Satellite Internet vs. Cable Internet

Best affordable satellite internet: Hughesnet
  • pro
  • pro
  • pro
    100–200GB data
Best cable internet provider: Spectrum
  • pro
  • pro
    Prices $49.99–$79.99/mo.
  • pro
    No data caps

Dave Schafer
Jul 18, 2023
Icon Time To Read6 min read

Satellite vs. cable internet

Satellite internet's strength is its almost 100% availability. Satellite internet offers a way for folks in rural or off-grid areas to stay connected to the internet when they previously had no other options. But it does have data caps, high latency, and can be expensive compared to other internet types. 

Cable internet is best for higher speeds. Cable download speeds can compete with fiber internet's in many areas, and it often has cheaper prices than satellite internet. But cable  packages, providers, and even prices are different across the country, and in some areas, it's completely unavailable. 

Enter your zip code to see satellite and cable internet providers available near you.

Quick comparison: Satellite internet vs. cable

Internet type
Download speeds
Installation fee
Get it
Satellite internet$49.99–$299.99/mo.Up to 2 yrs.12 Mbps–100 MbpsNo additional charge
Cable internet $20.00–$300.00/mo.Up to 2 yrs.10 Mbps–2,000 Mbps$9.99–$75.00

Satellite internet

What is satellite internet?

Rather than traveling through underground cables, satellite internet is internet service that’s beamed from satellites in orbit. A dish receiver mounted near your home (usually on your roof) picks up the signal and sends it to your modem to be translated into a usable internet connection.

The best part about satellite internet is its availability. Since the signal comes from space, it can be picked up anywhere in the United States, provided you have a clear view of the sky. This makes satellite internet an ideal choice—and often the only choice—for people in rural areas that lack cable or fiber access. 

Satellite internet providers

There are two major satellite internet providers in the US: Hughesnet and Viasat. HughesNet tends to be better for users on a budget, thanks to faster speeds on its more affordable packages. Viasat is for the power user, with a higher maximum speed of up to 100 Mbps. Both providers are available nationwide.

Top satellite internet service providers

Get it

Data current as of 2/1/2022. Prices subject to change.

*$10 off for 6 months. 24 mo. commitment required. Pricing not available in all areas. Offer valid 6/31/22-8/31/22

**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 speeds

Satellite internet speeds depend on which provider you choose. With Hughesnet plans, everything is 25 Mbps. The only thing that changes from plan to plan is your data cap. With Viasat, speeds range from 12 Mbps on the basic plans up to 100 Mbps on the top-tier packages.

These speeds are fast enough for most everyday uses and even HD video streaming, but they come with two caveats: latency and data caps.

Satellite internet suffers from higher latency than other types of connections, like cable or fiber, because it has a longer distance to travel (all the way from space). This shows up for you as a slight delay between performing an action and seeing the result.

This usually isn’t super noticeable, but one area that it can be an issue is with online gaming, where the delay between action and result can be the difference between victory and defeat, especially in fast-paced competitive games like Call of Duty and Overwatch.

Data caps with satellite internet plans are a lot lower than with cable plans. And depending on your plan, you could experience serious slowing on your speeds once you hit your cap for the month.

Satellite pricing

Satellite internet pricing tends to be higher than other types of service for a given speed. For example, it’s possible to get a cable connection with 200 Mbps for $25.00 per month with Xfinity (depending on where you live). The closest you’ll get to that with satellite is 100 Mbps with Viasat, but that plan will cost you $150.00 per month and increase to $200.00 per month after the introductory period. Whew. 

Is satellite internet right for you?

Satellite internet tends to be the best choice in two specific scenarios: you live in a rural area, or you want an internet connection with you while you travel.

In some rural areas, the only options for internet service are slow DSL, slower dial-up (shudder), and satellite. In these cases, satellite is often faster than the DSL options, and it’s definitely faster than dial-up. It might cost more, but if you’ve ever experienced the spinning wheel of death that comes with buffering, you know it’s worth it to get faster speeds.

And for frequent travelers—especially RV owners—using your satellite dish to enjoy a high-speed internet connection anywhere you go is a major perk.

Cable internet

What is cable internet?

Cable internet is transmitted through underground coaxial cables. These cables use an inner copper wire surrounded by insulation to move data. These are the same types of cables used to transmit cable TV signals. While they aren’t as fast as fiber optics, coaxial cables transfer data much faster than the phone lines used by DSL and dial-up connections.

Cable internet providers

There are tons of cable internet providers. This is mostly because cable companies can use existing cables to build their internet networks, making cable a lot more cost-efficient than fiber networks that often require companies to start from scratch. Some of the larger cable internet providers are Xfinity by Comcast, Spectrum, and Cox.

Top cable internet service providers

Get it
Xfinity 150Mbps–1,200Mbps$20.00–$80.00/mo.*
Spectrum Internet Up to 1,000Mbps$49.99–$79.99/mo.**

*Promotional price expires 5/1/2024. Final price depends on location.

**For 24 months when bundled. Limited time offer; subject to change; valid to qualified residential customers who have not subscribed to any services within the previous 30 days and who have no outstanding obligation to Charter.

***for 12 mos. w/ 1-yr. term agrmt.

Data current as of 7/20/2019. Prices subject to change.

Cable speeds

Cable internet tends to be much faster than satellite. (It’s easier to win the speed race when you have a head start by being on Earth.) Although cable can reach up to 2,000 Mbps, even the minimum speeds from a cable provider are often higher than satellite. Coaxial cables just move data much faster than a satellite transmission currently can.

If you’re planning to stream a lot of HD or connect several devices online at once, go with cable. It’ll provide plenty of bandwidth.

Cable pricing

A typical cable package runs somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 to $70 per month. Compared to satellite pricing, that’s a bargain. This is the biggest advantage of choosing cable over satellite. Both options can give you enough speed, but satellite will charge you a lot more for it.

Is cable internet right for you?

If you have the choice between satellite and cable, cable is usually the better choice for most users. The only reason cable is not the best choice for everybody is availability. There are some parts of the country—especially in deep rural areas—that don’t have good cable internet due to a lack of infrastructure. Other areas have cable infrastructure but lack reliable providers and fast service. If you’re in one of these areas, take a look at satellite internet packages.

Internet installation

For satellite internet, you get professional installation included with your service, so you don’t have to worry about a thing. The technician will handle the installation of the satellite dish and modem.

With cable, you’ve got a choice: pay for a professional installation or do it yourself. Self-installation is generally pretty simple, and we recommend this for most people. The installation kits come with detailed instructions and all the equipment you need to get online.

Are there cable internet providers in my area?

Unless you live in a sparsely populated area, the answer is probably yes. But to be sure, enter your ZIP code below. This tool will show you all the internet providers (cable, fiber, and more) near you, and you can choose from there.

Enter your zip code below to see what TV and internet plans are available near you.
Satellite Internet
satellite internet icon
pro Nationwide availability
pro Service for RVs on the road
pro Included installation
con More expensive prices than other types of service
con Lower maximum speeds than cable
Cable Internet
Cable internet icon
pro Fast speeds
pro Wide availability
pro Great gaming performance
con Availability varies by location
con Speeds and prices change across locations

Final verdict

If you’ve got a good cable provider in your area (think Xfinity, Spectrum, or Cox), go with cable. The reason is simple: cable offers fast speeds at a more affordable price than satellite.

But unlike cable internet services, satellite internet is available nationwide. So if there are limited options for internet service where you live, satellite internet can be an excellent choice.

FAQ about satellite and cable internet

Does satellite internet work anywhere?

Satellite internet works anywhere in the US, provided you’ve got a clear view of the sky.

Is satellite internet reliable?

Yes, satellite internet is reliable. Extra heavy rain or snow can sometimes interfere with the signal, but for the most part satellite will work just fine.

Is satellite internet good for gaming?

It depends on the game. While the speeds offered by satellite are plenty fast for gaming, it’s high latency makes it not ideal for playing games online like Overwatch. If you’re an online gamer, you’re probably better off with a cable or fiber service. That said, satellite will work in a pinch if it’s all you got. Learn more about gaming on satellite internet.

Is cable internet good for gaming?

Yes, cable internet is good for gaming. Thanks to fast speeds and low latency, cable is one of the best types of internet service for gamers—just make sure you get enough speed. See how much speed you need for online gaming.

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Dave Schafer
Written by
Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).