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About satellite internet
Satellite internet connects your home to the internet via an orbiting satellite. This makes satellite connections 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 having a small satellite dish installed on or near your home.
Internet satellites are typically located in geosynchronous orbit, so 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.
Popular satellite internet providers
|Provider||Satellite speeds up to||Introductory price||Get it|
|Viasat||12–100 Mbps||$30.00–$150.00/mo.||View plans|
|HughesNet||25 Mbps||$59.99–$149.99/mo.||View plans|
|Starlink*||50–150 Mbps||$99.00†/mo.||More information|
Data as of 6/10/21 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 6/10/21. Actual data may vary when Starlink service is officially launched.
Is satellite available in my area?
Because of the wide-reaching accessibility of satellite, it’s likely you have a satellite provider in your area. Search with your zip code to see which internet providers offer service near you.
Find satellite providers in your area.
Pros and Cons
- Wide availability
- Low speeds
- Restrictive data caps
- High latency
Pros of satellite internet
Wide availability—Satellite is the only kind of internet connection that basically covers the entire United States. You don’t need any physical infrastructure like buried cables or utility poles 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.
Cons of satellite internet
Low speeds—Satellite is faster than dial-up and can keep up with many DSL plans, but it can’t compete in terms of speed with cable or fiber connections.
Restrictive data caps—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.
High latency—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.
Best satellite internet plans
|Plan||Download speed||Data threshold||Prices||Get it|
|Viasat Unlimited Gold 50||Up to 50 Mbps||200 GB||$99.99/mo.‡||View plans|
|Viasat Unlimited Platinum||Up to 100 Mbps||350 GB||$149.99/mo.‡||View plans|
|HughesNet 50 GB||Up to 25 Mbps||50 GB||$149.99/mo.§||View plans|
Data as of 10/28/20. Speeds and pricing vary by area and are subject to change.
‡Promotional price is for the first 3 months. Regular internet rate applies after 3 months. one-time installation fee may apply. Equipment lease fee is $12.99/mo. Taxes apply. Minimum 24 month service term required.
§Service plans require a 24-month commitment.
How satellite internet works
Satellite internet works by sending a signal to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit (except for LEO satellites) and then bouncing that signal back to a receiver installed on your home. This means that you can get satellite service just about anywhere with no need for normal infrastructure like buried cables, utility poles, or ground-based antennas.
Disadvantages of satellite internet
While beaming your internet signal in from outer space gives satellite internet a unique advantage over other types of connections, it also comes with a lot of downsides.
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.
Space is very, very far away
Traditional satellite internet providers keep their satellites in geosynchronous orbit so that they are always found in the same spot in the sky. This means that a single satellite can cover an entire continent.
Unfortunately, geosynchronous orbit is very high—22,236 miles above the Earth’s surface. For comparison, the International Space Station is only 254 miles above the Earth. That means your data has to travel almost 90 times farther, plus it has to make a round trip.
Since a satellite signal has to travel all the way into orbit and back to reach the rest of the internet, satellite connections have much 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.
The future of satellite internet
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). Speeds are getting faster and a new generation of satellites is poised to accelerate the pace of these changes even further. 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.
The practical reality of connecting via satellite
For now, satellite internet still has enough downsides to make it a less appealing choice than fiber, cable, or DSL. High latency makes it difficult to use video chat or play online games, while low data caps make streaming video impractical.
Because of these factors, we highly suggest going with fiber, cable, or DSL if any of them are available in your area. If not, satellite internet is still a solid alternative to dial-up internet and a good way to stay connected in rural areas.
What other internet options are available 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 like DSL, hotspots, and 4G LTE internet 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
4G LTE home internet
4G LTE home internet uses the same cellular networks that your mobile devices use, but with 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
Mobile wireless hotspots
Mobile wireless internet uses cell towers to connect to your phone or other devices. 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.
Satellite internet FAQ
Which provider offers the best satellite internet?
Viasat offers the best satellite internet if you want faster download speeds and more data, while HughesNet offers more affordable plans.
There are currently only two providers that offer residential satellite internet in the United States: Viasat and HughesNet. Both are available nationwide. Viasat 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. But its download speeds top out at 25 Mbps.
What’s the deal with SpaceX’s Starlink?
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. The ultimate goal is to offer faster, more affordable satellite internet service.
But Starlink hasn’t officially launched its internet service yet. 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. SpaceX’s long-term plans include the goal of reaching 10 Gbps download speeds, faster than most residential internet plans.7
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 20 ms–40 ms of latency, compared to latency around 600 ms for traditional satellite internet.4
How much will Starlink internet cost?
Beta testers are paying $99 per month for their internet, which gives us some idea of what the launch price might be.4 But Starlink has yet to announce any official prices for their internet plan, nor do we have any concrete statements about fees or data caps.
For comparison, both HughesNet and Viasat have plans around this price range, but Starlink’s plan aims to be four to eight times faster. In contrast, Viasat’s comparable 100 Mbps plan has a $150 per month promotional price that later increases to $200 per month.
How do I get Starlink?
Starlink is not currently available to consumers, but it is 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.
How can I sign up to be a Starlink beta tester?
To be considered to participate in the public beta, 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.
Will there be just three satellite providers?
Although Starlink is set to become the first competitor to HughesNet and Viasat in almost twenty years, there are several other companies currently developing low-Earth orbit satellite constellations to provide home internet access. These include companies like Amazon, OneWeb, and Boeing.
How fast is satellite internet?
Current satellite internet speeds range from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps. It’s important to remember that even at higher speeds, satellite connections still 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 internet better than DSL?
DSL is a better choice than satellite internet if it’s available. DSL offers similar download speeds to satellite internet, but it has much lower latency and higher data caps. DSL plans are also often cheaper than satellite plans, making it a fairly clear choice.
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 installation after the service launches.
- 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.
- Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, “AT&T Kills DSL, Leaves Tens of Millions of Homes without Fiber Internet,” October 5, 2020. Accessed October 15, 2020.
- Chaim Gartenberg, The Verge, “Verizon Announces Its Nationwide 5G Network,” Oct 13, 2020. Accessed October 15, 2020.
- Joey Roulette, Reuters, “Musk’s SpaceX Pegs Initial Starlink Internet Price at $99 per Month – Email,” October 27, 2020. Accessed October 29, 2020.
- Jackie Wattles, CNN Business, “Here’s What You Need to Know About SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Service,” October 26, 2019. Accessed October 15, 2020.
- Mike Brown, Inverse, “SpaceX Starlink: When Will It Be Available in My Area?,” February 4, 2020. Accessed October 15, 2020.
- Michael Kan, PC Mag, “SpaceX’s Starlink Raises Download Speed Goal From 1Gbps to 10Gbps,” January 26, 2021. Accessed January 28, 2021.