Selecting the right satellite internet provider can be a daunting task. If you’re having a hard time deciding which provider is the best fit for your internet needs, this list of questions will help you sort through all the information and choose the Internet Service Provider (ISP) that’s right for you.
1. Is satellite internet available in my area?
Satellite internet is probably the most widely available type of internet service. The only requirement to access satellite internet is a clear view of the southern sky, making it the perfect choice for people in rural locations—including road warriors crossing the country in an RV.
Large buildings or trees around your home could limit satellite internet access, so check with your potential ISP to make sure nearby obstructions won’t interfere with your signal.
2. What equipment does satellite internet require?
Satellite internet uses a communications satellite in geosynchronous orbit to bounce the signal between your provider’s hub and the dish installed on your residence. Once the signal reaches your rooftop dish, it travels through a modem to transmit an internet signal to your home.
After the dish is installed and the modem is set up, you can either connect your computer directly to the modem, or use a wireless router to create a network you can use anywhere in your home.
3. Does equipment have to be purchased or rented?
Most ISPs give you the choice to either rent your equipment or purchase it outright, but renting is the more common of the two options.
HughesNet, one of the most popular satellite providers, gives users the option to buy or rent equipment, with rental prices coming in around $10 per month. Viasat (formerly Exede), another large provider, only offers lease options, but one of the lease plans allows users to skip the normal $10 monthly fee by paying a lifetime rental fee of $300 upfront. Depending on the terms of your contract, it could pay to calculate the cost over your entire term to find out whether purchasing or renting is the smarter financial choice for your household.
4. How does the ISP provide equipment updates?
Your satellite equipment should remain current for the term of your contract, but if an update is needed, most providers offer affordable options for upgrades.
Be sure to check with your potential ISP to find out its policy. Beware of providers that encourage regular, expensive hardware upgrades.
5. What’s the best way to install satellite internet?
Your best bet is to take advantage of professional installation offered by your ISP. There may be an additional cost, but the assurance that your system will be set up properly is worth it.
Companies like Viasat and HughesNet require professional installation, but those installation costs may be waived under certain circumstances. Always keep an eye out for specials that may include installation for no additional charge.
6. How often does the service have outages?
All internet connections are vulnerable to occasional outages, and satellite internet connections are no different. They can be disrupted by extreme weather, but it isn’t a regular occurrence. Check with your potential ISP to find out how often the signal goes down and if they provide any discounts or guarantees to offset unexpected downtime.
Your best bet to avoid frequent outages is to have your equipment installed professionally. A professional setup will ensure your dish has the best view of the southern sky and is free from nearby obstructions.
7. What is a data cap and will my plan have one?
Data caps limit the amount of data that users can download during a specific timeframe—usually one billing cycle. Most satellite internet plans include data caps, and providers often charge overage fees when those caps are exceeded.
Data limits will vary depending on your plan. HughesNet has a number of plans with different data limits, but neither provider charges customers who go over. Viasat offers plans that provide unlimited data, though speeds are slowed after a certain amount of data has been used. Find out the policy of each ISP you’re considering and review your online habits to ensure you get a plan that fits your usage needs.
8. Will the service require a contract or commitment?
Most satellite internet providers will require a contract. The typical length runs between 12 and 24 months, and signing a contract usually gives you a better monthly price or a deal on equipment or installation.
All three major satellite ISPs require contracts, and there are penalties for early termination. Be sure to explore all contract details—including consequences for breaking the term early—before you choose your satellite internet provider.
9. How many devices can be used with satellite internet?
There’s no limit to the number of devices that you can use on your satellite internet signal if you set up a wireless network. However, the speed and strength of your signal will be influenced by the number of devices that use it.
If you plan to connect a lot of devices to the internet, try to choose a plan with higher download speeds. HughesNet offers speeds up to 15 Mbps, while Viasat advertises speeds as fast as 100 Mbps.
10. How much does satellite internet cost?
Costs vary depending on the provider and the type of speed you need. If you do a lot of online gaming or like to stream movies, you may want to select a faster package, which will result in a higher monthly price.
Read our review of the price ranges offered by the main satellite internet providers.
11. What are the customer service and support like?
Each provider has its own customer service and support program. HughesNet and Viasat offer customer support via email, chat, and phone, as well as extensive online resources.
To truly gauge how happy current customers are with different providers and their services, it’s not a bad idea to check out current reviews and online forums.
12. What happens if I need to cancel my service?
Because most satellite internet service comes with a contract, you’ll likely be charged a cancellation fee if you break the agreement before the term officially ends. The fee usually depends on how much time is left in your contract. Termination fees with the three largest satellite ISPs can range between $15 and $17.50 per month remaining on the contract, with a maximum limit of $400–$420.
No matter which company you choose, be sure to read your contract carefully and ask for verbal confirmation to ensure that you understand the terms and your liability if you need to terminate your service early.
13. What discounts are available?
Providers usually offer a number of discounts. Special deals may be available for first-time customers, bundled services, or new referrals. Viasat and HughesNet offer discounts and special deals, though the specific offers change fairly often.
Remember, one of the best ways to get a deal is to ask for one, so don’t hesitate to press the representative you speak with about current discounts.
Making the commitment to an ISP can be difficult, but when you use the questions above to guide your research, it will be easier to choose the best satellite internet option for your household. Take the time to investigate multiple providers fully to make sure you’ll be happy with the service for the long term.