Compare the Best Satellite Internet Providers of 2020

About Satellite Internet

Satellite internet is rapidly becoming an option of choice for many. There are two companies in the US that offer satellite internet. These are Viasat and HughesNet. There are also numerous resellers of these two vendors. Whereas cable, dialup, and DSL transmit signals via wires, satellite internet transmits signals via the airwaves. Early satellite internet was developed mainly for consumers in rural areas without wired internet service, but advances in technology are quickly changing that dynamic. This article will explain how satellite internet works, provide useful provider comparisons and answer most of your questions.

Satellite internet is provided using a series of three satellite dishes that transmit and receive digital signals. The first dish is at the provider hub where signals originate; the second is positioned on a stationary orbit communications satellite 22,300 miles above the earth; the third is set up at a consumer’s home where the service is used.

When you order satellite internet, a service technician will visit your home and establish that you have a clear path to the satellite that delivers the signals. Provided the path to the satellite is not blocked by too many trees, buildings or even mountains, the satellite dish will be installed and aligned. After installation, your technician will test your system to ensure you have the best possible internet signal.

As with other internet services, you will have a modem/router in your home or RV. Your internet service provider (ISP) will then transmit a signal to the orbiting satellite and back to the provider hub. Each time you use the internet to load a page or check your email, this signal path through space is repeated.

Top Satellite Internet Providers

While several common brands today offer satellite internet to their customers, these operate via two main providers: HughesNet and Viasat. The following chart will help you compare these two core providers at a glance. Availability and prices may vary by location. Please visit ISP.com and enter your zip code for service and pricing near you.

Compare Satellite Internet Providers

Both HughesNet and Viasat provide service to the contiguous United States and select international locations, but there are some key differences. HughesNet service includes Alaska and both Central and South America while Viasat does not service Alaska yet offers service throughout much of Europe as far as Istanbul, Turkey. Both companies boast fast speeds, with Viasat offering a range of download speeds between 12 and 50 Mbps depending on location. HughesNet provides 25 Mbps to all. Both provide 3 Mbps upload speed. A key difference between the two is that HughesNet plans to charge extra for data exceeding a monthly limit while Viasat offers unlimited data but with possibly slower service after exceeding the plan limit. HughesNet plans range from $59.99 to $149.99 per month and Viasat offers packages from $70 to $150 per month. Both providers offer special introductory rates with two-year contracts, but Viasat also has an option for month-to-month service. Viasat also bundles with DirecTV, local and long-distance phone service, and offers a special service plan and business packages. Both companies include a Wi-Fi modem/router. Both companies also provide professional installation at no additional cost with approved credit and provide several satellite dish-mounting options, including roof, wall or pole mounts.

ProviderType of internetSpeedsStarting package price
HughesNet logoSatellite25 - 25 MBPS$49.99/mo for 6 months
Viasat logoSatellite12 - 100 MBPS$70/mo for months

Pros and cons of satellite internet

As with any service, there are pros and cons with satellite internet. However, technology is rapidly changing the industry, so the disadvantages are rapidly disappearing.

PROS

  • Mobile: Satellite internet can be mobile, and service is easy-to-transfer to a new location, so people who move often may prefer it to other options. Some mount them on RVs.
  • Global Access: Because satellites circle the globe, this is a good option for international travelers.
  • Reliable: The equipment and access of satellite internet is more reliable than wired options.

CONS

  • Latency: Latency refers to the time required for actions taken to move from the user to the ISP. It is most applicable to gaming. Streaming services may also be affected, but less so.
  • Availability: Although service may be available in your market, obstacles may block access to the satellite.
  • Price: The cost of satellite internet tends to be slightly higher in most markets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Naturally, many are curious about satellite internet. The following are the answers to the most commonly asked questions.

To find a satellite internet provider in your area, you could do a Google search or visit each company that offers service, but the easiest way is to simply perform a zip code search on ISP.com.

Satellite internet is ideal for anyone who is mobile or travels often, lives in largely rural locales or wants the most reliable service possible.

Although cable is able to boast faster speeds, especially in places with fiber optics, an FCC report in 2013 found that satellite internet customers enjoyed better average speeds. This is because satellite provides continuity of service, whereas wired is dependent on how many users are online at a given time. Wired users usually see drastically-reduced speeds during peak user times like 5 PM to 8 PM.

Satellite is not ideal for gaming, but much depends on the package chosen and games played. For instance, games that require rapid movements like first-person shooter games do not play well on satellite, but many users report that RPGs like Skyrim perform well. One thing which helps is to avoid the use of Wi-Fi for gaming; use a hardwire connection to your modem from your gaming system.

Viasat boasts the fastest satellite internet speed at 50 Mbps download in select markets, but both providers provide upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

Viasat offers unlimited satellite internet usage plans with 100 gigabytes (GB) max. The plan is "unlimited" in that there is no additional charge for exceeding 100 GB; instead, users may experience a slower connection speed.