If you’ve done even a casual search for satellite internet, you’ve probably discovered there aren’t many providers out there. And if you’ve seen the prices and data limits that often come with satellite, you probably also know it’s not the best internet option.
But if you live in a rural area, you still need internet, and a satellite provider might be your only option. Fortunately for you, satellite internet providers (ISPs) have come a long way in the last few years—especially Viasat (formerly known as Exede).
The Best Satellite Internet Providers in 2018
|Rank||Providers||Price||Download Speeds||Data Caps||Details|
|#1||Viasat (Exede)||$50–$200/mo.||12–100 Mbps||40–150 GB*||View Plans|
|#2||HughesNet||$49.99–$99.99||25 Mbps||10–50 GB||View Plans|
*Viasat lists all its plans as unlimited, but there are some data guidelines in the fine print.
HughesNet was the best satellite ISP out there last year, but this year, it officially falls flat next to Viasat’s new and improved plans, speeds, and prices. If you need internet service in the middle of nowhere, we recommend Viasat over HughesNet.
Why are there only two satellite internet providers?
Here’s what happened: you used to be able to choose from five major satellite internet service providers (ISPs). But since then, three of the five have either closed up shop or been bought up. Now only Viasat (formerly Exede) and HughesNet offer satellite internet.
- HughesNet: Still offers satellite internet
- Exede Internet: Changed its name to Viasat
- WildBlue: 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
Best satellite internet — Viasat
Viasat recently launched a new satellite that lets it deliver faster speeds at prices that beat out HughesNet.
Viasat has seriously stepped up its game this year. Last year, it was easy to rule it out thanks to HughesNet’s standardized pricing and higher speeds—but things have changed since then. Viasat now gives you faster speeds for less money (depending on where you live), and it has unlimited data (sort of).
Viasat plans and pricing
There’s no way around it: satellite internet is pricey. But of our two competitors, Viasat gives you more data and Mbps for your money than HughesNet.
Both Viasat and HughesNet aren’t accepting new installations in certain areas in the US. But for the most part, you can get one of these plans no matter where you live.
|Plan||Price||Price after 3 months||Data limit|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$50/mo.||$70/mo.||40 GB|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$70/mo.||$100/mo.||60 GB|
|Unlimited Gold 30||$100/mo.||$150/mo.||100 GB|
|Unlimited Gold 50||$100/mo.||$150/mo.||100 GB|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||$150/mo.||$200/mo.||150 GB|
Notice Viasat’s prices go up dramatically after the first three months. HughesNet keeps prices the same for all 24 months of your contract, and we wish Viasat would too. But even with the price increase, you pay less per GB of data with Viasat than you would with HughesNet.
Does Viasat have early termination fees?
Yes. Both Viasat and HughesNet require 24-month contracts. For Viasat, if you cancel early, you’ll be 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.
Viasat recently launched a new satellite that upped Viasat’s internet speeds to as high as 100 Mbps in some areas. With speeds like that, HughesNet’s standard 25 Mbps starts to look a bit sparse.
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.
What about data caps?
Good news! Viasat doesn’t have data caps anymore. Its “unlimited” plans are available almost everywhere, so it doesn’t charge you extra when you go over some absurdly low data limit.
That’s great because low data caps are one of the biggest downsides of satellite internet. But don’t think you’re out of the woods yet.
Viasat might not charge you extra, but it does say it can prioritize other internet users above you if you use more than a certain amount of data per month (40, 60, 100, or 150 GB depending on your plan). So your speed probably will go down if you use more than that.
Viasat data guidelines
- 40 GB — $50–$70/mo.
- 60 GB — $70–$100/mo.
- 100 GB — $100–$150/mo.
- 150 GB — $150–$200/mo.
We don’t love the lack of transparency, but even if Viasat does lower your internet speed after the set data amount, Viasat still offers higher data allotments than your other satellite option, HughesNet. (And HughesNet outright promises to lower your speeds if you go over the limit.)
Can I play video games at these speeds?
In short, no. Or at least not well. Satellite internet has never been great for gaming, and it’s still not because speed isn’t the issue: it’s latency. It just takes too long for the internet signal to reach your house from the satellite in outer space.
The bottom line
As satellite internet goes, Viasat is about as good as it gets. Compared to HughesNet, which is your only other option, you get more data and higher speeds for your money.
We realize Viasat’s speeds still aren’t that high (especially considering latency) and the price is very high for what you get, but if you have no other rural internet options, Viasat is the way to go.
Satellite internet runner up — HughesNet
HughesNet’s service has gotten much better in the last few years, but it still runs into some major issues.
HughesNet plans used to be very slow and very pricey. Luckily for its customers, HughesNet launched a new satellite in 2017 and began offering 25 Mbps speeds for all its plans.
That said, HughesNet has run into a few problems since then. Its new satellite filled up pretty quickly, which means there are a few areas in the lower 48 United States it doesn’t cover. And HughesNet plans have data limits, after which your internet speed will slow to a crawl.
So while it’s definitely better than it used to be, we still have to declare HughesNet second to Viasat in our satellite internet showdown this year.
HughesNet plans and pricing
HughesNet plans and pricing are pretty standard all across the United States, 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.
|Data plan||Speed||Price||Learn more|
|10 GB||25 Mbps||$49.99/mo.||View Plan|
|20 GB||25 Mbps||$59.99/mo.||View Plan|
|30 GB||25 Mbps||$79.99/mo.||View Plan|
|50 GB||25 Mbps||$99.99/mo.||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 no matter which plan you get. Essentially, you’re just paying for data.
What happens if you go over your data amount?
The good news is, if you go over the amount of data in your plan, HughesNet will not 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. You can pay extra to buy a data token, which will bring your speeds back up, but satellite internet is already pricey, and HughesNet’s data guidelines are low.
Neither HughesNet nor Viasat has exceptional amounts of data in their plans, but Viasat gives you twice what HughesNet does—and for less money.
How do you stream movies with such low amounts of data?
HughesNet’s service automatically adjusts video quality to a lower resolution, which helps you use less data. Just don’t think you’re going to be watching everything in 1080p. Expect all your Netflix shows to play in 480p.
You also get 50 GB of bonus data you can use every month during off-peak hours, which is between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. So if you want to download movies or games, that’s a good time to do it. You should also set any software updates for your computer to download during that time.
Does HughesNet have early termination fees?
Yes. As with Viasat, HughesNet requires you to sign a 24-month contract. If you cancel 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.
As we’ve mentioned, all HughesNet plans have the same download speed: 25 Mbps. That can’t even compare to Viasat’s 100 Mbps plan. But remember the biggest issue with satellite internet is not speed—it’s latency.
Even if you get a plan with high download speeds, you might still feel like your internet is slow. That’s because of latency, and it’s just the nature of satellite internet.
The bottom line
HughesNet is better than it used to be, but it still has high prices for low data limits and mediocre speed.
We can’t recommend HughesNet over Viasat, but we do like that HughesNet’s plans are simple to understand and that it keeps its prices consistent for your entire contract.
Satellite internet FAQs
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 the satellite dish on your house is 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).
To get technical, the orbiting satellite is about 22,000 miles away from Earth. At that distance, the satellite will orbit at the same pace as the earth rotates, enabling your home satellite dish to remain in constant contact with the orbiting satellite. This is also why (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere) your satellite dish must have an unobstructed view of the southern sky.
Q: How much can I download?
It depends on which plan you have from your satellite internet provider. If your plan lets you download 10 GB per month, then that’s about four two-hour HD movies or 180 hours of streaming music. If you use the internet only for browsing web pages and reading your email (i.e. no downloading or streaming content), then you’ll probably never go over 10 GB in a month.
Q: What speeds do I get?
First and foremost, your speeds depend on which plan you get. Second, there are many factors that can influence your speed, including the setup of your computer and how many people use your network. Third, satellite internet has high latency, which is not the same as slow speed but does still affect your experience.
Generally speaking, satellite internet can give you download speeds anywhere from 12 to 100 Mbps.
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: 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: Should I lease or purchase satellite internet equipment?
For most satellite internet providers, equipment leases for $10–$15 per month for the 24-month contract period. Currently, only HughesNet offers an option to purchase your satellite equipment up front for a cost of $249.99 ($199.99 standard installation fee not included).
HughesNet Equipment — Purchase or Lease?
|Satellite antenna and modem||$249.99||$14.99/mo|
|Lease set-up fee||n/a||$99.00|
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 $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.
Viasat Equipment — Purchase or Lease?
|Satellite antenna and modem||n/a||$9.99/mo|
|Lease set-up fee||n/a||n/a|
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 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.
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, 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, 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 requires ultra-quick responses and that just doesn’t work very well with satellite internet. If you choose satellite internet, you will 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).
#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.
Want to know more?
If you want to know more about satellite internet or you think we’re missing something, leave us a comment below. We love hearing from you.