Old-school versus new-school satellite internet
No matter where you live in the United States, you can get a home internet connection with satellite internet. For folks who live in rural areas without a reliable connection, satellite internet is often the only ticket for streaming Netflix, playing games online, working remotely, and doing other activities over the internet.
Don’t get satellite internet expecting deluxe service. Whether you go with Starlink, Hughesnet or Viasat, expect to pay a higher price for slower speeds. You may have to accept a strict data cap too, depending on your plan.
But it’s important to stay connected, and you still have options when it comes to choosing preferred speeds, data caps, and price. Read on for our full guide to the best satellite internet providers.
Before you sign up for a satellite internet plan, search with your zip code below to see what other internet options are in your area.
Best satellite internet: A tale of three providers
There are three satellite internet providers in the United States: Starlink, Hughesnet, and Viasat. All three of these providers are available basically anywhere in the United States, but each one has different advantages. As you’re weighing which option to go for, think about the download speeds you need, the amount of data you want, and how much you’re willing to pay for both.
Here’s the need-to-know information for each satellite internet provider:
Satellite internet at a glance
Download speed range
Before you buy, look for other options
For a lot of users, satellite internet is all about sacrifice. Prices for satellite internet tend to be a lot higher compared to other fixed broadband internet options, and you usually have to settle for much slower speeds and less data. It’s only worth investing in a satellite internet plan if you have no other options.
Download speeds: Get as much as you can afford
Since a satellite internet connection literally travels from space to your device at home, download speeds can’t compete with the gigabit speeds you can get from fiber and cable internet providers. Generally, expect to get speeds in the range of 12Mbps to 500Mbps from a satellite plan.
Data caps: Bear with strict limits unless you have Starlink
Many satellite internet users also have to settle for extremely strict data caps. Data is a hot commodity when the connection is coming from a satellite in space. Expect to have less flexibility on a satellite internet plan to do things like stream video, make video calls, post to social media, and download files.
You don’t have to worry about that with Starlink, which has ditched data caps completely and gives customers unlimited data with any plan. However, Hughesnet and Viasat currently lag behind the trend, imposing strict data caps on most internet plans. But you can pay for a high enough data cap where you might not need to worry about hitting the limit.
Equipment and installation fees: Expect costly fees
Satellite internet equipment usually costs more than the equipment that comes with a DSL, cable, or fiber internet plan. That’s because, along with a modem, you need a satellite dish (also called a receiver).
Monthly rental fees for your satellite equipment aren’t too bad, but if you’d rather buy the equipment outright, you’re looking at a flat fee ranging from $300 to $500, depending on which provider you go with.
On top of that, you need a professional installer to set up your dish if you go with Viasat or Hughesnet. But with Starlink, you need to pay for a self-installation kit that costs $599, and then you have to use an app to set everything up yourself.
How we chose the best satellite internet providers
The main factors we value for satellite internet providers are download speeds, data caps, and price.
We strongly value unlimited data caps because users can stream as much content as they want and download all the big games on their video game consoles without stressing about passing an arbitrary limit. Of course, data caps don’t matter much if you can’t get decent enough download speeds to actually use your internet. The download speeds offered by each satellite internet provider also make a huge impact on what plans we recommend to users. With both the data caps and download speeds in mind, we look at price to determine the overall value from each provider.
Reviews.org’s reviews and guides are written with independence and transparency in mind. Though we may get paid when you click our links, our brand partners don't read or approve our articles before they are published. Learn more about Reviews.org on our About Us page.
Starlink: Best overall performance
Instead of using one massive satellite like Viasat and Hughesnet, Starlink launched thousands of small satellites in low orbit around the Earth. Because the satellites orbit closer to Earth’s surface, your internet connection doesn’t need to travel nearly as far, and as a result, you get a more responsive internet connection.
Starlink offers two residential internet plans.
|Priority 40 GB
|Priority 1 TB
The Starlink Standard plan works well for most satellite-powered households, offering download speeds ranging from 20 to 100Mbps. Assuming your real-life download speeds fall somewhere in the median between the two extremes, you shouldn’t have any issue with standard streaming and gaming.
The Priority 40GB and 1TB plans exist for power users who want prioritized high-speed data for things like competitive online gaming or 4K streaming. If neither of those things sound like part of your daily internet routine, then you can get along fine with the Starlink Standard plan. It’s also worth calling out that the Priority internet plans comes with a hefty $2,500 cost for the equipment.
Miles Wray, a Starlink user who lives in rural Oregon, hasn’t had any issue with streaming NBA games with the Starlink Standard plan. “Starlink beats what I was getting with the DSL internet provider I was using before,” Wray tells Reviews.org. “I can watch Jazz games on my TV without any issue, but sometimes the connection gets a little spotty if my wife streams a movie on her phone at the same time.”
Starlink also offers another internet plan for folks who want to live out of their RV or boats and take an internet connection with them.
Overall, Starlink offers the best satellite internet technology and gives you a responsive internet connection for a reasonable monthly price.
Hughesnet: Cheapest satellite internet provider
Hughesnet offers a cheaper satellite internet plan than anything Starlink or Viasat offers, but the slower download speeds leave a little something to be desired. The best-case scenario with the cheapest Hughesnet plan gets you 50Mbps, but you may end up with speeds half that fast. Even if you get download speeds closer to 25Mbps than 50Mbps, you can still do some basic streaming and gaming with your satellite home internet connection.
Before we get too excited about the price, note that the price jumps up by $25 per month after the first year of service with the Select and Elite internet plans. You also need to pony up for the satellite and antenna equipment, which can either cost you between $299.99 to $449.99 to purchase or $14.99 to $19.99 per month to rent. Hughesnet isn’t the amazing value it seems like on the surface, but even with the price hikes and equipment, the pricing beats out Starlink.
If you decide to go with the Select plan, you get 100GB of prioritized data. That’s not a whole lot of data at all, so be careful about what you do online throughout the month. “The speed was close to the advertised speed, except during rain storms and peak hours when everyone was online,” one longtime Hughesnet user says on Reddit. “Once I hit the absurdly low data cap, which took a day or two, my speed was throttled to less than 1Mbps.”
It’s nice that you still get an internet connection even after hitting your cap, but the lack of unlimited, guaranteed, high-speed data makes Hughesnet a weaker pick compared to Starlink with its truly unlimited data caps. To sum it up with Hughesnet, as long as you can stay below the soft data cap, you should get a solid internet experience and good value for what it costs.
Viasat: Most plan options
Viasat gives you a lot more options than Starlink and Hughesnet, which might help you find a perfect internet plan. Take a look at the long list of Viasat internet plans.
|Choice 12 Mbps/60 GB
|Choice 25 Mbps/60 GB
|Up to 25 Mbps
|Up to Unlimited
|Choice 50 Mbps/100 GB
|Up to 50 Mbps
|Up to Unlimited
|Choice 75 Mbps/150 GB
|Up to 75 Mbps
|Choice 100 Mbps/300 GB
|Up to 100 Mbps
Just like Hughesnet, Viasat tells you that it offers unlimited data caps, but in reality, there’s a soft data cap. Once you pass that data allotment in a month, your speeds slow down significantly.
Out of all the options, you get the most value out of the Viasat Unleashed plan.
This plan is exempt from three-month price hikes, 24-month contracts, and early termination fees. Plus, you get enough download speeds for an average household of three to four people, with 850GB of high-speed data. We're pretty sure you won't have to worry about hitting a soft cap with that much data.
A Viasat contract installation tech on Reddit explained that “Viasat is the best of the old-guard satellite systems,” but the satellite internet technology just can’t compare with what Starlink currently offers. But if you’re a light internet user who won’t come close to passing any data caps, Viasat could reasonably work for you.
How does satellite internet work?
Satellite internet transmits signals between your house and a literal satellite in orbit. The plus side of your internet source coming from a satellite is that it's accessible from just about anywhere, the bad news is that your signal needs to travel thousands of miles to reach a satellite. Or at least, that’s how it used to work. Starlink changed the game when it launched thousands of smaller satellites in lower orbit (hundreds of miles away instead of thousands of miles away) that reduce the distance data needs to travel. The less distance your data needs to travel, the faster and more reliable your internet connection feels.
The two old-school satellite internet providers, Viasat and Hughesnet, still use satellites thousands of miles away. The result yields slower download speeds and limited data caps. Starlink, on the other hand, can give users a much smoother experience.
Recap: The best satellite internet providers
There are currently three big satellite internet providers in the United States, but one of them feels way ahead of the others. Viasat and Hughesnet use the traditional method of having a few massive satellites that power their whole system, but Starlink instead uses a vast network of thousands of satellites in lower orbit that provide a better internet experience.
- Starlink: Starlink uses newer technology that gives users a faster internet connection with lower latency and unlimited data caps.
- Hughesnet: Hughesnet undercuts the price of both Starlink and Viasat and offers decent speeds, but the value is hampered by the soft data caps.
- Viasat: Viasat offers a bunch of different internet plans, but each comes with a soft data cap. Unless you choose Viasa Unleashed, you can pay to raise that data cap, but your monthly price gets astronomical.