on their property.
Comparing Satellite Internet Pricing
Compared to more popular ISP services like cable and DSL, satellite internet can be pricier, but for those living in more desolate areas, it may be the most cost effective option. Paying for cheaper DSL internet isn’t really worth it if your video never loads. There are several different price points with both HughesNet and Viasat, so you can find what’s right for you.
Understanding Satellite Internet Speeds
Upload and download speeds—compared to other connection types like cable, fiber or DSL—may be slower with satellite internet. While most satellite advertised speeds top out at 100 Mbps, the FCC reported that satellite only delivers the advertised speed 20 percent of the time on average4.
Additionally, the FCC has noted that satellite technologies inherently experience longer latencies since data must travel approximately 44,500 miles from an earth station to the satellite and back5. In layman’s terms, the data has to (quite literally) go to space and back, so things like bad weather or a congested network can slow down your internet speeds.
Make the Most of High-Speed Data Caps
Satellite services don’t normally cap their service and indeed, Viasat offers unlimited data with no data caps. But keep in mind that each plan comes with a limited amount of high-speed data, so while there may be no cap, at a certain point, they may drop your speeds drastically. You won’t be cut off from the internet or incur overages, but you may find yourself with pages loading so slowly that they remind you of ‘90s dial up. To avoid slow downs, opt for a plan that has a little more high-speed data than you think you need.
Combining Satellite Internet With TV and Phone Services
Viasat and HughesNet both offer a phone and internet package for those looking to combine services, but do not offer TV. Ultimately, bundling the internet with phone services can save you money and even get you free upgrades depending on your ISP.
How to Find Satellite Internet in Your Area?
As satellite internet is available to almost 100 percent of the U.S., it’s easy to find for your area. Either the Viasat or HughesNet sites will be able to locate your home with your zip code and show you the internet plans and services available in your area.
Understanding the Satellite Installation Process
Satellite internet service is unlike any other ISP in that installation is highly regulated by the FCC. Because your at-home dish antenna sends and receives data to in-space satellite stations, the FCC requires that it be installed by a certified technician. Additionally, none of the equipment needed to install your satellite service can be purchased on your own. It needs to be rented or purchased directly from your ISP.
While this is certainly more convenient than grabbing a ladder and trying to install your own dish on the roof, it does incur a number of fees including professional installation, monthly equipment rentals, and technical support. The only part of the installation process that you are allowed to do yourself is installation of the Wi-Fi router.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to see the pros and cons of satellite internet, but for the right customer, it can be a total lifesaver. It might be more costly than other ISPs, and speeds can be throttled after reaching the low high-speed data caps, but it’s a great option for those in a poorly connected community. Whether you can’t wait to catch Mulan on Disney+ or your kids can’t get enough of playing Minecraft, it’ll keep you and your family connected.
Best Satellite Internet of 2021 FAQs
Is 100 Mbps fast satellite internet?
If you’re wondering if 100 Mbps internet is fast, rest assured, it’s actually the fastest satellite speed available! While HughesNet’s speeds are available at 25 Mbps across the board, Viasat offers plans that range from 12-100 Mbps.
Who has the fastest satellite internet service?
While satellite offers lower speeds then other connections like cable or fiber, they’re still a great option for those in more rural areas and can oftentimes be faster than DSL. Of Viasat and HughesNet, Viasat offers faster speeds up to 100 Mbps.
What is a good Wi-Fi speed?
Wi-Fi speeds are always going to be a bit slower than a hardwired connection, but a general rule of thumb for good Wi-Fi speeds is to reach roughly half of advertised speeds. For Viasat, this is speeds up to 50 Mbps and HughesNet speeds up to 12-13 Mbps.
Can I game with satellite internet?
If you’re looking to game online, satellite internet is a great option for those in more out-of-reach areas and can oftentimes be better than DSL. Keep in mind that it’s not going to work for every video game, especially those with particularly demanding online use, but should be suitable for most games.