Whether you’re in the country or just need remote internet access anywhere across the US, satellite internet is your best bet to stay connected. While you don’t have a whole lot of options, here’s some info on the two options you do have: Viasat and HughesNet.
Viasat vs. HughesNet comparison
|Download speed||12–100 Mbps||25 Mbps|
|Data cap||40–100 GB*||10–50 GB|
|Details||View Plans||View Plans|
*Viasat lists all its plans as unlimited, but there are some data guidelines in the fine print.
HughesNet was our top satellite internet provider, but Viasat recently changed the game. In early 2018, it launched the new ViaSat-2 satellite system, pushing its speeds sky-high (at least for satellite internet) to 100 Mbps. This also laid the groundwork for its ViaSat-3 satellite system, which is scheduled to launch around 2020.1
Next to Viasat’s max of 100 Mbps, HughesNet’s 25 Mbps speeds pale in comparison. But HughesNet satellite internet is still making strides to regain lost ground by launching its Gen 5 service (powered by the EchoStar XIX satellite) in March 2017. Gen 5 brought HughesNet’s speeds up from 15 Mbps to 25 Mbps, and we could see even faster internet speeds with the launch of Gen 6, whenever that may be.
That said, satellite internet still isn’t the fastest—so if you have access to cable or fiber internet, we’d recommend those instead. (And we’ve picked a few of our favorite cable and fiber providers in our Best Internet Providers review.) But if you’re curious about the differences between our top satellite internet picks, read on, folks.
Plans and pricing
From our perspective, it’s clear that although Viasat may be more expensive, it offers a faster and better experience for anyone out in the country or in rural areas who needs internet access.
HughesNet has been a great option in the past comparatively, But since you don’t get increased speeds for increased prices, it makes you wonder if the data limits are really worth paying more. Viasat’s a better bang for your buck if you need higher speeds, which make it easier to watch your long YouTube playlists of people falling down.
Viasat (formerly Exede)
We definitely favor Viasat’s wide range of plans because of the freedom it gives customers to choose, although Viasat’s plans increase price after the three-month promo ends. We like the ability to get higher speeds so your internet doesn’t trudge through graphic- or video-heavy websites. We all know how frustrating it is to be on someone’s in-home WiFi and still see the loading circle of death instead of mind-blowing pictures of Thailand or someone’s fancy hamburger.
Viasat (formerly Exede) plans*
|Plan||Price||After 3 months||Details|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$50/mo.||$70/mo.||View Plan|
|Unlimited Silver 12||$65/mo.||$95/mo.||View Plan|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$70/mo.||$100/mo.||View Plan|
|Unlimited Gold 12||$95/mo.||$145/mo.||View Plan|
|Unlimited Gold 30||$100/mo.||$150/mo.||View Plan|
|Unlimited Gold 50||$100/mo.||$150/mo.||View Plan|
*100 Mbps plan coming soon
Know before you buy
And Viasat gives you more data, which reduces the possibility of additional costs or speed throttling (which both services can do if you go over your limit). The last thing you want is to get stuck with slow speeds while trying to submit an assignment before the deadline or while pulling up a map before you can leave on a quick getaway.
If you need to ensure full speeds, you can buy more data from Viasat for $10 per GB in the following strange amounts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 10 GB. Or you can save some cash by buying over 5 GB at a time—but it’s not much. At most, you’ll save $5 by buying 10 GB a time for $95. That’s nearly doubling the highest plan’s starting price—eeesh. Still, Viasat’s plans give you more value than HughesNet’s, dollar for dollar.
|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|
HughesNet plans are simple: the more you pay, the higher your data cap is. Unfortunately, even the highest plan at 50 GB is only half of what Viasat offers in terms of data. You will get Bonus Data, but it’s usable only between odd hours, which we’ll talk more about later.
HughesNet does offer data tokens ranging from 3 GB for $9 up to $25 GB for $75—so even if you must break your caps, you can still access full speeds for additional costs. This is good if you have to work from home or if you can’t get enough cat GIFs throughout the day.
Download and upload speeds
|Download speeds||12–50* Mbps||25 Mbps|
|Upload speeds||3 Mbps||3 Mbps|
|Details||View Plans||View Plans|
With speeds of 25 Mbps across the board, HughesNet doesn’t offer variety in speeds, which means even those who are willing to pay for more speed won’t be able to get it. Viasat, on the other hand, makes a lot more sense to us because when we pay more, we get both more data AND more speed. Viasat’s speeds go up to 50 Mbps currently, which is double what HughesNet offers.
Both companies have 3 Mbps upload speeds, which won’t be the fastest when you upload photos to Facebook or attach large files in emails, but it’ll work.
Everything you do on the internet requires data use, and with satellite internet, you may exceed your data caps quickly by watching videos, downloading content from the web, or checking emails. There are workarounds and ways of checking the status of your data, but be warned that you’ll either lose speed or pay more if you go over your data limits.
|40 GB||$50–$70/mo.||View Plan|
|60 GB||$65–$100/mo.||View Plan|
|100 GB||$95–$150/mo.||View Plan|
Viasat doesn’t technically have data caps, even though its advertised range is 40–100 GB, which basically means the company doesn’t actively limit speeds. Viasat won’t throttle your speed if you go over the proposed guidelines, but the provider will prioritize other users (it’s kinda the same thing, but more lenient based on bandwidth available, it seems).
|10 GB||$49.99/mo.||View Plan|
|20 GB||$59.99/mo.||View Plan|
|30 GB||$79.99/mo.||View Plan|
|50 GB||$99.99/mo.||View Plan|
HughesNet doesn’t charge extra or stop service if you go over your data limit, but it will throttle your speeds as low as 1–3 Mbps until your next billing cycle.
However, one benefit to HughesNet is that it throws in is 50 GB of bonus data per month. It’s available from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m., which may seem weird, but you can use things like Night Shift, a program that preloads movies and shows to plan ahead and beat your data cap usage.
Good to know
Both Viasat and HughesNet have 24-month contracts. The difference lies mostly in their early termination fees.
Viasat’s fees are a lot cheaper: $15 per month for every month remaining on your contract, which can be up to $345. With HughesNet, you’ll pay up to $400 in cancellation fees, but after 90 days that cost goes down by $15 per month. The risk is a bit lower with Viasat.
|Contract length||24 mos.||24 mos.|
|Cancellation risk||Up to $345||Up to $400|
Exede and HughesNet both have lackluster customer support.
In our full reviews, we’ve mentioned that HughesNet and Exede could both improve their customer support, and we still stand by that. Satellite internet providers seem to realize you have no other options for internet, so customer support doesn’t get the attention it deserves. For example, both HughesNet and Exede have offshore call centers handling incoming support calls.
Tip: Where to find help
Viasat (formerly Exede) vs HughesNet recap:
If you need a full breakdown of the differences between Viasat and HughesNet, you should check out our Best Satellite Internet Service Providers page, which includes FAQs about satellite internet too.
Beyond that, we’ll remind you of these facts:
- Viasat has lower prices than HughesNet, but remember those prices go up after three months—in which case, you’re still getting a better deal with Viasat.
- Viasat has higher speeds and a wider range of speeds than HughesNet—12 Mbps to 50 Mbps compared to a flat 25 Mbps.
- Viasat has higher data plans than HughesNet.
- HughesNet does offer 50 Mbps of bonus data between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m., and you can buy data tokens from $7–$25 per month to keep full speeds.
- Both companies require a 24-month contract and have early termination fees, but Viasat’s cancellation fee is less risky—up to $345, compared to HughesNet’s max $400.
- Both companies are available in the contiguous 48 United States, but pricing and coverage may vary—particularly for HughesNet’s new satellite, which met its user quota quickly and left a few spots in the US uncovered.
Like we said, we definitely recommend Viasat over HughesNet for just about everything. That’s not to say HughesNet isn’t still a viable service for some country or rural areas—it’s just that Viasat’s new satellite really changed the game.
Anything else you’d like to know about these two providers? Let us know in the comments.