Satellite internet uses satellites orbiting the earth to provide you with an internet connection; because of this technology, satellite internet reaches areas that cable, DSL, and fiber internet service providers do not, such as rural locations. The selection of satellite internet service providers is rather limited—your only satellite options include Viasat (formerly Exede) and HughesNet, and these internet providers do not come cheap. Satellite internet plans tend to be more expensive than DSL and cable internet plans, but without alternatives, satellite internet is the best option for people living in sparsely-populated areas.
In this satellite internet guide:
- Who is satellite internet best for?
- Satellite internet providers
- How does satellite internet work?
- Who is the fastest satellite internet provider?
- How much does satellite internet cost?
- How good is Starlink satellite internet?
Let’s Talk Tip: You may have a third satellite internet option soon—Elon Musk has stated that SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service may be available in select locations by the end of 2020 and nearly everywhere by 2021.
Who is satellite internet best for?
Currently, satellite internet is best for people living in rural areas who don’t have access to other internet plan types, such as DSL, cable, and fiber. This is because satellites can reach virtually anywhere, whereas other options require the correct infrastructure to be installed. However, once SpaceX’s Starlink makes its debut, this might change—due to its highly-anticipated fast speeds, low latency, and affordable pricing, Starlink will likely be an excellent choice for anyone, living anywhere!
Conversely, satellite internet isn’t your best choice if you live in a city or suburb since you probably have access to a variety of cable and DSL internet plans. Depending on where you live, fiber internet plans may be available as well (fiber internet is currently only available in about 25% of the US).
Satellite internet providers
If you live in a sparsely-populated location, chances are satellite internet is your only option, with two satellite internet providers to choose from—Viasat (formerly Exede) and HughesNet.
Viasat (formerly Exede) is the best satellite provider for you if you want the highest data caps and fastest internet speeds satellite has to offer (until Starlink is widely available). Viasat plans can reach download speeds up to 100Mbps, which is fast enough to stream movies and TV shows, download audiobooks, and stream the newest albums from your favorite artists.
One thing to keep in mind is that no matter which Viasat plan you choose, your introductory plan price is only locked in for 3 months. After your initial 3 months is up, your monthly price will go up.
If you’re looking to save money on your monthly bill, you may want to consider a satellite internet plan through HughesNet, a provider that offers affordable satellite internet plans for budget-conscious customers who need the highest data caps or fastest internet speeds. Unlike Viasat, HughesNet doesn’t increase your plan price until your 2-year contract is up. That said, HughesNet satellite plans include higher upfront costs than Viasat, which may be a deterrent for some customers looking to avoid paying a large lump sum for installation. However, it may be worth it for the 2-year price lock.
Every HughesNet satellite internet plan includes download speeds of 25Mbps, with different plans including different data caps. While 25Mbps isn’t going to blow anyone’s mind, it will probably suffice for one or two people who use the internet for low-demand activities, such as web browsing, email, and scrolling through social media.
How does satellite internet work?
Satellite internet is fairly simple to understand. Your device, such as your laptop, smart TV, or smartphone, sends a signal through your modem to your satellite dish and then to your satellite internet provider’s satellite, about 22,000 miles from Earth. Once the satellite receives the signal, the satellite will then transmit the signal to your internet provider’s server. Then the process reverses—your provider sends the signal back to the satellite, then your satellite dish, then your modem, and finally, your device.
If it sounds like it takes a long time, well, that’s because it does—at least compared to other internet connection types, such as fiber, cable, and DSL. The length of time it takes the signal to travel from your device to the satellite and back is called the latency or “ping.” Unfortunately, satellite internet has the longest latency period of all internet connection types. A decent latency is around 100 milliseconds or less, and HughesNet and Viasat provide latency periods between 600 milliseconds and 800 milliseconds. A long lag will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to play online video games, especially first-person shooter games, as these games rely on quick response times. You may also find that you will experience frequent freezing with your video conferencing, and streaming services like Netflix and Hulu may take a while to load.
Who is the fastest satellite internet provider?
Viasat is the fastest satellite internet provider, offering internet speeds of up to 100Mbps, which isn’t just fast for satellite internet—it’s fast for any type of internet connection. 100Mbps is fast enough for most families to enjoy streaming, downloading, and browsing social media.
That said, remember that Viasat (as well as HughesNet) has an extremely long latency period of 600 to 800 milliseconds. Long latency periods result in lags or frustrating delays, particularly while gaming, streaming, or video conferencing. However, there are some things you can do to reduce your satellite internet latency, such as:
- Use an ethernet cord instead of WiFi.
- Reboot your router or modem.
- Close any background programs or apps that use the internet.
- Pause background downloads.
How much does satellite internet cost?
With plans starting at $50/month, satellite internet tends to cost more than cable and DSL internet plans, which start as low as $19/month. Satellite internet plans may cost as much as $150/month, and even at that high rate, the features aren’t going to wow you. Unfortunately, since there isn’t much competition in the satellite internet market, these providers can charge more than other internet service providers. That’s why SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet, which Elon Musk has said may be available worldwide in 2021, is bound to be a gamechanger—Gwynne Shotwell, CEO and President of SpaceX, has hinted at Starlink plans costing around $80/month.
How good is Starlink satellite internet?
We can’t say yet how good Starlink is since it’s not available, but SpaceX’s Starlink promises to change the satellite internet game forever, with blazing fast internet speeds, incredibly low ping, and competitive plan pricing. If Starlink delivers on these features, then Starlink won’t just be an excellent choice for rural customers—it will be a great option for customers in urban areas as well, with prices similar to cable and DSL prices. Plus, rural gamers will finally have a solid satellite internet option.
Compare Starlink, Viasat, & HughesNet
|Starlink||~$80/month||Up to 1,000Mbps (1Gbps)||25-35ms|