When shopping for satellite internet, you’ll likely find two available options: HughesNet and Viasat, and coming soon, Starlink. Which provider is best for your home may come down to your location as HughesNet is the faster, more affordable option in select areas while Viasat may be the better option in others. Starlink offers the fastest speeds regardless of where you live but its starting price is steep at $99/mo.
Compare satellite internet providers
|Starting monthly price*||$49.99||$50.00||$99.00|
|Download speed range**||25 – 25 Mbps||12 – 100 Mbps||50 – 150 Mbps|
|Plan term||Two-year agreement||Two-year agreement||None|
|Data allowance||Between 10-50GB, depending on plan||Between 40-150GB, depending on plan||Unlimited|
HughesNet satellite internet plans
|Plan name||Starting price*||Download speeds**||Monthly data allowance|
|Gen5 10GB||$59.99/mo.||25 Mbps||10GB|
|Gen5 20GB||$69.99/mo.||25 Mbps||20GB|
|Gen5 30GB||$99.99/mo.||25 Mbps||30GB|
|Gen5 50GB||$149.99/mo.||25 Mbps||50GB|
HughesNet service highlights
Compared to Viasat, HughesNet has more consistent pricing and speed tiers, plus more “free” data available and lower equipment costs each month. According to the 2018 FCC broadband report, HughesNet is also more likely to reach advertised speeds than Viasat.
- Plan price and speed consistency – HughesNet speeds (up to 25 Mbps) are standard, as is plan pricing, whereas Viasat speeds and pricing may vary by location.
- “Bonus Zone” data – HughesNet customers can enjoy an extra 50GB of data/mo. available from the hours of 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. – a feature that Viasat doesn’t have.
- Low equipment fees – HughesNet equipment lease starts around $10/mo., a few bucks cheaper than the Viasat rental fee.
- Actual vs. advertised speeds – HughesNet is one of the few ISPs that actually provides faster speeds than what is advertised. The FCC reported that HughesNet’s median download speed is 31.27 Mbps for its advertised 25 Mbps plan.
Viasat satellite internet plans
|Plans||Intro price*||Price after 3 mos.*||Download speed||Data cap|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$69.99/mo.||$99.99/mo.||12 Mbps||40GB|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$99.99/mo.||$149.99/mo.||25 Mbps||60GB|
|Unlimited Gold 30||$149.99/mo.||$199.99/mo.||30 Mbps||100GB|
Viasat service highlights
Viasat offers faster speeds than HughesNet, but only in select areas. Regardless of available speeds, customers will appreciate higher data allowances than what’s available with most HughesNet plans, plus a two-year price guarantee.
- Speeds up to 100 Mbps – Viasat offers four times the speed of HughesNet, but only in select areas. In some locations, available speeds may top out at 50, 30 or 12 Mbps.
- Higher data allowances – With data plans ranging from 40-150GB, Viasat plans give you more data for the price compared to HughesNet.
- Two-year contract – Viasat plans require a two-year contract lock, but your price will be guaranteed for the length of it once the three-month introductory pricing ends. HughesNet customers may see a price increase after six months of service.
- Actual vs. advertised speeds – Expect Viasat’s service to be slightly slower than what is advertised. The FCC reported that the median download speed for Viasat’s advertised 12 Mbps plan is 10.75 Mbps (89.6% of the advertised speed).
Starlink satellite internet plans
|Plan||Starting price||Download speeds||Latency||Data caps||Equipment costs|
|Starlink beta plan||$99.00/mo.||50 – 150 Mbps||40 – 60 ms||Unlimited||$499|
Starlink service highlights
Starlink internet is potentially a game-changer for satellite internet. With faster speeds, lower latency and unlimited data, Starlink will allow residents of rural households who currently are unable to work and learn remotely, to finally be able to do so. Starlink’s only downside is that it is quite expensive, with prices starting at $99/mo.
Starlink is currently only in a beta phase, which means Starlink is only available to a limited number of users right now, and pricing and data caps could be subject to change. Starlink is offering its services on a first-come, first-served basis and is currently only available in the Northwest region of the U.S. Sign-ups require a $99 deposit.
- Speeds up to 150 Mbps – Starlink speeds currently range between 50 and 150 Mbps. However, as more satellites enter the network, Starlink’s speeds will likely increase up to 300 Mbps. Starlink only offers one plan, so the speed range refers to what any customer can expect to experience.
- Low latency– The greatest difference between Starlink and other satellite companies has to do with latency. Starlink’s latency is significantly lower than HughesNet or Viasat, which means it will be easier for users to work or learn from home using Starlink.
- Unlimited data – Although Starlink is currently not imposing data caps, it is unclear whether this will remain true after its beta phase. Starlink has only stated that there are no data caps “at this time.”
How satellite internet works
HughesNet and Viasat
Satellite internet is an internet connection that uses satellite signals to send and receive data. HughesNet and Viasat use geostationary (fixed position) satellites that are about 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.
From this height, a single satellite can cover a broad area. However, since so many customers are connected to the same satellite, access to data is shared by potentially thousands of customers at once. With so many people connected at once, satellite internet providers use data caps to help ensure there is enough bandwidth for all.
Additionally, 22,000 miles is a long way for data to travel, which is why satellite internet has such high latency (600+ ms). Such high latency makes real-time online gaming and live streaming difficult if not impossible.
You can use a satellite internet connection for downloading, on-demand video streaming, uploading and some gaming (turn-based strategy games are best for satellite internet).
Starlink, developed under the SpaceX umbrella headed by Elon Musk, is a new type of satellite technology that uses low-orbit satellites. With the use of thousands of these low-orbiting satellites, Starlink aims to remove some of the pain points that come with satellite internet, namely latency and data restrictions. For instance, while HughesNet and Viasat have latency speeds at 600 ms or higher, Starlink’s latency is much lower, ranging between 20 to 40 ms. Starlink speeds (50-150 Mbps) rival DSL and basic cable internet service, but may get faster as more satellites enter the network.
Just like other types of internet providers, satellite internet requires a modem and a router for home Wi-Fi service, in addition to a stationary satellite dish.
Satellite vs. other types of internet
Satellite internet is available virtually everywhere, but it’s not for everyone. Why? Because satellite internet lacks the speeds and bandwidth capabilities of cable, fiber and even some DSL internet connections. Why? satellite internet providers aren’t to blame, the technology is limited.
Advantages of satellite internet
- Higher speeds than DSL internet
- Great for rural areas where DSL and cable internet are not available
- Service usually has enough bandwidth to support light to moderate usage, web browsing and streaming movies and music
- Faster and more reliable than dial-up internet
- Actual speeds are usually exactly as advertised, where cable and fiber usually get around 90%
Disadvantages of satellite internet
- Prone to weather-related disruptions or lags in speed
- Satellite internet providers have monthly data caps around 100GB, while cable and fiber plans are usually unlimited
- High latency makes playing real-time online gaming or working from home impractical (Starlink will have much lower latency than HughesNet or Viasat)
- Not known for being a cheap internet option
- Speeds – Max download speeds for satellite internet are currently lower than you’ll find with fiber or cable internet connections, but may be faster than DSL service in many areas. That said, you’re more likely to actually get the speeds that are advertised with satellite.
- Pricing – Considering the speeds you get for the price, satellite internet is one of the more expensive internet options. While starting pricing for HughesNet and Viasat is around $50/mo., the speeds and data that come with it are lower than you’ll find from other internet types with plans around the same price.
- Data caps – As we’ve mentioned above, satellite internet plans typically come with far less data than DSL, cable or fiber plans — usually around 100GB compared to unlimited data on most cable and fiber plans. That said, HughesNet and Viasat don’t charge overage fees for going over your data limit, but they will slow your speeds significantly.
- Latency – Also as mentioned above, latency is much higher with satellite internet than other internet types, which can limit what you do online.
- Contracts – HughesNet and Viasat service comes with a two-year contract. While contracts vary more by provider than internet type, a two-year contract is still longer than what is required from many other internet providers.