Satellite Internet vs. Cable Internet
Satellite Internet vs. Cable Internet
The Bottom Line
Satellite internet’s biggest strength is availability. As long as you’ve got a clear view of the sky, you can get a satellite signal no matter where you’re at. But you’ll pay for that convenience—satellite internet is expensive. And the data caps and high latency aren’t much fun either. This is why we recommend satellite internet mainly to folks in areas without any other high-speed internet options.
Cable internet offers a great mix of availability, speeds, and prices. It has download speeds on par with fiber internet in many areas, and it’s much more affordable than satellite internet. You can also bundle it with TV. The biggest downside of cable is that packages, providers, and even prices are different across the country. Where you live determines what you pay.
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
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 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 150 Mbps for $54.99 per month with Xfinity. 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. And for a similar price of about $50.00, you’ll get only 12 Mbps with Viasat.
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.
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
*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. Spectrum Internet® promotion price is $49.99/mo; standard rates apply after yr. 1. Taxes, fees and surcharges extra and subject to change during and after the promotional period; installation/network activation, equipment and additional services are extra. General Terms: INTERNET: Speed based on wired connection and may vary by address. Wireless speeds may vary. Services subject to all applicable service terms and conditions, subject to change. Services not available in all areas. Restrictions apply.
**for 12 mos. w/ 1-yr. term agrmt.
Data current as of 7/20/2019. Prices subject to change.
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.
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.
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.
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 what we just can’t get over with satellite is how it’s available nationwide. 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.