Best satellite internet providers

Having reliable internet access is important for nearly everyone in the U.S., regardless of where they live. The types of internet available to you will vary, from DSL to cable to even high-speed fiber connections. However, for people living in rural areas, often the only option for receiving an internet connection in their home is through satellite internet, where internet service is provided by a satellite orbiting the earth. Because no on-ground infrastructure is required for this connection, satellite internet is available almost everywhere.

If you’re in the market for satellite internet, this guide compares the best satellite internet providers to help you make the best choice for your home networking needs.

What is satellite internet and how does it work?

Cable and DSL internet connections send data through their cables that connect to your home’s modem. Satellite internet uses satellite communication to send and receive data and route it to the modem in your home.

The dish installed at your home is an antenna that transmits and receives signals from orbiting satellites 22,000 miles above the earth. Because the connection is attached with a satellite dish, it can be installed anywhere, even allowing for mobile home and RV satellite internet. Speeds will vary depending on how busy your service provider’s systems are and how many devices are using your connection at the same time.

The top satellite internet providers

Today, there are two nationwide satellite internet providers: Viasat and HughesNet. In 1996, Hughes Network Systems started offering satellite services to consumers and became an independent company called HughesNet in 2006. Viasat started to provide satellite communication services for businesses in 2000, and in 2005, the company began to provide residential services.

When looking for satellite internet service, there are three main factors you should consider: Speed, data caps and pricing. Satellite internet speeds determine how fast you can do things such as download information or stream videos, as well as how many devices can be connected to the internet at the same time. It’s also important to pay attention to data caps. Some internet plans will offer unlimited data, but if not, you may need to either pay for any overages, or the company may slow down your speeds (called throttling) for the remainder of the month.

Viasat internet

Viasat has been in business for over 30 years and continues to grow. Here’s an overview of what Viasat offers:

Price

You’ll see different Viasat plans depending on your location. Plans range from $50 per month to $150 per month and each offers a different speed and data cap.

Speed

Viasat plans offer different speeds, again depending on your location, ranging from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps.

Data

 If you’re looking for unlimited satellite internet, you may be out of luck. Viasat calls the amount of data that is included in each plan “Priority Data.” Data caps range from 40 GB to 150 GB per month. After you’ve reached your data cap, you can either connect at slower speeds or purchase more Priority Data.

Installation

There is no installation charge for a standard installation. Professional installers will mount the satellite dish that Viasat provides. If you live in an apartment or have a Homeowners Association (HOA) in your neighborhood, you’ll want to check with your apartment management or HOA board to obtain permission. Viasat also provides a WiFi modem to connect to your computer, but if you need a router, you’ll need to provide that yourself and connect it.

Perks

Viasat plans come with a two-year price lock guarantee, or you can choose an option that doesn’t require a long-term contract. Viasat often offers periodic discounts such as introductory pricing. You can also receive savings by bundling your internet with DIRECTV or home phone service. 

Pros and cons

Viasat offers high speeds and allows you to purchase more data to maintain your speed throughout the month if you’re a high-bandwidth user. Due to this, Viasat’s prices are generally higher than HughesNet.

HughesNet internet

Hughes has been in business for over 40 years and has continued to be an innovator in the satellite internet service industry.

Price

HughesNet offers four different plans with pricing that ranges from $59.99 per month to $149.99 depending on the speeds offered.

Speed

HughesNet plans offer speeds up to 25 Mbps.

Data

Data caps vary from 10 GB to 50 GB. If you use more data than your plan provides, you’ll stay connected at reduced speeds, typically 1 to 3 Mbps, until your next billing period starts. You also receive an additional 50 GB per month that you can use during the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Installation

Professional installers will perform a standard installation at no charge, which includes mounting the satellite dish and installing a WiFi modem. You’ll want to check with your apartment management or HOA to get their approval.

Perks

HughesNet publishes limited time offers such as discounts on home phone service. You also have the choice of leasing your equipment or purchasing it outright. The HughesNet Gen5 system automatically compresses data to let you use less of your monthly allowance.

Pros and cons

The 25 Mbps that HughesNet offers is fast enough for many applications, but they don’t offer any higher speeds at any price. They also require a two-year contract and don’t have a plan for increasing a data cap during a billing cycle.

ViasatHughesNet
PriceStarting at $50/mo.Starting at $59.99/mo.
Speed12 to 100 Mbps25 Mbps
Data cap?Yes, 40 GB to 150 GBYes, 10 GB to 50 GB
Contract?OptionalYes, two year

*Prices as of March 31, 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

Which routers and modems do I need for satellite internet?
The company you choose will provide your WiFi-enabled modem. Routers aren’t necessary, but you can provide and set up your own router. Depending on the size of your home, you may want to consider a range extender to maximize speeds in areas farther from the modem.

What equipment is necessary for satellite internet to work?
The company you choose will provide all the equipment that is required, including the dish satellite antenna, cabling and a modem. If you need a non-standard installation, there may be additional charges.

What’s the fastest internet I can get in rural areas?
The two national satellite internet providers are Viasat and HughesNet. Viasat offers the fastest satellite internet speed of 100 Mbps while HughesNet provides speeds of up to 25 Mbps.

Can you play online video games on satellite internet?
Yes, you can. Keep in mind you may notice latency (lags in gameplay) if your speed is low, if you’re playing very complex games or if your internet provider’s systems are very busy. Cable and DSL are better for online gaming, but if your only option is satellite internet, make sure you get the highest speed you can afford. Some games work well at 12 Mbps, but 20 Mbps or more gives you the best experience unless you’re sharing an internet connection with others. In that situation, you’ll want to look for a speed at or above 50 Mbps.

Does bad weather interfere with satellite internet?
Light rain or light cloud cover will have no effect, but if you’re experiencing very heavy cloud cover and downpours, your satellite signal can get blocked completely.

Is satellite internet expensive?
Satellite internet is typically more expensive than other types of connections including DSL and cable due to the technologies involved and its availability in areas where no other internet is available. Viasat offers packages starting at $50 per month while HughesNet’s packages start at $60 per month.

Is satellite internet slow?
Satellite internet can be slower than other connection types such as cable and fiber. Viasat offers the highest speeds, up to 100 Mbps, in the satellite internet industry.

Does satellite internet have high latency?
Latency is the time between when you take an action and when your internet responds. Satellite internet does have high latency in some situations, such as when your provider’s systems are very busy or multiple people are sharing your satellite internet connection.

Can you use satellite internet to stream content?
Yes, you can, but streaming requires a lot of data transmission. If streaming is something you do often, you’ll want to get the fastest speed you can afford. In general, streaming requires a speed of at least 10 Mbps.

Is satellite better than DSL?
Most people would prefer to use cable or DSL because they are generally less expensive and don’t have the same problems with outages due to weather conditions. However, satellite internet for rural areas is a lifesaver for people who don’t have access to any other type of internet. 

If you’re now asking, “are there satellite internet providers near me,” you can check availability here.