How Does Satellite Internet Work?

Satellite internet is a type of connection that uses a satellite to get an internet signal from your internet service provider (ISP) to you.

Here’s how it works: your provider sends a fiber internet signal to a satellite in space. The internet signal then comes to you and is captured by your satellite dish. Your dish is connected to your modem, which connects your computer to the internet signal.The process reverses back to your provider, and there you have it.

Now before we get too thick into the weeds, here’s more information about satellite internet, including resources on which providers are the most reliable.

Find Satellite Internet providers in your area

What are the best satellite internet providers?

There are only two satellite internet providers: Viasat (formerly Exede internet) and HughesNet. In our comparison, we talked about why we think Viasat is the best satellite internet provider for most people. To sum it up: you’ll get faster speeds, more data, and a better price in most cases. We do think that HughesNet has better prices for those who don’t need a lot of speed.

Starlink is launching its own satellites and will be offering internet plans in the future. We have high hopes for improved speeds and prices, but for now, we can only speculate.

Viasat vs. HughesNet comparison
ProviderMonthly priceDownload speedsData capLearn more
Viasat Internet$30$150*12100 Mbps12300 GBView Plans
HughesNet Internet$59.99$149.9925 Mbps1050 GBView Plans
Data effective 10/26/20. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* For the first 3 months.
Requires 24 month agreement.

How does satellite internet speed compare to other internet speeds?

Overall, satellite internet has come a long way over the years). You can  find satellite internet plans reaching upwards of 100 Mbps. Having faster internet can really help for watching videos, streaming Netflix, gaming, and supporting an entire household of internet users.

But note that satellite internet is subject to high latency, so the speeds aren’t always what they seem. Other internet types use better infrastructures to get you more reliable speeds, but they might not be available in your area. We say, if you live in a rural area, it’s still worth getting—especially if it’s your only option.

DSL internet can be slower than satellite internet. Depending on the provider you use, DSL ranges anywhere from 5 Mbps to 100 Mbps. If you have access to a DSL provider with modern tech, we think you’ll have a better experience with DSL. But if you can get only slower, older DSL options, you’ll want to consider satellite internet instead.

Cable internet is faster and often cheaper than satellite internet. Most cable internet services range between 20 and 1,000 Mbps. But if you live in the countryside, it may not be an option for you.

If you have access to fiber internet, don’t bother considering satellite. You’ll find better speeds and prices from fiber providers.

What should I be aware of when choosing my satellite internet plan?

Like with any type of internet, you’ll want to determine what speeds you need and your budget. While it’s tempting to get the fastest plan, you don’t need to overpay for speeds you won’t actually use.

Picking a satellite internet plan should be based on what activities you and everyone else in the home plan on doing. Slower speeds will work for web browsing and email checking, but for streaming TV like Netflix, you’ll want faster speeds. But heads up: satellite internet might not have the speeds you need to stream in 4K or HD.

Don’t forget that satellite internet comes with data caps. Unlike some cable and fiber plans, satellite internet doesn’t usually come with unlimited data. So once you hit a certain amount of data, your internet provider could start charging an overage fee, or it might throttle your speed. It’s just good to keep your data cap in mind when searching for a satellite internet plan that’s best for you.

What kind of equipment comes with satellite internet?

An illustration showing how data is sent from a home, to a satellite, then to a satellite ISP and back

If you’re considering switching to satellite internet, then your provider will use specific equipment. Most satellite internet now only comes with a modem, wireless router, and a network cable. Where most satellite internet came with larger equipment in the past, many providers have smaller, more compact equipment now. Some providers use a dish so that the signal can reach easier, although that’s not as common anymore.

  • Satellite modem: The electronic device that converts the satellites signal into one readable by your computer’s network adapter. It’s what brings the internet to your computer.
  • Router: The electronic device that takes your modem’s internet signal and distributes it throughout your home, either by Wi-Fi or by Ethernet cable.

Now that you know, here are your next steps.

Enter your ZIP code to see providers available in your area.

Learn more about your satellite options.


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