Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet Service

Most affordable
HughesNet
Hughesnet
  • pro
    Affordable (starting $49.99/mo.)
  • pro
    99% availability
  • con
    Maximum 25Mbps
Fastest
Viasat
Viasat
  • pro
    High data cap (up to 500GB)
  • pro
    12–200Mbps
  • con
    Expensive (starting $69.99/mo.)
Best for data hogs
Starlink
Starlink
  • pro
    Unlimited high-speed data
  • pro
    5–220Mbps
  • con
    Expensive (starting $120.00/mo.)

Hannah Rivera
Jan 10, 2024
bullet9 min read

So, you’re trying to decide on what kind of internet service to sign up for, and you’re wondering if satellite service is a good solution or not. Satellite internet is a popular choice among those who live in less populated areas, where other internet types (cable, fiber, etc) don’t yet reach. If you live in a rural area, satellite internet is a great option.

But before you make a decision, let’s talk about the pros and cons of satellite internet. Later, we’ll explore the nitty-gritty details of the service and compare it to other options to help you decide if satellite internet is right for you.

What is satellite internet?

In a nutshell, satellite internet uses satellite dishes—one stationed outside your home and others orbiting in outer space—to send internet signals wirelessly from the satellite network to your web-browsing device. If you’d like to know more of the detailed science behind what satellite internet is and how it works, we’ve talked about it in greater detail and invite you to check it out. It’s really interesting stuff if you’re tech nerdy like we are.   

Best satellite internet providers

Provider
Price
Equipment fee
Speed range
Largest data cap
See more
$49.99– $174.99/mo.$14.99/mo.15–50Mbps200GB
$69.99– $299.99/mo.$5.00/mo.12–100Mbps500GB
$120.00– $5,000.00/mo.$599.00– $2,500.00 (one time)50–500Mbps1TB

Hughesnet and Viasat are some of the best satellite internet providers, with Hughesnet offering the more affordable plans and Viasat the faster speeds. Starlink is another good provider, as it offers the highest speeds and data caps out of the big three, but it also has the most expensive barrier to entry (almost $600 just for the hardware).

There are a few more satellite internet services on the horizon like Project Kuiper and OneWeb, but Amazon's Project Kuiper is still shrouded in mystery and not yet available to the average consumer, and OneWeb is mostly a European service backed by the British government.

Any satellite internet provider you pick will still come with pros and cons, depending on what you’re looking for, so let’s get into the advantages and disadvantages of satellite internet service.

Advantages of satellite internet

So, why would you pick satellite internet? The biggest advantage of satellite is that it’s available to less populated, rural areas that don’t have access to fiber, cable, or DSL internet options. Satellite stands out as a unique, reliable service that caters to a demographic often overlooked by other internet companies in favor of profitability.

Wide availability

The widespread availability of satellite internet is its biggest advantage. In many rural areas, it’s the only internet service type that’s even available. 

According to Statista’s internet usage data, only 65% of the world’s population has access to the internet. But in our modern age, having internet access is a basic necessity. So how do we get that remaining 35% of the world a connection? Building out cable infrastructure for every home in the world would cost billions of dollars. US Telecom estimates that laying fiber optic cable costs approximately $27,000 per mile.

This is where a huge advantage of satellite internet becomes obvious: Satellite internet connectivity is less expensive and a more reasonable solution than laying millions of miles of fiber optic cable, and it’s ideally suited for delivering internet access to rural and hard-to-reach areas.

Check out all internet providers available in your rural area by entering your zip code below.

Closing the digital divide

Satellite is starting to emerge as an extremely important technology for underserved communities that would otherwise lack access to education, jobs, and important communication services. 

The growing availability of satellite internet also sets the stage for innovation in tech, like the advancement of education, healthcare, politics, and emergency communication outside of rural areas. In the future, we hope to see satellite advancements start to close the digital divide by providing access to services such as:

  • Online learning for rural communities worldwide
  • International telemedicine programs
  • Communication during natural disasters

Looking forward, LEO satellite advancements like Amazon’s Project Kuiper promise new communication possibilities, connecting those who desperately need it and uplifting disadvantaged areas. Closing the digital divide isn't just about getting more internet and making money; it's about leveling the playing field for future generations worldwide. 

Satellite internet reliability

Okay, so we’ve settled how widely available satellite internet is, but how reliable is it? Well, in general, satellite internet service is just as reliable as cable or fiber internet, as all three options report at least a few outages a year. But satellite internet shows its reliability best in areas prone to natural disasters.

Because it doesn’t have to rely on ground-based infrastructure like cables and towers, which often get destroyed by earthquakes and hurricanes, satellite internet can become a lifeline and enable faster and more effective disaster relief efforts in areas prone to extreme weather events. According to the National Association of State Information Officers, Starlink’s satellite service connected 45,000 people to the internet when Hurricane Ian struck Florida in 2022. 

Disadvantages of satellite internet

Now, let’s get into the not-so-great side of satellite internet. These issues vary by provider since new technology is solving many of the long-standing problems with satellite service, but there are a few generalities we need to cover. Overall, satellite internet consumers report frustrations with latency, pesky data caps, and slow speeds.

Latency

In basic terms, latency refers to the delay between the moment your device requests data and when it receives the data. The higher your latency is, the more time passes before your data request is fulfilled, so we want latency to be low.

Out of all the internet types, satellite internet has the highest latency because of the sheer distance your data has to travel: into outer space, and back again. That’s pretty far. Latency is higher the further away the satellites are—so high-Earth orbit satellite systems (such as Hughesnet and Viasat) have much higher latency than low-Earth orbit satellites (like Starlink).

For activities like video streaming, you won’t notice as many problems with latency because chunks of data are preloaded to provide a smooth viewing experience. High latency will frustrate you the most if you plan to stream and play video games; you could experience so much lag that you won’t be able to compete fairly against other players.      

Data restrictions

Data restrictions are another complaint among satellite internet customers and account for most of the slowed speeds. Most satellite companies restrict your data usage to a relatively small amount—between 10GB and 150GB per month. If you exceed your data allotment, you’ll have to browse the web at a snail’s pace or pay (sometimes very expensive) fees to increase your data cap.

Trying to crunch the numbers on how much data you’ll need? According to Statista, the typical American household goes through over 400GB of data monthly. Even the most robust data plans that satellite providers offer are less than half of that amount, so if you’re hoping to stream or play video games on multiple devices, traditional satellite internet might not be for you.

Keep in mind: All traditional GEO satellite plans come with data limits, except for Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite internet providers, like Starlink.   

Slow speeds

Historically, satellite internet has been pretty slow compared to other internet options. For streaming HD videos, it’s recommended by the Federal Communication Commission to have a minimum of at least 25Mbps download speed, but according to our proprietary data, average satellite speeds can often be slower than that. 

Satellite internet provider
Average national download speed
Hughesnet14.13Mbps
Viasat23.19Mbps
Starlink48.27Mbps

Of course, it’s important to remember that almost all internet plans, from all internet types, tend to be slower than the advertised speed. But the average brackets are important to keep in mind, just in case.

If you’re a light internet user, and you just email and read articles, having lightning-fast download speeds won’t be that important to you, so satellite internet might be perfectly adequate. If you’re trying your hand at becoming the next big Twitch streamer, though, we can’t guarantee that traditional satellite internet will be fast enough for you.

On top of that, weather can affect your satellite speed even further. If your satellite doesn’t have a clear view of the sky and there are obstacles in the way (ex: snow, water, etc), then your connection will suffer. There are methods to avoid this issue, but they don’t get rid of the problem completely.

Satellite still can’t exceed cable or fiber internet speeds, but its speeds are picking up and even matching the pace of other top-performing internet options.   

Satellite internet vs. other internet options

Internet type
Price
Download speed range
Data restriction
Traditional satellite (GEO)$50.00–$150.00/mo.12–150Mbps40–300GB/mo. (reduced speeds after your plan’s data allotment)
DSL$30.00–$49.99/mo.Up to 100Mbps1TB
LTE$40.00–60.00/mo.25–50Mbps400GB/mo. +
Fixed wireless$35.00–$45.00/mo.Up to 50Mbps150–250GB/mo.

Satellite vs. fixed wireless

Fixed wireless internet connects you to the internet through your home antenna and a nearby internet tower using airwaves instead of physical cables. There are two major kinds of fixed wireless: 5G home or 4G LTE home. 

At a glance, here are a few of the key things you should know to compare fixed wireless and satellite internet:

Satellite
Fixed wireless
● High latency
● Slow speeds
● Expensive
● Relies on space-orbiting satellites
● Wireless
● Low latency
● Fast speeds
● Affordable
● Relies on ground-based towers
● Wireless
Good service for rural to remote areasGood service for suburban to rural areas

Fixed wireless internet has an edge over satellite because it relies on stations and antennas on Earth; this allows it to provide lower latency, better speeds, and even more stability in bad weather. Satellite internet has the edge on the rural market, though, since satellites allow for more widespread coverage than towers.

We recommend opting for a fixed wireless option over satellite if it’s available in your area. But, some connection is better than none at all, so satellite internet is still a great option.

Satellite vs. DSL

DSL (digital subscriber line) internet is a wired form of internet that uses your phone line to connect your devices to the internet. It isn’t known for being the fastest internet option, but here’s the skinny on why we like it.

DSL internet
● Reliable
● Very affordable (as little as $20 per month)
● Wired connection (low latency)
● Widely available

Takeaway: Best suited to rural areas that don’t have cable or fiber infrastructure.

As you can see, it’s a pretty old technology, but there are reasons it’s still around. We generally recommend DSL over GEO satellite internet providers if it’s in your area. Of course, there’s plenty more to consider between satellite and DSL internet, so consider reading up on all the juicy details before you make any decisions.

Satellite vs. cable internet

Cable internet uses coaxial cables as a wired connection to send internet data to and from your devices. Since cable internet is a wired form of internet like DSL is, it also doesn’t struggle in terms of latency. It is, however, significantly faster than both DSL and satellite internet. Here’s the essential info.

Cable internet
● Fast (up to 2,000Mbps)
● Affordable (as low as $50 per month)
● Wired connection (low latency)
● Less available than satellite

Takeaway: Best suited to those seeking high speeds in suburban to urban areas.

Do a deep dive into the differences between satellite vs. cable internet to make the best decision for your internet needs. 

Satellite vs. fiber internet

Fiber (or fiber-optic) internet is a wired connection that sends data in the form of pulses of light through bundled strands of glass. Yes, you read that right, and it sounds so futuristic because it is. Fiber internet is honestly the best kind of internet you can get—if you can get it.

Fiber internet
● Fastest (up to gigabit speeds)
● Affordable (starting at $35 per month)
● Wired connection (low latency)
● Least available

Takeaway: Best suited to provide very fast speeds to urban areas.

From our team’s testing of both fiber and satellite internet, fiber wins out as the recommendation against even the most advanced satellite provider available (Starlink). We’ve concluded that fiber provides the best value for the money of all internet solutions, but unfortunately, it’s also the least available. So, we still absolutely recommend looking into all the available internet options, including satellite, if you’re a rural dweller.

Enter your zip code to see all internet providers in your area.

Final take

In your quest to get internet, it’s extremely important to consider your unique lifestyle and situation. The three most important factors to consider are your location, budget, and data consumption habits.

To help you decide, here’s our ranking of each internet service type, in order of best to worst for each category:

Value (speed for the money)
Best availability
1. Fiber
2. Cable
3. Fixed wireless
4. DSL
5. Satellite
1. Satellite
2. DSL
3. Fixed wireless
4. Cable
5. Fiber

Use this table to guide your research into what kind of internet will be the best for you. And remember, if you live very rurally, chances are that satellite internet is indeed your only option. In that case, we recommend comparing the big three; Hughesnet, Viasat, and Starlink.

Methodology

We combine personal field testing, real customer feedback, online research, and our team’s internal surveys and proprietary data to make sure we’re getting you the most real-time, applicable, and accurate information. We’re here to arm you with the knowledge that will allow you to feel confident when facing complicated real-life tech problems.

Satellite internet pros and cons FAQ

How much does satellite internet cost?

Plan costs will vary per provider, but the general range is between $50 and $150 a month. If you have light internet data habits, you can get away with a cheaper plan. However, if you like to stream a lot of videos or play games, expect to pay the higher end of the range, and sometimes even pay fees if you exceed your data allowance. 

Is satellite internet getting better?

Yes, satellite internet service has improved a lot in recent years. New technology has sped up satellite internet service, although a limited amount of bandwidth means that some providers still throttle customers who go over a data threshold. In addition, many satellite providers are directly or indirectly investing in low-Earth orbit satellite constellations, which offer faster speeds and lower latency than traditional satellite internet service.

What are the pros and cons of satellite communication?

The main advantage of satellite communication is that it works in rural areas—satellite internet doesn’t require phone lines, cable, or other infrastructure to function. Instead, a small satellite dish on a home can connect people to the internet. The downsides of satellite communication can include higher latency (delays) and slower speeds than cable, which interfere with online gaming and real-time stock market trading. Some satellite plans also have data restrictions.

Do all satellite internet companies have high latency?

Traditional satellite internet providers have a very high latency—a delay between when you request data through the internet and when it displays. This latency is caused by the distance between your satellite dish and the satellites way up in space—it simply takes a minute to ferry the data such long distances.

LEO satellite internet, like Starlink, has less latency due to the satellites' closer proximity–only around 1,200 miles–to the Earth. Any satellite internet will always have some amount of latency, as 1,200 miles (even compared with GEO satellite’s 23,000 miles distance) is still a long distance for data to travel.  

Hannah Rivera
Written by
Hannah Rivera
Hannah is new to freelancing, but not to the tech world. She grew up with the internet at her fingertips and has been following along with tech trends since the dawn of Facebook. She is dedicated to making tech information more digestible and accessible to the general public, and she writes for anyone who needs it.