Internet by satellite providers: Viasat, Hughesnet, Starlink, etc.
Residential satellite internet providers
What is HughesNet?
HughesNet internet (sometimes called hughes internet) delivers broadband internet speeds (25 Mbps) also using geostationary satellites that orbit above earth.
Unlike Viasat, it has low data caps, but also lower, more accessible prices and unlimited data (well "unlimited" with air quotes). We'd recommend it if you just want to browse or check your email. Big on-demand streaming users might want to check out Viasat or Starlink.
To learn more, check out our HughesNet reviews.
What is Viasat?
Viasat (formerly known as Excede) is a trusted satellite internet service provider that uses geostationary satellites (AKA, satellites that orbit above earth's atmosphere) to deliver internet connections around the globe.
Viasat offers high-speed internet with speeds up to 100 Mbps and unlimited satellite internet data. But it's not as good as it sounds. You'll still have a data cap (which will depend on the plan you pick); you just won't be cut off from your internet after you exceed it. Instead, you'll have access to slower internet speeds instead, or what Viasat calls "unlimited standard data." But hey, that's better than a full cut-off.
Check out our full Viasat review for more details.
What is Starlink?
Starlink (owned by Elon Musk's Space X) is the newest satellite internet service provider on the block, using fancy new low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to deliver faster speeds with lower latency to more people across the globe.
Starlink will give you truly unlimited data, unlike Viasat or HughesNet, and offers speeds up to 250 Mbps. It also has the highest startup cost, since residential internet equipment will cost you $599 out of pocket. That is, of course, if you can get it. Starlink availability is limited right now, but check and see when Starlink satellite internet will be available near you.
But once you get your Starlink equipment, you can set it up yourself and get internet service from anywhere with a view of the southern sky.
For more info, read our SpaceX Starlink satellite internet review.
What about Amazon Kuiper?
Project Kuiper is Amazon's upcoming satellite internet service. It's not available yet, and Amazon has until 2029 to pull the project's satellite constellation together, so it could be a while.
If you want to know more, we've gathered everything that's been revealed about Amazon's satellite internet so far in our convenient Project Kuiper 2022 Review.
How does internet from satellite work?
Satellite internet solves the problem of how to get internet to small towns and rural areas, where fiber and cable infrastructure aren’t in place.
In urban areas, homes and skyscrapers are wired with cable and fiber lines that bring the internet to people living in cities and areas with dense populations. Installing fiber is cheap in an apartment building, where the cost per customer is minimal. But what about people who live beyond the city limits?
Running fiber lines out to each home in rural America would be extremely costly. Yet people in the countryside need internet service to stay connected to education, news, telehealth services, remote jobs, friends, and family. 19% of the US population lives in rural areas—which means that over 60 million people may not have access to urban internet options.
That’s where satellite internet comes in. Unlike most other types of internet service, satellite internet doesn’t need any land-based infrastructure running out to your home. Instead, a home satellite dish communicates with a satellite in space to provide internet service.
Data transfers from your home internet devices to the satellite in space and then to the Network Operations Center back on Earth. All of this happens in about half a second. Thanks to satellite internet, remote workers can work from almost anywhere and enjoy lower real estate prices and a healthier lifestyle away from the city.
Satellite internet vs. other internet services
Because of small data allowances and latency issues, satellite internet can’t quite keep up with other rural internet options, including DSL, cable, and in some cases even 4G LTE home internet. But that doesn’t mean it’s miles behind them in every category.
If you live in a rural area and don’t have access to other types of internet service, we recommend satellite internet. But if you can get service through another type of internet service—like cable, DSL, 4G LTE home internet, or fixed-wireless internet—check out those options first.
DSL and cable usually don’t have data caps and may be faster than satellite internet, and fixed-wireless internet tends to offer better prices for the speeds you get.
To be extra sure about your choices, check out our Satellite vs. Cable Internet review.
Satellite internet speed comparison
Max download speed
Max upload speed
Availability in US†
|LTE home internet
*Data is estimated from currently offered plans from popular providers and subject to change. †Availability percentages as reported in FCC Fixed Broadband Deployment.
For a more accurate pricing comparison, let’s look at what a 25 Mbps plan might look like from each provider type. This is a useful speed to compare since it’s a good fit for a household of 2–4 people who need access to Ultra HD streaming.
Satellite internet price comparison
|LTE home internet
You may have noticed the price range for satellite internet is much broader than that of DSL and cable. Satellite internet’s wide price range is primarily due to differences in data allowance, unlike cable internet plans that are differentiated by maximum download speed. Satellite internet is a good, workable internet solution for rural areas that can’t get DSL, LTE home internet (through a cellular data plan), fixed-wireless, fiber, or cable internet.
Satellite internet service is generally not affected by natural disasters, pandemics, or other events. The exception would be if a storm or earthquake knocked over a broadcasting tower.
As a general rule, satellite internet is well equipped to keep people connected to work, school, friends, family, news, and entertainment irregardless of current events. And if hanging out with your family 24/7 is getting a bit much, you can also use your satellite connection to escape for an hour or two. Play a game of Scrabble, learn to build a bench on YouTube, or take an online yoga class.
Getting the most data with your satellite service
All satellite plans limit your data—that’s just how they work. Data is precious, since it travels out to space and back. If you reach your data threshold before the end of the month, your data will be deprioritized. That means your connection will be much slower for the rest of the month.
HughesNet and Viasat offer several unlimited satellite internet plans, but bear in mind that even unlimited plans limit the amount of full speed data you can use each month. Once you reach your data threshold, you can keep the internet for the rest of the month, but your download speeds will slow down to 3 Mbps or less.
So, whichever provider you select, make sure you pick a plan that gives you enough priority data to last through the month and then monitor your data usage so you don’t go over your limit. For a more in-depth comparison, check out our Viasat vs. HughesNet review.
Starlink (from SpaceX) may offer faster internet speeds and less lag than other satellite internet providers because its satellites are in low Earth orbit (LEO). Satellites that are in LEO are closer to the Earth, and since data doesn’t have to travel as far it can provide an advantage when playing high-speed games online.
Starlink isn’t the only company working to leverage an LEO satellite system to deliver fast internet. OneWeb is launching satellites to meet similar goals, although funding problems have slowed the company down. According to current plans, OneWeb will cater to the aviation, maritime, and government sectors rather than to everyday folks living in sparsely populated areas. Amazon's Project Kuiper is also building a low Earth orbit satellite network.
Satellite internet for business
Viasat, HughesNet, and Starlink all offer satellite internet plans for businesses that can keep companies connected to their customers and suppliers. Business plans are more expensive than residential plans, although it’s possible to get a Viasat or Starlink satellite business plan with unlimited data.
Viasat unlimited plans don’t have a hard data cap but they do have a soft cap, which means that your data may be slowed after you reach a set amount. Customers with business satellite internet plans also get quicker repairs and higher security features than residential customers. For more information about business plans, check out our Viasat for Business Review and HughesNet Business Review.
*$10 off for 6 months. 24 mo. commitment required. Pricing not available in all areas. Offer valid 6/31/22-8/31/22 †HughesNet business plan prices increase after six months to $69.99–$199.99/mo.
**Prices and availability vary by location. Installation fees, monthly equipment lease fees, and taxes may apply. After 100 GB of High-Speed Data usage, you still have unlimited access to Standard Data, which may result in slower speed.
Satellite internet FAQ
What equipment will I need for satellite internet to work?
To use satellite internet, you’ll need an internet-ready device (like a computer, tablet, or gaming console), a modem/router, and a satellite dish. You probably already have internet-ready devices at home, and your satellite internet service provider can set you up with a modem/router and satellite dish.
How fast is satellite internet?
Download speeds for Viasat satellite internet range from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, depending on the plan you choose. HughesNet plans all offer the same download speed of 25 Mbps. Starlink offers speeds up to 500 Mbps on its business plans and 50–250 Mbps on Starlink residential plans. But keep in mind those are advertised speeds. The speeds you actually experience may be slower. Starlink speeds range from 50 to 500 Mbps, but you'll have to pay more in equipment costs.
When will Starlink satellite internet be available?
Starlink internet is available in selective areas worldwide and continues to expand. As new satellites are launched, additional areas will be added. It may take another year or more before Starlink is available nationwide.
Who has the fastest satellite internet?
In many areas, Viasat offers download speeds up to 100 Mbps. Some Starlink users experience download speeds up to 500 Mbps on Starlink Business, although speeds vary widely since the Starlink constellation isn’t fully built out yet. Starlink’s advertised speeds are 50–500 Mbps.
Is satellite internet as fast as cable internet?
No, satellite internet is not as fast as cable internet—yet. Satellite speeds top out at 500 Mbps while cable speeds can reach up to 1,000 Mbps. Some satellite internet plans technically offer download speeds as fast as cable internet in some areas, but it likely wouldn’t seem faster because of satellite internet’s higher latency.
Is satellite internet good enough for streaming (e.g., Netflix)?
Yes, you can stream with satellite internet, but there are a lot of factors to consider before you do—especially data caps. With satellite internet, you’ll be picking a data plan as well as a speed, and your data plan can make a big difference in your speed. If you use too much data, your speeds will be slowed for the rest of the month, which can impact the ability to stream video.
Since streaming can be tricky on satellite, we wrote two guides to help you get the most out of your internet connection: Your Guide to Streaming with Satellite Internet and How to Stop Buffering When Streaming with Satellite Internet.
Should I get satellite internet or fixed-wireless internet?
If you have a choice between satellite internet or fixed-wireless internet, you may get more data for your dollar by opting for fixed wireless. Many fixed-wireless plans offer higher data caps or even unlimited data and are usually cheaper than satellite internet service. Satellite internet typically has more limited data plans (10 GB to 150 GB per month). For more information on fixed-wireless internet, check out the best fixed-wireless providers for rural areas.
How do I know if I qualify for subsidized broadband internet service through the FCC Lifeline program?
The Lifeline program offers a $9.25 per month discount on internet service with Viasat, HughesNet, or dozens of other internet providers. If you live on Tribal Lands, you may qualify for a monthly internet discount up to $34.25.
How does satellite TV work?
Satellite TV works in a relay system similar to satellite internet, but it uses a set-top box and a TV instead of a modem and internet-ready device. Live satellite TV does not use internet data, so it’s a good choice for customers who have internet plans with data limits. For tips on picking a satellite TV provider, check out our guide to the best satellite TV providers.
How can I get high-speed internet in rural areas?
Satellite internet is available in almost every rural area in the US. Satellite internet plans come with download speeds from 12 Mbps to 500 Mbps. Any internet plan with download speeds above 25 Mbps is considered broadband (high-speed) internet by the FCC.
In many rural areas, satellite internet isn’t the only option anymore. Many areas have additional options that offer more data and lower prices. Check out our guide to the Best Internet for Rural Areas to find out about 4G LTE home internet, fixed-wireless, and other options that work away from the city.
Can I get satellite internet for RV?
It is possible to equip an RV with satellite internet, but this isn’t currently practical for most people. VSAT (very small aperture terminal) equipment is the only type of satellite internet equipment that is transportable, but this type of mobile satellite internet equipment is expensive ($5,000 and up) and delivers a really slow internet speed (less than 1 Mbps).
Still, satellite internet for RV can be the best option for people who work in extremely remote locations or in marine vessels on the open ocean. For more information, check out our guides to internet for RV and best internet for boats.
For most people who are planning to use the internet recreationally while traveling, we recommend using cellular internet in your RV and adding some equipment to make the signal stronger. You can strengthen your mobile phone signal by using a booster made for RVs, using a mobile hotspot, getting a portable 4G LTE home internet plan that isn’t tied to your location, or hotspotting off your phone (with a mobile plan that has a generous hotspot allowance).
Is satellite internet a good option?
Satellite internet is a great option when DSL, cable, or fiber internet aren’t available. In some areas, satellite service offers speeds up to 500 Mbps. Other parts of the country may have slower speeds of around 12 Mbps available in their area. Data caps and latency issues take some getting used to, but satellite internet service can effectively connect people who live away from city services to online school, jobs, news, entertainment, and more.
Is satellite internet better than DSL internet?
Satellite internet is available in more remote areas, but DSL internet sometimes has higher data caps. That means that DSL internet customers won’t be as likely to experience throttling. You can check out Satellite vs. DSL to determine which internet type is best for you.
Where can I get WildBlue?
WildBlue is a discontinued satellite internet service that’s been replaced by Viasat. Other discontinued satellite internet companies include the following:
- dishNet: No longer available, but you can bundle DISH TV service with internet from other providers
- EarthLink: Discontinued satellite internet
- Exede: Changed branding to Viasat
- WildBlue: Now Viasat (acquired in 2009)
Can you stream with satellite internet?
Yes, most satellite internet plans allow for some video streaming. But, you will need to carefully monitor your data usage because streaming uses a lot of data.
The problem with streaming on satellite internet has more to do with data caps than with speed, since nearly any satellite plan will deliver fast enough speeds for Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming service. But, if you binge watch all weekend and exceed your data cap, your satellite providers will throttle speeds down to 1 to 3 Mbps, which will cause problems with streaming and many other internet activities.
HughesNet and Viasat have options to help you save data when you stream so you don’t use up your data allowance as quickly. We recommend you stream in the lowest quality when possible, since this will save data.
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