When it comes to satellite internet, unfortunately the selection is fairly small. There is only a handful of satellite internet providers on the market today. While people in urban and suburban areas typically have access to many different cable and DSL internet options (and sometimes even fiber), those who live in rural areas don’t have the same luxury. Satellite internet plans tend to be more expensive than cable and DSL internet plans but satellite is the best internet for rural areas since satellite can reach nearly everywhere.
The best satellite internet service providers include:
Viasat and HughesNet are the only two satellite internet service providers currently available, but according to Elon Musk, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet will be available in some locations by the end of 2020 and will have near-global coverage by 2021.
Let’s Talk Tip: Due to high latency or lag, satellite internet is not ideal for video chatting or online gaming. On Skype or Zoom calls, you’re bound to experience frequent screen freezes. Likewise, online gamers, particularly those playing first-person shooter games, are likely going to have a slow or delayed gaming experience.
Best satellite internet #1: Viasat
Viasat (formerly Exede) is the best satellite internet service provider if you’re looking for the fastest internet speeds and highest data caps satellite can provide. Viasat’s internet speeds can reach up to 100Mbps, which is more than fast enough for online gaming, streaming Hulu and Netflix, and downloading audiobooks. 100Mbps isn’t just fast for satellite internet—it’s fast no matter which type of internet service connection you go with. However, it’s important to note that your internet speeds through Viasat largely depend on where you live and which plans are available to you.
Viasat internet plans
Viasat offers two types of satellite internet plans: Liberty and Unlimited.
Viasat Liberty plans are cheaper than the Unlimited plans but they include slower internet speeds and smaller data caps. And these data caps are pretty much hard data caps—once you use up your allowance, your speeds will automatically be slowed to 1Mbps to 5Mbps until the next billing cycle. While 5Mbps is okay for low-demand activities, such as checking email and browsing the internet, speeds slower than that are going to be extremely frustrating, if not unusable. That said, you can always pay to add more data onto your Liberty plan, should you run out before the month is up. And chances are, you probably will if you’re using your internet for all your everyday needs like browsing social media, streaming video and music, online gaming, and more.
On Viasat Unlimited plans, you get higher data allowances, which are more like high-speed data caps since your internet speeds might be slowed once you meet them. If you go over your data cap, Viasat may slow your speeds to anywhere from 1Mbps to 5Mbps during times of network congestion (although this isn’t guaranteed).
We think that going with a Viasat Unlimited plan is the best choice for customers in rural areas who want the fastest satellite internet speeds available (at least until Starlink officially hits the market).
Let’s Talk Editor’s Pick: Viasat Unlimited Gold 50
If you’re considering signing up for a Viasat plan, we recommend the Viasat Unlimited Gold 50 plan. This satellite internet plan includes:
- 50Mbps speeds
- 100GB data cap
- 2-year contract
- BYO modem
- $100-$150 installation fee
50Mbps is fast enough that you’ll be able to binge Netflix, stream Spotify, and post on Instagram and Facebook. You may not be able to have several people streaming video at once, but it should suffice for one streamer at a time, plus other online activities.
Keep in mind, this is not a hard data cap—instead, your internet speeds may be deprioritized in favor of customers who have used less data that month. So technically you have unlimited data but you may experience significantly reduced speeds that may disrupt your everyday online activities.
Another thing to note is that your introductory price is only locked in for 3 months—after that intro period, your price will increase. This is true of all of Viasat’s plans, which is sort of a bummer, but we still think this plan is worth it, especially compared to other satellite options.
Best satellite internet #2: HughesNet
Unlike Viasat satellite internet, HughesNet gives you the same plan price for the duration of your 2-year contract. HughesNet offers low-cost satellite internet plans for budget-minded customers who don’t need the fastest internet speeds or highest data caps around. All HughesNet internet plans work similarly to Viasat’s Liberty plans—once you reach your monthly data allowance, your speeds will be slowed to between 1Mbps and 3Mbps for the remainder of the month, but you can always purchase additional data if necessary.
HughesNet installation fees are high
Although HughesNet satellite plans tend to be more affordable than Viasat’s, HughesNet’s upfront installation fees are going to cost you much more, and of course, not everyone can afford to fork over a large upfront sum. But what you pay for in installation fees, you more or less make up for in the 2-year price lock, compared to Viasat dramatically increasing your plan cost after just 3 months. Choosing which satellite internet provider is best for you largely depends on your needs and situation.
HughesNet internet plans
HughesNet offers a smaller selection of plans than Viasat but if affordability is your main priority, then HughesNet is the way to go. The plans are much more straightforward than Viasat’s—what you see is what you get. HughesNet doesn’t jack up the prices after a short introductory period so you know just how much you’ll be spending for the duration of the 2-year contract. Plus, every HughesNet satellite internet plan includes 25Mbps download speeds—what you’ll be choosing between is your data cap, which ranges from 20GB to 50GB.
Let’s Talk Editor’s Pick: HughesNet 20GB Plan
We chose the HughesNet 20GB plan as the best choice of the HughesNet satellite plans. While the plan price certainly isn’t cheap, it’s much more affordable than other satellite internet options. This plan includes:
- 25Mbps speeds
- 2-year contract
- $250 modem
- $200 installation fees
While 25Mbps isn’t going to blow your mind, it should be good enough to surf the web or stream a movie, but because of the 20GB data cap, this plan is best for casual internet users who only occasionally stream TV and movies.
As for the installation fees, they can be a tough cost to swallow, but we calculated how much extra those fees would equate to each month, and they add on $18.75/month for 24 months—at that price, this plan is still fairly affordable but slightly more expensive than Viasat’s cheapest plan (Unlimited Bronze 12), which only gets 12Mbps.
How good is SpaceX satellite internet?
It’s hard for us to say, as of now, how good SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet is since it isn’t yet available. But if Starlink delivers on its promises of lightning-fast speeds, low latency, and competitive pricing, then we think Starlink is going to take the satellite internet industry by storm. Not only will Starlink be an excellent option for rural customers, but it will also be a viable provider for customers in cities as well, with plan prices similar to other internet connection types, such as DSL and cable. To see how good Starlink is compared to other satellite internet service providers, check out the table below.
Compare satellite internet service providers
|Starlink||~$80/month||Up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps)||25-35ms|
Best satellite internet for gaming
Unfortunately, satellite internet is notorious for being the worst connection type for gaming. This is because satellite internet tends to have extremely high latency, meaning it takes a long time for your internet signal to travel from the satellite (that’s about 22,000 miles away from Earth) to your house or apartment, and back to the satellite.
A decent latency or “ping” is around 100 ms or less, although most gamers need between 30 ms and 50 ms to have a solid gaming experience. Viasat and HughesNet provide latency periods between 600 ms and 800 ms, up to 8 times longer than the typical internet user needs. High ping or lag is going to make it virtually impossible to play your favorite online games, and first-person shooter games, such as Call of Duty and Fortnite, are going to be the worst. You may find that some role-playing games may be easier to play.
Right now, there aren’t any great satellite internet providers for gaming, but once Starlink is available, it will hands down be the best satellite internet option for gamers and streamers alike.