Satellite Internet Providers
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What is satellite internet?
Satellite internet connects your home to the internet via an orbiting satellite, making it available nationwide and a good option for rural areas that lack access to DSL, cable, or fiber networks. Instead of using land-based cords and cables to provide your signal, you connect to the internet by installing a small satellite dish on or near your home.
Internet satellites are typically located in geosynchronous orbit, which means that the satellite that provides your signal is always in the same spot in the sky. In the US and the rest of the northern hemisphere, this means that satellite internet is available virtually anywhere. All you need is a clear view of the southern sky.
Is satellite internet a good option for me?
Due to its low data caps and high latency, satellite internet is usually only the best option when it’s the only option. Although satellite internet can deliver broadband speeds up to 100 Mbps in some areas (which match DSL speeds), its restrictive data caps and high price per Mbps make it so DSL is still generally the better choice if it’s available.
Since a satellite signal has to travel all the way into orbit and back to reach the rest of the internet, satellite connections have higher latency than other types of internet connections.
Latency is the amount of time it takes for a signal to travel from your computer to a server on the internet. High latency causes lag, which can make activities like video chat and online gaming difficult or impossible. Latency is different from bandwidth or download speed, which means that even if you have a fast connection, it still might have latency that’s high enough to interfere with certain activities.
That said, satellite internet has improved considerably over the years and is an industry where new companies are still innovating (take Starlink from SpaceX, for example). Although it has definite drawbacks, it can be a good option for those who want to stay connected even when they’re chilling in their cabin in the woods.
What provider offers the best satellite internet?
There are currently only two providers that offer residential satellite internet in the United States: Viasat and HughesNet. Both are available nationwide. Viasat offers the best satellite internet if you want faster download speeds and more data. It provides a lot of different plans, from slower budget options to expensive plans that can reach speeds up to 100 Mbps.
Although it has more options, Viasat plans often have price hikes that can catch you unaware if you don’t read the fine print. Another issue is that although Viasat is technically available anywhere in the US, increased internet demand in rural areas means that Viasat doesn’t have the bandwidth to add new customers in certain areas.
HughesNet is the provider to turn to for simple, no-fuss satellite internet. HughesNet has more consistent pricing without hidden price hikes. Its download speeds, however, top out at 25 Mbps.
As new developments in satellite technology become available, we’re starting to see the next generation of satellite internet emerge with companies like SpaceX’s Starlink. The goal of this new satellite technology is to launch a constellation of satellites in low-Earth orbit, a fraction of the distance to far away geosynchronous satellites. With internet signals making a much shorter roundtrip, latency will be much lower and speeds will be faster. Hopefully these new technologies will bring more choices to rural internet customers.
Best satellite internet providers
|Provider||Introductory price||Download speed||Get it|
|Viasat||$30.00–$150.00/mo.||Up to 12–100 Mbps||View plans|
|HughesNet||$59.99–$149.99/mo.||Up to 25 Mbps||View plans|
|Starlink*||$99.00†||Up to 50–150 Mbps||Sign up for beta|
Data as of 10/28/20 Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
*Currently in beta. Availability announced for 2021.
†Starlink speed, pricing, data, and latency numbers are estimates based on current data as of 9/28/2020. Actual data may vary when Starlink service is officially launched.
Viasat Interent plans
|Package name||Speed||Data threshold||Introductory price||Price increase|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||Up to 12 Mbps||35 GB||$50/mo.||$70/mo. after 3 mos.|
|Unlimited Silver 12||Up to 12 Mbps||45 GB||$100/mo.||$150/mo. after 3 mos.|
|Unlimited Gold 12||Up to 12 Mbps||65 GB||$150/mo.||$200/mo. after 3 mos.|
|Unlimited Silver 25||Up to 25 Mbps||60 GB||$70/mo.||$100/mo. after 3 mos.|
|Unlimited Gold 30||Up to 30 Mbps||100 GB||$100/mo.||$150/mo. after 3 mos.|
|Unlimited Gold 50||Up to 50 Mbps||100 GB||$100/mo.||$150/mo. after 3 mos.|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||Up to 100 Mbps||150 GB||$150/mo.||$200/mo. after 3 mos.|
Data as of 10/28/20. Speeds and pricing vary by area and are subject to change.
HughesNet Interent plans
HughesNet 10 GB
|Up to 25 Mbps||10 GB||$59.99/mo.|
|HughesNet 20 GB||Up to 25 Mbps||20 GB||$69.99/mo.|
|HughesNet 30 GB||Up to 25 Mbps||30 GB||$99.99/mo.|
|HughesNet 50 GB||Up to 25 Mbps||40 GB||$149.99/mo.|
Data as of 10/28/20. Speeds and pricing vary by area and are subject to change.
Speeds and pricing are for 24 months and require 24-month commitment.
Satellite is the only kind of internet connection that basically covers the entire United States. You don’t need any physical cables to connect to satellite internet—you don’t even need to live within range of a transmission tower. All you need is a clear view of the southern sky and a good spot on your property where you can mount a dish.
Satellite is faster than dial-up and can keep up with most DSL plans, but it can’t compete in terms of speed with cable or fiber connections.
The extended delay (space is far away) between sending a signal from your computer and getting a response makes it hard to play fast-paced online games like Fortnite and can cause problems in other real-time activities like video chat.
Satellite internet plans usually have fairly restrictive data caps when compared to other types of internet connections. If you reach the cap, you’ll have your speed reduced or be charged for extra data if you want to return to your normal plan speeds. This can make data-intensive activities like watching movies on Netflix difficult to do on a satellite connection.
Need internet and TV? We’ve got you covered.
Best Satellite TV Providers: Buyers Guide
HighSpeedInternet.com helps you compare the most affordable satellite internet providers by ZIP code. You may have noticed that even satellite internet companies advertising “unlimited data” still have a data cap, which means that streaming Netflix all day just isn’t going to work.
If you’re looking for satellite TV, too, so you can save on internet data, just be aware that neither Viasat nor HughesNet offers television service. You can choose from two satellite television providers: DISH and DIRECTV.
Find satellite providers in your area:
What other internet options are there for rural areas?
Satellite internet is the only type of internet connection that is available throughout the entire US. However, many rural areas have other options that might be a better choice for your needs.
DSL uses copper phone lines to transmit its signal, which is just like dial-up internet but with much higher speeds. Since phone lines are so widespread, DSL reaches more rural areas than cable or fiber networks can. Not every location with phone lines has a DSL provider, but it’s worth checking before you commit to a satellite plan.
DSL is faster and more reliable than satellite in most cases, and it also has lower latency and more forgiving data caps. DSL does slow down the farther your home is from your internet service provider’s (ISP’s) nearest office, which is of particular concern for rural customers.
Many companies are also phasing out their aging DSL networks. Verizon has been steadily moving toward fiber and other technologies, leaving its DSL infrastructure in disrepair.1 AT&T has stopped taking new DSL customers altogether, which means that even if you live within AT&T’s coverage area, you can’t get DSL unless you already have it.2
Mobile wireless hotspots
Mobile wireless internet uses cell towers to connect to your phone or other device. Although phone networks don’t cover the whole United States, 4G cellular networks cover most populated areas. If you get good phone reception in your house, you might be able to use your phone in lieu of a separate internet plan.
Most smartphones can be used as a mobile hotspot, which broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal that you can use to connect your other devices like laptops and smart TVs. You can also buy a dedicated mobile hotspot in addition to your phone plan. This will keep your phone from running down its battery and ensure that the other people in your house don’t lose their internet connection every time you go out.
Like satellite connections, many phone plans have data caps or other restrictions that make them difficult to use as your primary internet service. If, however, you have good reception and don’t use a lot of data in a month, you can get decent internet service through a service you’re already paying for.
4G LTE home internet
4G LTE home internet uses the same cellular networks that your mobile devices use, but this technology uses a more traditional router that connects to cellular networks rather than a phone or a mobile hotspot.
Because these plans are designed for home Wi-Fi networks, 4G LTE home internet plans are usually better suited for families with higher internet usage. Many plans come with unlimited data, which can make them a good alternative to satellite internet in areas where you have good cell reception.Verizon is also building out its 5G Home Internet service, which uses 5G cellular technology. This service has the potential to offer much higher speeds than 4G cellular connections and will provide internet to customers in areas with limited internet choices.3
What’s the deal with SpaceX’s Starlink?
There are a lot of exciting developments in satellite internet, mostly concerning Elon Musk’s new Starlink broadband project. Using SpaceX’s reusable rockets, Starlink has been launching hundreds of satellites into low-Earth orbit at a fraction of the normal cost associated with launching satellites.
Although its satellite launches are in full-swing, Starlink hasn’t officially launched its internet service. Some people who signed up early have been invited to beta test the service, but it’s not yet available to the general public. When it does launch, it has the potential to drastically improve internet connections for rural Americans.
How fast will Starlink internet be?
Starlink will offer speeds from 50 to 150 Mbps, which is faster than any plans currently available through residential satellite internet providers.4 And speeds could get even faster than that as Starlink continues to expand its network.
Also, because these satellites are in low-Earth orbit, just dipping into the Earth’s atmosphere, they can deliver these speeds with much lower latency than geostationary satellites, which are thousands of miles higher into space. Starlink customers can expect 20ms–40ms of latency, compared to latency around 600ms for traditional satellite internet.4
How much will Starlink internet cost?
Starlink has yet to announce any official prices for their internet plan, nor do we have any concrete statements about fees or data caps. Beta testers are paying $99 per month for their internet, which gives us some idea of what the launch price might be.4 For comparison, both HughesNet and Viasat have plans around this price range, but Starlink’s plan aims to be four to eight times faster. Viasat’s comparable 100 Mbps plan has a $150 per month promotional price that later increases to $200 per month.
How can I sign up to be a Starlink beta tester?
Starlink has just recently begun taking public beta testers. To be considered, you can share your information with Starlink on its website, though there’s no guarantee that you’ll be chosen. If you live in the US or southern Canada, it’s possible that you might be able to sign up for Starlink by the end of 2020.
Satellite internet is widely available and speeds are getting faster every year. New generation satellite internet providers will push the limits of satellite internet, but in the meantime Viasat and HughesNet both offer plans that support video streaming (although the fastest plans are not available in all locations).
Satellite internet has its downsides though. In addition to monthly data caps that make steady video streaming impractical, the high latency can be frustrating. Satellite is also more expensive than other types of internet. Because of these downsides, we recommend that you check for wired options like DSL, fiber, or cable before signing up for satellite internet. If you don’t have wired options in your area, satellite is a solid alternative to dial-up internet and is often the best choice for rural areas.
Satellite internet FAQ
How fast is satellite internet?
Satellite internet speeds range from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps. It’s important to remember that even at higher speeds, satellite connections suffer from extremely high latency, which can make your connection feel much slower than it is while doing certain activities like streaming or online gaming.
Is satellite better than DSL?
No, in most cases, DSL is a better choice than satellite if it’s available. DSL offers similar download speeds to satellite; however, it has much lower latency. DSL plans also usually have much higher data caps and are often cheaper than satellite plans as well, making it a fairly clear choice.
Satellite might be a better choice if you live on the edges of your DSL provider’s coverage area. Since DSL signals slow down the farther they have to travel from your ISP’s nearest hub, DSL customers on the fringes of the network can end up with speeds significantly slower than advertised. Of course, DSL providers try to minimize this, and it’s pretty hard to know how much slowdown you will experience in your area until you try it, so pay attention to customer reviews in your area.
How do I install satellite internet?
You’ll need a professional installation to hook up your satellite internet service. Neither Viasat nor HughesNet offer self-installation as an option. Both require a technician to come to your home to install and calibrate your dish.
Starlink does not currently offer installation, so beta testers only have the option to buy a $499 setup kit and install it themselves. However, since Starlink is still in beta, it’s unclear how the current installation process will compare with the installation after the service launches.
How do I get Starlink?
Starlink is not currently available to consumers, but it’s currently in beta testing. Based on launch schedules and past statements, the project should be ready to launch in the US and Canada by the end of 2020.6 Since the satellite constellation will cover the entire country, we can assume that it should be available everywhere at launch, though this also depends on the demand for the new service and how quickly Starlink can get its equipment to eager new customers.
1. Karl Bode, Techdirt, “Verizon Says Claims It’s Abandoning Its DSL Customers ‘Pure Nonsense,’ As Company Clearly Busy Abandoning DSL Customers,” June 16, 2015. Accessed October 15, 2020.
2. Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, “AT&T Kills DSL, Leaves Tens of Millions of Homes without Fiber Internet,” October 5, 2020. Accessed October 15, 2020.
3. Chaim Gartenberg, The Verge, “Verizon Announces Its Nationwide 5G Network,” Oct 13, 2020. Accessed October 15, 2020.
4. Joey Roulette, Reuters, “Musk’s SpaceX pegs initial Starlink internet price at $99 per month – email,” October 27, 2020. Accessed October 29, 2020.
5. Jackie Wattles, CNN Business, “Here’s What You Need to Know About SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Service,” October 26, 2019. Accessed October 15, 2020.
6. Mike Brown, Inverse, “SpaceX Starlink: When Will It Be Available in My Area?,” February 4, 2020. Accessed October 15, 2020.