Satellite Internet Buying Guide

Andreas Rivera
May 23, 2024
Icon Time To Read4 min read

What you need to know before getting satellite internet

Satellite internet is a completely different animal from traditional broadband internet like cable or fiber. Users should know about several realities and concessions before selecting a satellite internet provider. 

  • Hughesnet requires a 24-month contract. 
  • Starlink has no contract but does require a large upfront charge for equipment. 
  • Viasat’s latest Unleashed plan also has no contract and the most affordable start-up costs (especially if you have good credit). 

Why is satellite so expensive?

When comparing satellite internet to traditional broadband for the first time, you may be baffled by how much a satellite package costs, considering the service’s modest speeds and data. Need proof? You’ll pay just as much (or more) for satellite than you would for fiber, which is ten times as fast and has unlimited data. 

It seems unfair to pay so much for what seems like such a slow connection, but this is due to the high costs of launching and maintaining a constellation of satellites to deliver internet service worldwide. When satellites malfunction or get damaged, they cannot be repaired, and replacing them is a huge investment.

Enter your zip code to find the best internet providers available in your area.

Satellite speed: The difference between download speed and latency

So, why is satellite internet so slow compared to the latest fiber and 5G services?  Download speeds, which are often advertised as comparable to broadband, are just one part of the equation. 

Latency is the primary reason that satellite speeds hardly compare to wired and fixed-wireless connections. Download and upload speeds best describe how much information you’re sending and receiving at once, but latency represents how fast that information can travel between your computer and the internet.

Satellite plans often have high latency, and understandably so. A simple act like clicking a link to visit a new website takes longer because the request needs to travel the distance between your dish, the satellites in orbit, and gateways on the Earth that connect to the rest of the web. A misaligned dish and bad weather can also interfere with the signal, causing poor service. Meanwhile, using fiber often feels instantaneous. 

While cable and fiber will take 11-35 milliseconds (ms) to respond to a request, satellites take more than 500ms on average. Starlink is the exception, thanks to its low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation, which has significantly lower latency.

This is why online gaming is not recommended on satellite. When your latency or ping is especially high, it’ll appear to your friends like your character is moving in slow motion. The same goes for voice chat. Whether it’s in a game or even a VoIP service, there will be a noticeable delay in conversations.

Why does satellite have data caps?

Satellite providers typically market their plans with unlimited data, though that’s only technically true. There may be unlimited data, but it’s often not the high-speed priority data they’re touting.  Most satellite ISPs limit users’ monthly priority data, meaning you’ll have a finite amount of data you can download at the service’s full capability. 

Like any internet provider that imposes a data cap, this is done to regulate bandwidth over their network. With thousands of customers connected to the internet and just a handful of satellites, providers can’t guarantee enough bandwidth for everyone. Priority data is given the VIP treatment over the network, while customers who aren’t using it are put in the slow lane. 

So, while you might have unlimited data, it will move significantly slower than the advertised priority speeds. Customers who stream movies or download large files will run into their limit quickly if they’re not careful, so be sure to monitor it frequently. If you run out of your monthly data, you can purchase more data to fill up the tank, but it’s important to know whether that data will carry over to the next month. 

So, why satellite internet?

Even in our modern world, there are still plenty of populated areas, including in the U.S., that aren’t covered by typical high-speed internet. Wired internet through fiber, cable, and DSL requires big infrastructure investments from both private and public entities, making these kinds of connections slower to reach rural areas where few people live. Recently, wireless internet through 5G and fixed-wireless has expanded but has still left large swaths of the map without coverage.

While currently not as powerful as traditional services, satellite internet is still the most capable of connecting you to the internet no matter where you are. It gives you the same access to communication, information, education, entertainment, and economic opportunities as everyone else.

Enter your zip code to find the best internet providers available in your area.

How else can you use satellite internet?


Satellite internet is now on the move, thanks to Starlink. The provider offers portable versions called Mobile and Mobile Priority (formerly called Starlink Roam). These options are a bit more expensive than Starlink’s standard plans but they allow you to take your Starlink on the road (and even out to sea). 

Starlink Mobile allows you to use the service at multiple locations, though it does require you to be stationary while accessing the internet, making it great for camping. The much more expensive Mobile Priority allows you to use Starlink on the go, so you can enjoy the web while your RV or boat is in motion. 

Currently, Starlink is the only satellite internet provider with a mobile option, but there are plenty of other solutions for mobile internet. Read more about them here. 


All three major satellite internet providers offer plans tailored to businesses. The plans are more expensive but are optimized with more priority data and even unlimited priority data plans, as well as priority customer support when it's essential to always stay connected. Read more about satellite internet for business here.

The future of satellite internet

Satellite internet is a rapidly growing industry that’s continually developing newer and better technology. Starlink was a huge leap forward in making satellite internet more accessible and efficient. Both Hughesnet and Viasat are continuing to improve their fleets of satellites to stay competitive, and more enterprises are throwing their hat in the ring. In late 2023, Amazon successfully tested the first satellites of Project Kuiper, its planned constellation of low-earth orbit satellites to compete with Starlink. The company is planning to begin a beta program in the latter half of 2024, with residential service hopefully beginning sometime in 2025.