Best Satellite Internet Providers of 2019
If you’ve done even a casual search for high-speed satellite internet, you’ve probably discovered there aren’t many satellite internet service providers (ISPs) out there.
But despite satellite’s high prices and slow-ish speeds, a satellite provider might be your only option if you live in a rural area. Fortunately, satellite internet service has come a long way in the last few years and you now have two rural satellite internet options: Viasat (formerly known as Exede) and HughesNet.
HughesNet used to be our pick for satellite internet, but now it falls flat next to Viasat’s improved plans, speeds, and prices. If you need high-speed internet in the middle of nowhere and don’t have the option of DSL or cable, we think Viasat is the best satellite internet provider.
● 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
Viasat: Best overall satellite internet
If you want the fastest speeds and largest data caps satellite internet can provide, Viasat is the way to go.
Viasat seriously stepped up its game recently. Previously, 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 prices
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.
In certain areas of the US, Viasat and HughesNet aren’t accepting new installations. But 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.
|Plan||Price||Download speed||Data cap||Details|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$50/mo.*||12 Mbps||40 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Silver 12||$65/mo.*||12 Mbps||60 GB||View Plan|
|Unlimited Gold 12||$95/mo.*||12 Mbps||100 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|
One thing you should be aware of is that Viasat’s prices go up dramatically after the first three months. Sure, 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.
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.
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.
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.
HughesNet gets an A+ for transparent pricing that doesn’t skyrocket during your two-year contract.
HughesNet launched a new satellite in 2017 and now offers 25 Mbps speeds for all its plans.
That said, HughesNet’s new satellite filled up pretty quickly, which means there are a few areas in the lower 48 states it doesn’t cover. And HughesNet plans have fairly low data limits, after which your internet speed will slow to a crawl.
So while it’s definitely better than it used to be, we’re still declaring HughesNet second to Viasat in our satellite internet showdown.
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.
|Plan||Price||Download speed||Data cap||Details|
|10 GB||$59.99/mo.†||25 Mbps||10 GB||View Plan|
|20 GB||$69.99/mo.†||25 Mbps||20 GB||View Plan|
|30 GB||$99.99/mo.†||25 Mbps||30 GB||View Plan|
|50 GB||$149.99/mo.†||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.
HughesNet internet speeds
You don’t get any choices when it comes to HughesNet download speeds. It’s 25 Mbps or bust.
But you might be happy to know that despite this, HughesNet absolutely crushed the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) 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
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:2
- 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.
Recap: which is better, Viasat or HughesNet?
Stuck with only satellite internet options? We get it. Here’s a quick recap of why we recommend Viasat over HughesNet:
- Viasat: the best satellite ISP. 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 the chance at higher speeds for your money. If you have no other rural internet options, Viasat is the way to go.
- HughesNet: the runner-up. HughesNet is better than it used to be, but it still has high prices for low data limits and a single mediocre speed of 25 Mbps. We can’t recommend it over Viasat, but we do like that HughesNet’s plans are easy to understand and that it keeps its prices consistent for your entire 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.