Satellite internet is a great choice for people who live in rural areas and need a reliable internet source. Hotspots are a better option if you have good cell coverage in your area and need portable internet. Both offer limited speeds and data, but we recommend going with satellite internet unless you have really good cell coverage where you live.
Satellite Internet vs. Mobile Hotspots: Which One Should You Get?
Satellite internet vs. mobile hotspots
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 satellite internet will 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.
Compare satellite internet and hotspots
12 Mbps–100 Mbps
10 GB–300 GB
5G, 4G LTE, 4G, and 3G (depending on location)
Varies with provider and location
Data effective 11/9/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Prices do not include taxes and other fees.
The best satellite internet providers
There are really only three residential satellite internet providers in the US: Viasat, HughesNet, and Starlink. That may seem limiting, but what satellite internet lacks in options it makes up for in availability. Viasat and HughesNet are available nationwide and Starlink is hoping to be nationwide within the next few years. Though the pros of internet far outweigh the cons satellite internet experiences.
Data effective 2/1/2022. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Prices do not include taxes and other fees.
*Promotional price is for the first 3 months. Regular internet rate applies after 3 months. one-time installation fee may apply. Equipment lease fee is $12.99/mo. Taxes apply. Minimum 24 month service term required.
†Service plans require a 24-month commitment.
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 an alternative to 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.
- You don’t have cable, DSL, fiber, 5G/4G LTE home internet, or fixed-wireless internet available in your area.
The best hotspot data plans
|Verizon 150 GB prepaid data plan||5G/4G LTE||150 GB|| |
|T-Mobile 30 GB prepaid data||5G/4G LTE until data limit, then 2G||30 GB|| |
|AT&T Prepaid 100 GB Data||5G/4G LTE speeds||100 GB/mo.|| |
|Visible Unlimited Phone Plan||Up to 5 Mbps||Unlimited|| |
How does a hotspot work?
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.
A mobile hotspot device like a Verizon Jetpack can be used to bring Wi-Fi service with you while traveling. You can also use a hotspot at home as a replacement for home internet service, but the data limits and prices are similar to satellite internet. Mobile hotspots really work best if you don’t spend much time online.
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).
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).
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.
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 data-intensive tasks like streaming (and if you do, you don’t do it very often).
If you live in an area with really good cellular service, using hotspots or a cellular plan with unlimited data might be your best internet option. Hotspots also have the advantage of being portable. But for folks who live in remote areas where cellular service isn’t available, satellite internet is your best (and usually only) option.
FAQ about satellite internet vs. hotspots
Is hotspot data unlimited?
No, hotspot data is usually not unlimited unless you have an unlimited hotspot plan from Visible, Verizon, or T-Mobile. Hotspot plans come with a monthly data cap, and exceeding the cap can result in either dramatically slower speeds or overage charges.
What’s the best hotspot provider?
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 for a hotspot plan 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?
Yes, satellite internet is available to 99.9% of the US population—with the exception of people living in deep canyons or in upper Alaska. Some areas will have faster satellite internet speeds available than others. Both Viasat and HughesNet offer nationwide coverage.