Best Satellite Internet Providers of 2020
If you live in the country, a satellite internet provider might be your only rural internet option. And if you’ve gotten used to the speeds of DSL, cable, or even fiber internet, you might be in for a rude awakening.
The unavoidable truth is that satellite internet is more expensive and delivers slower speeds than most other internet options. But like we said, sometimes it’s your only option.
Fortunately, satellite internet service has come a long way in the last few years. You have two providers to choose from: Viasat (formerly known as Exede) and HughesNet—and hopefully a few more options on the way.
But which one is best? We recommend Viasat if you’re looking for fast speeds and higher data caps—Viasat can be an even more cost-effective option than HughesNet if you choose one of its higher-level plans. But if you’re a-okay with 25 Mbps speeds and lower data caps, HughesNet is the more budget-friendly option.
Let’s dig into the features that make these best satellite internet providers (well, the only two providers right now) unique.
|Provider||Monthly price||Download speeds||Data cap||Learn more|
|Viasat Internet||$30–$150*||12–100 Mbps||12–150 GB||View Plans|
|HughesNet Internet||$59.99–$150†||25 Mbps||10–50 GB||View Plans|
Why are there only two satellite internet providers?
You used to have five options for satellite internet providers. But now, three of the five have either closed up shop or been bought up. Now only Viasat (formerly Exede) and HughesNet offer satellite internet for rural areas.
- HughesNet: Still offers satellite internet
- Exede Internet: Changed its name to Viasat
- WildBlue satellite internet: Bought by Exede in 2009
- dishNET: Discontinued, but DISH customers can get satellite internet service through a third party
- EarthLink: Discontinued its satellite internet service
Satellite internet updates
Viasat and HughesNet have been neck and neck with each other, but a few other satellite internet up-and-comers are well on their way to giving these two ISPs a run for their money.
- Viasat: Launched the ViaSat-2 satellite in 2017 and plans to launch ViaSat-3 trio of satellites in 2021 and 2022. The ViaSat-3 satellites should expand services in the US and bump up download speeds.
Right now, we think Viasat is best for the fastest satellite internet speeds.
- HughesNet: Launched the EchoStar XIX satellite in 2016 and plans to launch EchoStar XXIV in 2021. The EchoStar XXIV satellite should bring HughesNet speeds up to 100 Mbps or faster.
We recommend HughesNet as the best satellite internet provider if you don’t need a lot of data or fast speeds.
- SpaceX: Launched its latest batch of 60 Starlink satellites in January 2020. If things go as planned, SpaceX Starlink satellite internet service should be available in 2020. (Crossing our fingers!)
- OneWeb: Launched 34 more satellites in February 2020 and hopes its satellite internet service will be available in 2021.
- Project Kuiper (Amazon): Amazon’s satellite internet program has been quieter than its rivals. Currently there’s no date for Project Kuiper satellite launches or internet service availability, but we do hear it’s building a new construction facility in Redmond, Washington. (Fun fact: Project Kuiper is named after the Kuiper belt, a region of our solar system that lies beyond Neptune’s orbit.)
Viasat (formerly Exede): Fastest satellite internet speeds
If you want the fastest speeds and largest data caps satellite internet can provide, Viasat is the way to go.
There’s no way around it: satellite internet is pricey. But of our two competitors, Viasat gives you more data and speed for your money than HughesNet. And those are huge ranking factors for us.
And for the most part, you can get one of these plans no matter where you live. That’s one of the benefits of satellite internet.
Viasat prices and plans
One thing you should be aware of is that Viasat’s prices go up dramatically after the first three months. We’re talking $20–$50 more per month. And Viasat’s competitor, HughesNet, sticks with one price and one price only through your entire two-year contract.
We wish Viasat would do the same and get rid of its three-month price hike. But even with the bump in cost, Viasat’s price per gigabit (GB) of data comes out cheaper than or even with HughesNet. And when you factor in the price of Viasat’s plans with speeds faster than 25 Mbps, you’re really looking at a deal. (At least in terms of satellite internet.) Now that’s some food for thought.
|Plan||Price||Download speed||Data cap||Details|
|Liberty 12||$30/mo.*||12 Mbps||12 GB||View Plans|
|Liberty 25||$50/mo.*||12 Mbps||25 GB||View Plans|
|Liberty 50||$75/mo.*||12 Mbps||75 GB||View Plans|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$50/mo.*||12 Mbps||35 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Silver 12||$100/mo.*||12 Mbps||45 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Gold 12||$150/mo.*||12 Mbps||65 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$70/mo.*||25 Mbps||60 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Gold 30||$100/mo.*||30 Mbps||100 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Gold 50||$100/mo.*||50 Mbps||100 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||$150/mo.*||100 Mbps||150 GB||View Plan|
Our recommended plan: Viasat Unlimited Gold 50
Who it’s for: Medium- to large-sized families who enjoy streaming videos and playing a few online games.
Why we like it: The price of this plan may seem steep if you’re used to DSL, cable, or even fiber internet prices. But truth be told, this price is the norm for satellite internet.
What isn’t the norm is the download speed and amount of data you get. The Unlimited Gold 50 plan comes with 50 Mbps speeds and 100 GB of data. And even when you factor in the price after three months ($150 per month), it’s still a better deal than any of HughesNet’s plans if speed and data are truly what you’re after.
Viasat internet download speeds
Viasat’s newest plans bump its download speeds to as high as 100 Mbps in some areas. With speeds like that, it’s no surprise Viasat made our list of fastest ISPs and HughesNet didn’t.
|Plan||Download speed||Data cap|
|Liberty 12||12 Mbps||12 GB|
|Liberty 25||12 Mbps||25 GB|
|Liberty 50||12 Mbps||75 GB|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||12 Mbps||35 GB|
|Unlimited Silver 12||12 Mbps||45 GB|
|Unlimited Gold 12||12 Mbps||65 GB|
|Unlimited Silver 25||25 Mbps||60 GB|
|Unlimited Gold 30||30 Mbps||100 GB|
|Unlimited Gold 50||50 Mbps||100 GB|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||100 Mbps||150 GB|
That said, Viasat plans are entirely location-based. How fast your internet is depends on where you live, and some Viasat plans give you speeds as low as 12 Mbps. That’s a bummer, we agree.
What’s also a bummer is Viasat’s most recent speed scores on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Fixed Broadband Report. The FCC looks at the actual speeds customers experience and compares them to the speeds each ISP advertises. And Viasat was reported to deliver an average of 89.6% of the speeds it advertised.1
We’d like to see Viasat bump that up to 100% or higher—but we know the FCC reported these scores in 2018. Since then, Viasat’s made a few changes and we’re hoping its improved that speed performance.
|Provider||Average actual/advertised speed|
Viasat data caps
Viasat advertises its plans as “unlimited,” but are they really? Sadly, you still get stuck with a data cap—though most of Viasat’s caps are still higher than HughesNet’s.
Another big difference between these two satellite internet providers is that Viasat says it won’t charge you extra, but it might prioritize other internet users over you if you blast past your month’s data limit. HughesNet, on the other hand, says your download speeds will drop dramatically down to 1–3 Mbps . . . which is not better. Yikes.
Extra Viasat data prices
That said, if you don’t want to run the risk of slow speeds, you can buy extra data directly from Viasat at the price of $10 per GB.
- 1 GB: $10
- 2 GB: $20
- 3 GB: $30
- 5 GB: $48
- 7 GB: $67
- 10 GB: $95
We actually sucked in our breath when we saw the prices for Viasat data. Compared to HughesNet’s $9–$75 for 3–25 GB of data, the cost for extra Viasat data is steep. Of course, you can save a little bit per GB if you buy 5 GB or more.
Curious to learn more? Dig into our full Viasat satellite internet review.
HughesNet: Best rural internet for budgeters
HughesNet gives you well-priced low-data plans and transparent pricing that doesn’t skyrocket during your two-year contract.
If cheap satellite internet is what you need, HughesNet’s low-data plans are worth a second look.
While you won’t get zippy speeds that match Viasat’s plans, you do get a pretty steady 25 Mbps. That’s enough speed to do some streaming—even in 4K on a good day. (Though the 10 to 50 GB data cap will likely restrict you to SD or HD videos.)
HughesNet plans and prices
HughesNet pricing is pretty standard all across the US, which is convenient. We love transparent pricing. But you still have to check your location to make sure HughesNet allows new installations in your neighborhood.
Why? Well, HughesNet’s newest satellite, launched in 2017, filled up pretty quickly. That means there are a few areas in the lower 48 states it doesn’t cover.
Not to fret, though. HughesNet plans to launch another satellite soon, hopefully by 2021.2
|Plan||Price||Download speed||Data cap||Details|
|10 GB||$59.99†||25 Mbps||10 GB||View Plan|
|20 GB||$69.99†||25 Mbps||20 GB||View Plan|
|30 GB||$99.99†||25 Mbps||30 GB||View Plan|
|50 GB||$150†||25 Mbps||50 GB||View Plan|
As you can see, HughesNet plans are a bit simpler to understand than Viasat’s. HughesNet doesn’t jack up the price after three months, and it offers the same download speed of 25 Mbps no matter which plan you get. Essentially, you’re just paying for data.
Our recommended plan: HughesNet 20 GB
Who it’s for: Anyone who casually surfs the web and maybe streams a movie or two once in a while.
Why we picked it: You shouldn’t expect ludicrous speeds or massive data caps from HughesNet. But what this satellite ISP does deliver on is a lower price that doesn’t dramatically jump up during your two-year contract. (Unlike Viasat.)
So if you’re truly after a satellite internet plan that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, we think the HughesNet 20 GB plan is a good compromise between data and price.
HughesNet internet speeds
You don’t get any choices when it comes to HughesNet download speeds. It’s 25 Mbps or bust.
|Plan||Download speed||Data cap|
|10 GB||25 Mbps||10 GB|
|20 GB||25 Mbps||20 GB|
|30 GB||25 Mbps||30 GB|
|50 GB||25 Mbps||50 GB|
But you might be happy to know that despite this, HughesNet absolutely crushed the FCC’s 2018 Measuring Broadband Across America report.
The FCC measured HughesNet’s actual download speed compared to its advertised download speed at 177%—meaning it delivered better internet speeds than it promised.1
|Provider||Average actual/advertised speed|
HughesNet internet data caps
The amount of monthly data you get ranges from 10–50 GB, depending on which HughesNet plan you buy.
We’ll be the first to admit that neither HughesNet nor Viasat has a lot of data per plan. (Don’t forget Viasat gives you about twice what HughesNet does in some of its plans—and for less money.)
But both offer you the chance to buy extra data, and HughesNet’s data token prices are much more reasonable than Viasat’s. Here’s how the price for extra HughesNet data breaks down:3
- 3 GB: $9
- 5 GB: $15
- 10 GB: $30
- 25 GB: $75
If you go over your data cap, the good news is HughesNet won’t cut off your service or charge you extra. The bad news is it will throttle your speed to nearly nothing.
HughesNet’s fine print says that if you exceed your allotted data, your download speed will slow to only 1–3 Mbps until your next billing cycle.
Get to know HughesNet a little better. Read our in-depth HughesNet satellite internet review.
Recap: Is satellite internet good?
Satellite internet keeps pace with most DSL and cable internet plans. Thanks to recent updates, Viasat’s speeds go up to 100 Mbps, and HughesNet offers a steady 25 Mbps. Your only real shortcomings with satellite internet are latency and small data caps, which is why we recommend DSL, cable, or fiber if you can get it.
But if you’re stuck with only satellite internet options, we get it. Here’s a quick recap of why we recommend Viasat for faster download speeds and HughesNet for budget-friendly plans:
- Viasat: best satellite internet speeds. When it comes to satellite internet, Viasat’s download speeds are as good as it gets. And compared to HughesNet, which is your only other option, you get more data and the chance at higher speeds for your money.
- HughesNet: best budget satellite internet pick. HughesNet is a great pick if you’re more concerned about your monthly bill than you are about download speeds. Just beware, it offers lower data limits than Viasat and a single mediocre speed of 25 Mbps. However, all that comes with one steady price for all 24 months of your contract.
Satellite internet FAQ
Q: How does satellite internet work?
The complete satellite internet system includes the following:
- Satellite dish
- Orbiting satellite that receives and transmits data
To put it simply, data from your computer to the satellite dish on your house, and from there, it’s sent to an orbiting satellite owned by your internet provider. The satellite relays data to a stationary satellite dish connected to a larger network (i.e., the internet).
Wanna get a little nerdy with us? Check out our full guide on how satellite internet works.
Q: How much can I download on satellite internet?
How much you can download depends on your satellite internet plan and data cap. For example, if your plan comes with a 10 GB data cap per month, then that’s about four two-hour HD movies or 180 hours of streaming music.
Q: How fast is satellite internet?
Generally, satellite internet speeds range from 12 to 100 Mbps, but how many Mbps you get depends on which ISP and plan you choose. For HughesNet, you’ve got the option of 25 Mbps download speeds—and that’s it. With Viasat, you can choose anywhere from 12–100 Mbps for your download speed.
Of course, those are the advertised download speeds. There are a lot of factors that can influence your speed, including your modem, router, and even your computer. The number of people and devices using the internet in your house also affects your speed, as does what each person is doing online.
Wanna know how much speed you need to keep your family happy online? Check out our guide on how many Mbps you need online.
Satellite internet upload speeds
One quick note: you won’t get amazing upload speeds with satellite internet. But hold off before you go all sad panda on us—at 3 Mbps (for HughesNet), those upload speeds are still right on par with DSL and cable internet.
If you want upload speeds that blow past 3 Mbps, you’ll need fiber internet service. And while we like to remain optimistic, we doubt fiber will be coming to rural areas any time soon.
Q: Can I play video games on satellite internet?
Yes, technically you can game on satellite internet. But the full answer is a bit more complicated than that.
Satellite internet isn’t a great choice for gaming because of its notoriously high latency. It just takes too long for your internet signal to reach your house from the satellite hanging out about 22,000 miles in outer space, then back to the satellite and on to the game server.
That’s going to cause a lot of in-game latency, also called “ping” or noted as “MS” on your game interface. You’ll get in the 300–500 range—at least.
And high ping makes certain types of games almost, if not entirely, unplayable.
We’re talking first-person shooters (FPS) like Fortnite and Apex Legends and some multiplayer online games (MMO) like World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online. But role-playing games (RPG) like Stardew Valley and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening probably won’t give you as many issues if your latency spikes.
(Just remember your data cap if you download games and patches!)
Q: Can you stream video and music on satellite internet?
You can absolutely stream both videos and music while using satellite internet. You’ll just want to be careful of your data cap, and both HughesNet and Viasat come with tools to help you do that.
HughesNet automatically adjusts video quality to a lower resolution to help you use less data. Yup, you won’t be watching anything in 1080p. Instead, expect all your Netflix shows to play in 480p.
Viasat offers a Video Data Extender tool that lets you tone down video quality to 480p too. The best part? If you want to watch the new photorealistic version of The Lion King in all (or most of) its glory, you can turn the Video Data Extender off.
Q: Do Viasat and HughesNet have early termination fees?
Yes, both Viasat and HughesNet will charge you an early termination fee if you cancel your service before your 24-month contract is up.
Viasat early termination fee
With Viasat, you’re stuck paying $15 per month for every month remaining on your contract. For example, if you cancelled your service only a month after installation, it would cost you $345 in early termination fees. It’s not cheap.
HughesNet early termination fee
If you cancel your HughesNet service after installation but before your contract is up, HughesNet can charge you up to $400 in cancellation fees, depending on how long you have left on your contract.
Q: Can I get satellite internet for a car, RV, or boat?
The short answer is no. Most satellite internet services are designed to stay in one place. But you might be able to get satellite TV. See our article on how to get TV on the road for more information on how to take your shows with you.
Q: Is there unlimited satellite internet?
If you’re curious to know if there is unlimited, unthrottled satellite internet for a set price, it does not yet exist.
Q: What’s the installation process?
Professional installation services and fees vary, so it depends on the satellite provider you choose and on where you live. Satellite internet providers might offer free installation in one location but charge a fee in another. Most of the time, it should be free.
The actual installation process is usually done by third-party contractors, so feel free to ask lots of questions and make sure to look over the paperwork carefully.
If you live in a townhouse, condo, or any other living situation with a homeowners association (HOA), double-check that you’re allowed to install a satellite dish.
Q: Should I lease or purchase satellite internet equipment?
For both satellite internet providers, equipment leases for $10–$15 per month for the 24-month contract period. Both also offer an option to buy your equipment up front or lease it on a monthly basis.
|Satellite antenna and modem||$249.99||$14.99/mo|
|Lease setup fee||N/A||$99.00|
Data effective 8/8/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
If you go with HughesNet and decide to buy your equipment, the cost works out to be about the same as leasing for two years, and you don’t have to worry about returning your equipment at the end of your contract.
If you intend to have satellite internet for more than two years, it’s not a bad idea to buy your hardware.
|Satellite antenna and modem||$299.99||$9.99/mo.|
|Standard installation||$99 or free||$99 or free|
|Lease set-up fee||N/A||N/A|
Data effective 8/8/19. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
If you go with Viasat, you have to lease your equipment. The cost is $10 per month, and there’s no lease setup fee. You can also go with a “lifetime lease” for a one-time fee of $299.99.
If you plan to have your equipment for more than 30 months, the lifetime lease can save you some money—but it’s not the same as purchasing equipment because you still have to return your equipment if you ever cancel your service.
Satellite internet myths and facts
#1: Satellite internet is too slow
Satellite internet used to be extremely slow, with download speeds of approximately 750 Kbps. But advancements in technology and new satellites have increased speeds to anywhere from 12 to 100 Mbps, which rivals DSL and cable internet.
#2: It takes a long time to receive a signal
Well, only during internet activities that are affected by latency. Latency is the time it takes for data to be sent and received. In the case of satellite internet, it’s the time it takes for information to go from your device to your satellite dish, to your provider’s orbiting satellite, to a separate satellite dish at your ISP, and back again.
As you can see, that’s a lot of steps. And latency has long been a strike against satellite internet.
Latency is higher with satellite internet than it is for cable, DSL, and fiber internet. Cable, DSL, and fiber internet have latency in the 20–50 millisecond (ms) range, while satellite internet ranges can be close to 600 ms.
Because satellites are positioned 22,000 miles above the earth, satellite internet data just has a long way to travel. It’s also why we basically never recommend satellite internet over other types like cable. But if you live in the country or an area without good internet options, satellite might be your best (and sometimes only) choice.
The most obvious effect of latency is on gaming. Gaming that requires ultra-quick responses just doesn’t work very well with satellite internet. If you choose satellite internet, you might have to say goodbye to League of Legends (or get a portable Wi-Fi hotspot on Amazon).
But other online activities, like web browsing, emailing, and photo sharing, won’t be affected by latency much at all.
#3: Satellite internet doesn’t work when it’s cloudy, rainy, or stormy
While it’s true that severe thunderstorms, heavy snow, or blizzards can interrupt satellite transmission temporarily, the problem isn’t as significant as popular opinion assumes.
Storm-related interruptions are commonly called “rain fade,” and the signal is restored as soon as the storm passes. You can also remove heavy accumulations of snow from around the satellite dish to restore communications.
In contrast, a heavy thunderstorm with fallen trees or other extreme weather with similar effects could disable cable or DSL for days. Again, most satellite internet customers live in rural areas without access to DSL or cable, so even with rain fade, satellite internet is preferable to alternative, slower means of internet service (like dial-up internet).
#4: Satellite internet is too expensive
Satellite internet is relatively expensive. But the monthly costs have decreased over the last few years. You can get a decent satellite internet plan from either Viasat or HughesNet for about $50 per month, which is comparable to cable or DSL.
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “2018 Measuring Broadband in America Report”
- SpaceNews, “EchoStar buys Jupiter-3 ‘Ultra High Density Satellite’ from SSL”
- HughesNet Community, “Token Prices . . . ?”