Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet Service

What to know about satellite internet before you sign up


Kristin Cooke
Researcher & Writer
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Published on June 06, 2021

It’s easy to get caught up in the recent buzz about SpaceX’s Starlink and take a flying leap for the latest and greatest internet plan. But before you take that leap, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of satellite internet service so you can make the best choice for your situation.

At a glance: pros and cons of satellite internet

Pros
Pro Bullet Available in rural areas
Pro Bullet Faster than dial-up
Pro Bullet Growing number of providers
Pro Bullet Recent innovation is improving service
Cons
Con Bullet Data limits (varies by carrier)
Con Bullet High latency (varies by carrier)
Con Bullet Geographical limitations (can’t service deep canyons or heavily wooded areas)
Con Bullet High jitter (varies by carrier)

Best satellite internet providers

Price
Equipment fee
Speed
Latency
Get it
Viasat$30–$150/mo.* for first three months$5.00/mo.Up to 12–100 Mbps594–624 ms
HughesNet$59.99–$149.99/mo.$14.99/mo.Up to 25 Mbps594–624 ms

Data as of 1/25/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Benefits of satellite internet

Satellite service is good for people who live in rural areas and in places where traditional telecom infrastructure—like cable, fiber, or phone wiring—isn’t in place.

Satellite internet service probably won’t ever be the first choice for people in cities, since faster and cheaper internet is available to people in urban areas. But for people who live in the outer suburbs, small towns, developing nations, and rural areas, satellite internet connects them to the world when nothing else can.

Satellite internet availability

The biggest edge satellite internet has over other types of internet is availability. Once new LEO satellite systems like Starlink and OneWeb are put in place orbiting the Earth, customers will be able to access satellite services all around the world, even in out of the way places where internet service isn’t otherwise available.

Currently, over 40% of the world’s population doesn’t have access to the internet.1 But building out cable infrastructure to every home in the world would cost billions and billions of dollars. US Teleom estimates that laying fiber optic cable costs approximately $27,000 per mile.2 Satellite internet connectivity is less expensive 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.

Many types of internet service piggyback on existing infrastructure to reach customers (such as phone lines or cable TV cables). If you have this type of infrastructure connecting you to telecom providers, great! Nine times out of ten, we recommend you go with fiber, DSL, cable, or any other type of high-speed internet over satellite internet.

But for people who can’t get other types of internet service, we recommend you check into satellite internet. All you need is a small satellite dish on your home and a satellite modem and you can connect to the internet from almost anywhere.

You can find out what satellite internet plans are available in your area by typing in your zip code below.

See plans in your area

Disadvantages of satellite internet

But let’s get real for a minute—satellite internet isn’t all roses and chocolate cake. There are some real frustrations with satellite service. Latency and data restrictions are the biggest disadvantages to satellite internet. These issues vary by provider since new technology is solving many of the long-standing problems with satellite service.

Satellite internet latency

Some of the disadvantages of satellite internet stem from the long distance that data travels between your home’s satellite dish, satellites orbiting the Earth, and land-based servers. When big distances are involved, even data traveling at lightspeed will take an extra second or so. This delay between when you request data (by clicking on a webpage address) and when the data is displayed on your computer is known as latency.

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 problems with latency because chunks of data are preloaded to provide a smooth viewing experience. But if you’re trying to play a fast paced video game, you’ll experience so much latency that you won’t be able to compete against other players.

Satellite internet 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 10 GB and 150 GB per month. If you go over this amount, you either have to pay more for additional data or cope with drastically reduced speeds.

And if you’re wondering how much data you’ll need, bear in mind that the average American household uses over 400 GB of data per month. That’s more than double the data you can get on even the highest priced satellite plan from many providers—which accounts for a lot of frustration among satellite users.3 All satellite plans have data restrictions except for new LEO satellite internet. Starlink’s beta program currently does not have a data restriction, and we sure hope it stays that way.

Comparing rural internet providers

People in rural areas often have up to four types of internet access in their area: satellite internet, DSL internet (which is delivered via phone lines), fixed wireless internet (which is broadcasted from towers), and 4G LTE home internet service (which takes a cell phone data connection and turns it into a home internet connection).

Satellite internet vs. other internet types

Internet connection type
Satellite internet
DSL internet
LTE home internet
Fixed wireless internet

Price

$50–$150/mo.

$30–$49/mo.

$40–$60/mo.

$35–$45/mo.

Download speeds

12–150 Mbps

Up to 100 Mbps

25–50 Mbps

Up to 50 Mbps

Data cap

40–300 GB/mo, then reduced speeds, or unlimited data at full speed (Starlink only)

1 TB

400 GB/mo. and up

150–250 GB/mo.

Data as of 1/8/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

See plans in your area

Satellite internet speeds vary by provider but are faster than dial-up internet and some other types of internet in rural areas.

Satellite internet service isn’t as fast as fiber or cable internet service, which can top 1,000 Mbps, but it isn’t designed to compete with services that are available in urban areas. The strength of satellite internet is in its wide availability outside of city centers. Satellite service is designed to deliver connection download speeds of 25 to 140 Mbps to people who may otherwise have to settle for dial-up speeds of less than 1 Mbps. Satellite internet offers ample speeds for video streaming, remote working, and conferencing, but it may not be fast enough for some types of video gaming.

The final take

So, who is satellite internet is good for? Satellite internet is a good option for people and businesses in small towns and rural areas who don’t have access to speedier internet options like fiber and cable. Satellite internet allows people to live in the countryside and enjoy the benefits of fast internet, including remote working and schooling and staying connected to friends, entertainment, and news.

The only caution we have to prospective satellite customers is to make sure that you’ve considered other options in your area. While new satellite technology and low-Earth orbit satellite systems are transforming the satellite sphere, that doesn’t mean that satellite service is best for everyone.

Satellite internet plan availability varies by location. Some areas offer faster speeds than others, depending on your proximity to satellites and geographical features.

Discover which satellite internet plans are available in your area.

If you live in a rural area with cell phone service, 4G LTE home internet might be an option, which may give you more data every month. Fixed wireless and DSL might also be good options. To find out more about rural internet options in your area, check out, “Best High-Speed Internet Options for Rural Areas in 2021.”

FAQ about the pros and cons of satellite internet

What are the disadvantages of satellite internet service?

Data restrictions are generally the biggest disadvantage of satellite service—although props to companies like Starlink that offer unlimited data. Most satellite companies limit the amount of full-speed data you can get each month. What that means for most customers is that they have good service for part of the month and then really slow service for the rest of the month. Price is sometimes a disadvantage to satellite broadband also, particularly when you look at how much you pay for each GB of data.

Is satellite internet slow?

Satellite service speeds vary and are improving with new technology, but slowing is common with satellite internet. Slowing has less to do with technology capabilities and more to do with throttling. If you have a data limit (and most satellite plans do), then you will have moderate speeds until you hit the limit. But after the data limit is reached, your internet will be slowed down dramatically—in fact, it might not be fast enough to support video streaming or file downloads.

Starlink Satellite broadband offers unlimited data, and you won’t experience slowing, unlike with other carriers. But Starlink’s service area is limited and service interruptions can occur until the satellite system is built out fully.

Has satellite internet improved?

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.

Sources

1. Statista, “Global Digital Population as of October 2020,” October 2020. Accessed January 5, 2021.

2. Aman, Sally, USTelecom, “Dig Once: A Solution for Rural Broadband,” April 2017. Accessed January 5, 2021.

3. Rizzo, Lillian and Click, Sawyer, The Wall Street Journal, “How Covid-19 Changed Americans’ Internet Habits,” August 2020. Accessed January 6, 2021.

Kristin Cooke
Written by
Kristin Cooke
After graduating with a degree in English from the University of Utah, Kristin learned to geek speak while working as a technical recruiter, interviewing software developers and tech companies. For over 20 years, she has created award-winning content for technology, health, and finance companies. Kristin is an advocate for affordable internet for all and writes about rural internet solutions, satellite internet news, and tech products at SatelliteInternet.com. Her work has been featured in New York Post, PCMag, Forbes, Business Insider, Telecompetitor, Space.com, and The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.