Satellite Internet vs. Mobile Hotspots: Which One Should You Get?

Satellite internet
12 Mbps–100 Mbps
Prices from $60–$150/mo.
View Plans
Mobile hotspots
LTE speeds (up to 50 Mbps)
Prices from $70–$95/mo.*
View Plans

Anyone who lives in a rural area or wants to get internet on the go has probably heard about satellite internet and hotspots. But what’s the difference?

Is satellite internet really as bad as everyone says it is? Can you hack the system by using a hotspot instead? Get the facts to help you decide which one is actually better for your life situation.

The Bottom Line

Satellite internet is a great choice for people who live in rural areas and primarily use their internet at home. Since it doesn’t rely on cables or other infrastructure, it’s available basically anywhere. You can also use it for a cabin, boat, or RV. Plus, even though it’s slower than most landline internet connections, the speeds are still respectable. You can even get up to 100 Mbps in some areas (but it’ll cost you).

The downside to satellite internet is the low data caps—you’ll hit it pretty fast if you stream a lot. And once you hit your data cap, your internet is slowed to nearly unusable speeds. That said, it’s still the best option if you want a long-term connection for a primary residence or vacation spot.

Hotspots are another internet option that are available wherever you get a cell signal. You can create one using your current cell service and phone or you can pay for a device that functions purely as a hotspot, like a Verizon Jetpack.

Either way, you’ll need to pay attention to the data limit. Most plans offer a monthly data limit and then deprioritize your connection (slow it down) after you hit it, requiring you to pay for additional hotspot data. Hotspots are best for short-term, portable internet usage—using it more than that is likely not worth the cost.

Pro tip:

Looking for an internet connection you can take with you? Check out our portable internet guide.

Satellite internet

What is satellite internet?

Satellite internet is an internet connection beamed from orbiting satellites that connect to a satellite dish on your residence. While most other types of broadband connections require cables or fiber lines run to the home, satellite doesn’t. This means it’s available basically anywhere in the US, no matter how remote the location.

Satellite internet is used primarily in rural areas because it provides speeds that may not otherwise be available.

For how much speed and data usage you get, though, it’s not cheap. Plans start at $50 a month for just 12 Mbps with Viasat and $59.99 for 25 Mbps with HughesNet (not to mention a price hike after the first year of the two-year contract).

Satellite internet providers

There are really only two residential satellite internet providers in the US: Viasat and HughesNet. That may seem limiting, but what satellite internet lacks in options it makes up for in availability. Both providers are available nationwide.

Provider Introductory Price Download Speed Availability
Viasat $50.00–$150.00/mo.* Up to 12–100 Mbps Nationwide View Plans
Hughesnet $59.99–$149.99/mo.† Up to 25 Mbps Nationwide View Plans

*For first 3 months. Price increases after 3 months.

† Requires 24 month agreement.

Satellite internet speeds

So, just how good is satellite internet? Satellite download speeds go from 12 Mbps up to 100 Mbps, depending on the provider and plan you choose. Upload speeds are even lower than that, usually clocking in at less than 3 Mbps (that means it will take you a while to do something like upload a YouTube video you made).

Although you won’t get gigabit speeds with satellite, what’s available is on par with cable and fiber connections in many parts of the country. It should be plenty of speed for everyday uses like homework, social media, and some streaming (just keep a close eye on your data).

The catch with satellite internet speeds is latency. Since the signal has to be beamed to and from orbit, there’s always a slight delay. This can range from completely unnoticeable to downright frustrating, depending on what you’re doing. Competitive gaming, for example, might be tough if you’re using a satellite connection.

Satellite internet pricing

Pricing is satellite’s biggest weakness. At any given speed, you’re likely to pay more for satellite service than a comparable cable, DSL, or fiber internet plan.

A 25 Mbps cable package could cost you between $25 and $45 per month, while that same plan with satellite could run between $50 and $150 per month, depending on your provider and how much data you need each month. It’s the price you pay for all that availability.

Is satellite internet right for you?

Satellite internet might be a good choice for you if any of the following apply to your living situation:

  • You need an internet connection in a remote (or relatively unconnected) area.
  • You intend to use the connection primarily at home.
  • You don’t do a lot of online gaming.

Hotspots

What is a hotspot?

A hotspot is a fancy name for a device that turns a mobile internet signal like LTE into a Wi-Fi network any device can use. The most common example of a hotspot is sharing your phone’s internet connection with a laptop or tablet. This is called a mobile hotspot.

You can also buy devices designed specifically for this purpose—like a Verizon Jetpack—that come with specialized hotspot plans and longer battery life. But depending on how advanced your phone is and how often you want to use the hotspot, something like a Verizon Jetpack might not be worth it for you.

Hotspots are typically used when you’re traveling or away from your home or office, providing a quick and convenient way to get online and get some work done (or watch the latest episode of The Good Place).

But you can also use a hotspot at home as a replacement for a “regular” internet package. This works best if you don’t spend a lot of time online.

Hotspot providers

Hotspot service generally comes from cell providers like Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile.

Top hotspot providers

BrandSpeedPriceData cap
Verizon4G LTE$110/mo.‡20 GB/mo.Visit Site
AT&T DataConnect4G LTE$70/mo.15 GB/mo.Visit Site
T-Mobile4G LTE$70/mo.20 GB/mo.Visit Site

‡Plus taxes & fees. Data overage is $15 per 1 GB.

These are the three mobile providers with the largest coverage areas, allowing you to use your hotspot in more places away from home (or at home if that’s what you want it for). They also have strong reputations for reliability and speed—particularly Verizon.

Hotspot speeds

How fast your hotspot is depends greatly on the carrier you choose and how good the service is in your area. Unlike other types of internet service, you can’t just upgrade to a higher-speed plan: LTE is LTE. You either have it in your area or you don’t.

That said, Verizon tends to be the fastest, with speeds up to 50 Mbps in some areas (even faster in the lucky few 5G cities that benefit from fixed-wireless broadband). AT&T and T-Mobile hover around 35 Mbps—but that’s still better than many satellite plans.

And with 5G rollouts expected soon, your hotspots could get a whole lot faster depending on where you live: 5G has a theoretical maximum speed of 10 Gbps (10,000 Mbps).

Hotspot pricing

Like satellite, plans designed specifically for hotspots are expensive. Also like satellite, the plans tend to be tiered based on the data cap rather than speed. If you’re a heavy internet user or do a lot of streaming, you can eat through your data allotment very quickly, either forcing you to increase your plan or pay overage charges to continue using it.

Pricing for a 20 GB hotspot plan ranges from $70 per month with T-Mobile up to $95 per month with Verizon. To put that in perspective, streaming in HD can use up to 3 GB per hour, so these plans would give you about five to six hours of HD streaming per month and little room for anything else.

You can also typically use your phone plan to make a hotspot with your cell phone, but be sure to check with your provider about limitations first. The data limit for a hotspot is different than the data limit for your phone.

Is a hotspot for you?

A hotspot might be your best option if the following apply to your living situation:

  • You need to use your internet connection on the go.
  • You travel frequently.
  • You don’t use your connection for intensive tasks like streaming (and if you do, you don’t do it very often).

Compare satellite internet and hotspots

PriceSpeedData capAvailability
Satellite internet$50–$150/mo.12 Mbps–100 Mbps10 GB–UnlimitedNationwide
Hotspots$70–$95/mo.4G LTE20 GBVaries with provider and location

Data as of 11/21/19

Installation

If you’re a new Viasat or HughesNet customer, installation will cost you about $99. It’s worth asking your sales rep if you’re eligible for free installation though.

Satellite internet installation mainly involves having a dish mounted, typically either in your yard or on your home. This is handled by an installation tech, so you don’t have to worry about climbing onto the roof yourself. Since there are no cables involved, there’s no need to dig up your yard to run missing infrastructure to your house.

The nice thing about hotspots is they require no installation. Just fire up the hotspot device or switch on the feature on your phone, and you’re good to go.

Final verdict

If you’ve got other options (DSL, cable, or fiber), check those out first. But if your only internet choices are satellite internet or a hotspot, we think satellite is the way to go.

Satellite internet provides a more stable connection and can be cheaper in the long run than adding additional data to your cellular plan for a hotspot. But if you use your home internet only occasionally or travel frequently, a hotspot is the better option.

FAQs about satellite internet and hotspots

Is hotspot data unlimited?

Unfortunately, no. Hotspot plans come with a monthly data cap, and exceeding the cap can result in either dramatically slower speeds or overage charges. Even if you’re using your unlimited phone plan to make a hotspot, your carrier has a different data limit for hotspot data than the data used directly from your phone. Once you hit that limit, you’ll have to pay for more data until the monthly cycle resets.

What’s the best hotspot provider?

Overall, Verizon is the best hotspot provider. It’s a little more expensive, but its coverage, signal strength, and speeds tend to be much better. T-Mobile is a good choice if you’re ok with service that’s not quite as good so you can save a little money.

Is satellite internet really available anywhere?

Some areas will have faster speeds available than others, but satellite internet is available anywhere in the United States. Both Viasat and HughesNet offer nationwide coverage, and we’ve yet to hear of a place it didn’t work. All you need is a dish and a clear view of the sky.

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