Satellite Internet Providers: New Horizons for Wi-Fi

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Satellite

About satellite internet

Satellite internet is available almost everywhere in the United States and to virtually 100% of the population. With stats like that, you almost certainly have a satellite internet provider in your area.

Unlike traditional internet that relies on cords and cables, satellite internet works by sending a wireless signal from the dish mounted on your house to a geosynchronous satellite in space. By always maintaining the same position in the sky, the satellite can beam your signal back to the provider’s network access point. Because this wireless method makes internet available anywhere you set up a dish, satellite internet is ideal for rural communities that lack infrastructure for DSL, cable, or fiber internet.

 

Is satellite internet a good option?

At least for now, satellite internet is a good option when it’s the only option. It tends to be slower compared to fiber, cable, or DSL internet, but there are some areas where you can get faster speeds from satellite internet than DSL.

Although data sent via satellite happens at a very high speed, the 44,000-mile round trip to outer space and back will understandably cause some latency. Latency, or lag, is the time it takes for data to travel. This is different than bandwidth (internet speed), which is the amount of data that can be transferred in a second.

Satellite internet companies have greatly improved their bandwidth, which has improved download speeds, but activities that require sending a lot of data back and forth—like online gaming—will still show notable latency. Still, even if it’s not the fastest internet around, what’s important is that it lets you log on even when you’re living far away from civilization in a rural desert or cabin in the woods.

 

What is the best satellite internet?

There are currently two household satellite internet providers to choose from in the United States: Viasat and HughesNet. Viasat is the best pick if you need fast download speeds and plenty of data. It provides a lot of options, ranging from low speeds at manageable prices to more expensive plans that deliver 100 Mbps speeds.

HughesNet is better known for straightforward, no-fuss internet plans. Prices stay more consistent, with no sudden price hikes shortly after the plan begins. However, its speeds top out at 25 Mbps, no matter which plan you choose.

Looking ahead, the next generation of satellite internet will be much better, and there will likely be more options to choose from as well. And there will be less latency (or delay) because the satellites will be orbiting at a much lower altitude.

The satellites will be in a low-Earth orbit (LEO) at 1,200 miles altitude, which significantly cuts down the distance the internet signal has to travel. Since the data won’t have as long of a trip to make, the latency will be much lower. Improved technology on newer satellites will also help solve (or at least improve) latency issues.

 

What are satellite internet providers doing about the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

Viasat has joined the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, an initiative spearheaded by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure that internet customers don’t lose internet access due to the economic strain of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Viasat has announced that until June 30, it will keep customers connected to their satellite internet plans even if they are unable to pay their bills. It has also waived late fees for residential and small-business accounts. And it’s opened its public Wi-Fi hotspots for free use.

HughesNet has not made similar pledges, but it is working to prioritize cloud-based business applications and online educational tools so they can keep working smoothly as more people work and study from home.

HughesNet has also increased the speed for customers who go over their monthly data allowances so they don’t experience massive slowdowns. According to HughesNet, customers can also keep their data usage down by disconnecting non-essential Wi-Fi devices, setting security cameras to a lower resolution, using audio only on teleconferencing calls, and downloading large files during Bonus Zone hours from 2:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.

List of satellite internet providers

Provider User Rating Max Download Speed
Viasat 2.0/5 100 Mbps View Plans for Viasat
HughesNet 2.5/5 25 Mbps View Plans for HughesNet

News around satellite internet

There’s been a lot of interest in satellite internet lately. In recent months, SpaceX founder Elon Musk has launched a fleet of Starlink satellites into space so they can provide broadband speeds while in low-Earth orbit. Musk is launching the satellites in batches of 60 and plans to eventually have a constellation of up to 42,000 of them, providing network coverage across the globe. 

Companies like Amazon and OneWeb are also launching satellites that will offer a new generation of internet service, with OneWeb stating its service will be available starting in late 2020. However, due to COVID-19 financial complications, OneWeb recently filed for bankruptcy, so this will likely delay—or possibly implode altogether—its initial timeline projections.

How fast will SpaceX’s Starlink internet be?

SpaceX has announced that internet from the Starlink satellites will deliver download speeds as fast as 1,000 Mbps (or 1 Gbps). That’s much faster than current satellite internet options that currently top out at 100 Mbps, putting it more in line with the speed capabilities of fiber and cable internet connections but with the added edge of widespread availability. 

How much will Starlink internet cost?

It’s unclear how much Starlink will cost. Musk announced on Twitter recently that public beta testing for Starlink internet will begin in October or November, but no details have been released about how much you can expect to pay for it. It’s also unclear whether a Starlink internet plan will have data caps or additional fees on the bill.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, hinted in an interview with CNN in 2019 that Starlink could cost customers less than $80 per month. If that ends up being the case, it would make Starlink internet prices competitive with most fiber internet plans and far more affordable than current satellite internet options from HughesNet and Viasat. 

But wait, how long has satellite technology been around?

Satellite internet has been around since the 1990s. Millions of Americans rely on satellite internet, usually because they live in areas where cable, fiber, and DSL internet aren’t available.

Pros

Availability

You can’t beat satellite internet for availability. It’s available almost everywhere. You just need a clear view of the sky and the property rights to have a satellite mounted.

Cons

Speed

While satellite internet is faster than dial-up, it’s not as fast as cable or fiber.

Latency

The long delay in signal makes it difficult to play fast-paced, multiplayer online games like Fortnite or League of Legends. Video streaming sometimes has hiccups too.

Data caps

Satellite internet plans usually have monthly data caps. If you reach the cap, your data speed will be reduced or you’ll be charged for additional data (depending on your plan).

Final Analysis

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.

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 should I consider when searching for a TV provider in my area?

The great thing about satellite TV is that you can receive service regardless of where you live. From city dwellers to farmers, it’s available to everyone. All that’s required is the manufacturer’s equipment and undisturbed reception.

However, it is important to consider the differences between the providers. Pay attention to the various services, equipment essentials, and reviews for each provider. In the end, it’ll come down to whichever company offers the features and channels you’re looking for.

Do I need satellite TV?

Many people get satellite TV because satellite internet alone won’t offer enough data to deliver video streaming all month. Satellite internet requires a bit of data budgeting, even if it technically offers unlimited data. After you reach the monthly data cap, your data speeds will be slowed down (or “deprioritized” as the ISPs call it). Often, satellite internet speeds will be slowed down to 0.5 Mbps, which can’t support video streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or Amazon Prime.

So how much data will you need? According to a report from Telecompetitor, the average American household uses 209.5 GB of internet data per month. Households who use streaming as their only TV service use on average 395.7 GB per month. So we recommend that you get TV service to minimize data usage.

Another advantage of satellite TV is that you can access channels for free using a Free-to-Air (FTA) receiver and antenna. With a little investment upfront, this gives you a cheap way to stay entertained if you’re stuck inside for long periods—like what we’re going through now due to new coronavirus fears.

DISH vs. DIRECTV

Both DIRECTV and DISH offer great options. Their packages are wide ranging with varying prices and promotions. DIRECTV offers a variety of TV packages with up to 330+ available channels, as well as Spanish TV packages with more than 110 available Spanish-language channels.

Like most TV companies, DIRECTV also offers a myriad of add-ons, including a selection of premium content like HBO®, STARZ®, and SHOWTIME®. One of DIRECTV’s most popular features is NFL SUNDAY TICKET, which is by far the best way to watch professional football.

It covers every out-of-market game in HD and allows you to watch up to eight games simultaneously. You can also upgrade to NFL SUNDAY TICKET MAX, which allows you to stream live games on your phone or tablet on the go, making this is an unbeatable option for sports fans.

On the other hand, DISH offers four English TV options with 290+ available channels. Some smaller packages are less expensive than comparable DIRECTV packages, which is especially nice because DISH keeps its prices the same for two years, while DIRECTV will raise them on customers after one year.

Like DIRECTV, DISH offers premium content such as HBO, STARZ, and SHOWTIME. DISH also has the powerful Hopper 3 DVR, which allows you to store up to 2,000 hours of television and record up to sixteen shows at once. DIRECTV’s Genie DVR can store up to 800 hours of television and record five shows at once, which doesn’t stack up in comparison to DISH’s superior equipment.

Need to know more? Rean an in-depth comparison of DISH and DIRECTV.

Can I get satellite TV for free?

You can get hundreds of satellite TV channels for free using a Free-to-Air satellite receiver. Also known as an FTA receiver, they let you tap into unencrypted transmissions from satellite operators, giving you free and legal access to a variety of international news, sports, and entertainment channels.

To access FTA channels, you’ll also need a satellite dish and a coaxial cable to connect to your receiver. You’ll then connect the receiver to your TV.

Setting it all up will cost you some money. And free-to-air satellite channels may not give you the same selection of premium programming that you’d get from a paid subscription through DIRECTV or DISH.

Still, this offers a cheap way to get live TV broadcasts. You can stay up to date on major news developments and enjoy some entertainment without overusing your limited data allowance.

Top 2 Satellite Providers Summary

ProductMax download speedMax upload speedMax data cap
#1Viasat100 Mbps3 Mbps150 GB
#2HughesNet25 Mbps3 Mbps50 GB*
#1
ProductViasat
Max download speed100 Mbps
Max upload speed3 Mbps
Max data cap150 GB
#2
ProductHughesNet
Max download speed25 Mbps
Max upload speed3 Mbps
Max data cap50 GB*

Worried about that data cap?

Satellite internet does require a bit of data budgeting, even if they technically offer unlimited data. After you reach the monthly data cap, your data speeds will be slowed down (or “deprioritized” as the ISPs call it). So how much data will you need? According to a report from Telecompetitor, the average American household uses 209.5 GB of internet data per month. Households who use streaming as their only TV service use on average 395.7 GB per month. So we recommend that you get TV service to minimize data usage.

Other options for rural internet

Satellite internet is your best option for rural internet, but more options may be on the horizon. The expansion of fixed wireless, next generation satellite internet from companies like SpaceX, and 5G technologies will soon bring additional internet options to some rural areas.

As these new services become available, we’ll continue to update our database to show you all your options. For more information on these emerging technologies, see our page about rural internet providers.

Will 5G work in rural areas?

5G is expected to bring lower latency to mobile internet in rural areas and facilitate major innovations in rural industries like agriculture.

Not all types of 5G technology will make an impact in America’s heartland. The strongest form of 5G delivers a millimeter-wave signal that’s designed for relatively contained, high-density geographic areas like stadiums and public parks. So, it likely won’t be available in the countryside.

But there’s also a low-band version of 5G with a much wider reach. Low-band 5G is faster than 4G and will cut down drastically on the latency and lag that internet users in rural areas usually deal with when they can only get satellite internet.

Lower latency on a 5G network could make streaming go a lot smoother at home. It’s also expected to allow for nifty new advances, like wireless sensors to monitor crops in farmers’ fields.

5G isn’t widely available in rural corners now, but it could be soon. T-Mobile and Sprint have committed to setting up 5G for 85% of the country’s rural population within three years of their planned corporate merger, which was approved in November 2019 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Is 5G dangerous?

No, 5G is not dangerous. It has not been shown to pose any health risks, according to medical researchers and scientists. The New York Times reported in July that 5G does not pose health risks. Claims to the contrary have long been discredited by the American medical establishment, the Times reports.

5G has been the subject of numerous conspiracy theories and health concerns in recent months, including an outlandish claim that the new wireless technology is causing the spread of the new coronavirus. Public health officials from the United Kingdom to the United States have dismissed these fears as baseless and scaremongering.