Rural internet customers have more choices than ever these days. Of course, satellite internet is still a mainstay, but there’s a new player in the game—5G home internet. This mobile service promises to bring faster speeds to rural areas without cable or fiber infrastructure. Sounds nice, but how does it stack up? Let’s find out.
Satellite vs. 5G Internet
Quick comparison: Satellite internet vs. 5G
What is satellite internet?
Satellite internet is beamed down from satellites in orbit. A dish antenna at your home (or a portable one) picks up the signal from the satellite and sends it to your modem to become a usable internet connection.
Aside from the cool factor of having your internet beamed from space, satellite is noteworthy for its extremely wide availability. The signals can generally be picked up anywhere in the US (or world, for some providers/plans), which makes satellite an old go-to for rural areas with few other options. The only caveat is that you need a clear view of the sky.
What is 5G internet?
5G is the latest generation of mobile internet technology being used by cell service providers, taking over the reins from 4G LTE. We’ve been hearing big things about 5G for the last few years, and the latest push is for home internet.
5G home internet actually makes a lot of sense, and we’ve seen some promising results from providers like T-Mobile and Verizon. Since it’s an over-the-air signal, there’s no need to build the kind of invasive infrastructure needed by fiber connections—this makes it great for rural areas. At the same time, speeds can be very competitive, often exceeding satellite by a good margin (but more on this below).
Satellite vs. 5G: Coverage and availability
Satellite internet coverage and availability
Satellite internet’s main strength is its wide availability—you can generally get satellite no matter where you are. Our favorite satellite providers, HughesNet and Viasat, both offer nationwide coverage. Starlink technically offers global coverage, if you don’t mind paying for it—although Starlink service can be difficult to get, which is ironic for a service designed around availability.
This is a huge advantage, particularly for customers in rural areas. These locations often lack high-speed services like fiber or cable internet. The only option may be DSL. In these cases, satellite can be a faster alternative. In other cases, an area is so remote that there aren’t any good internet options outside of satellite.
5G internet coverage and availability
5G continues to expand its availability, with most providers now offering essentially nationwide service, including T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T. The main difference between them is how widely available the top speeds are, and how often the network falls back on 4G LTE service to fill coverage gaps.
The “nationwide” descriptor is also a bit misleading—there are always going to be spots that don’t have coverage, particularly if they’re very remote. This is because 5G networks require a cell tower in range of the device—in contrast to satellite, where the broadcasting device sits in space.
Satellite vs. 5G: Speed and bandwidth
Satellite internet speed and bandwidth
Satellite internet is not generally known for its speed. HughesNet caps out at 25Mbps—usable, but not going to win any awards. Viasat is a bit better, with speeds up to 100Mbps. Only Starlink offers performance that’s truly competitive with cable and fiber connections, but unfortunately, Starlink comes with its own issues, including limited availability and long waitlists.
Additionally, many (if not most) satellite plans come with limited data. HughesNet’s best plan, for example, only offers 200GB per month of data, which is not as much as it sounds, especially if you stream HD video. Viasat has plans with up to 500GB of data, but they’ll cost a couple hundred dollars per month—a lot for most people to pay for internet service. Starlink offers unlimited data, but it’s also very expensive and (again) hard to get.
5G internet speed and bandwidth
5G home internet plans offer faster speeds than most satellite plans and also typically offer unlimited data—all for far less than an equivalent satellite package. Speeds can, in some cases, rival cable or fiber connections.
Of course, there’s always a catch, and the catch with 5G is that the fastest speeds aren’t available across the entire coverage area. In fact, they’re often available only in a limited number of large urban centers.
This availability is because 5G is actually a group of technologies that work together. “Regular” 5G has a long range that’s great for spreading coverage around, but the speeds are only about as good as LTE—less than 100Mbps, generally. The other type, called millimeter wave 5G and usually branded with the word “Ultra” by providers, has much higher speeds but terrible range. Unfortunately, you can’t choose what you get—it’s based entirely on what your provider offers in your area.
Satellite vs. 5G: Latency and reliability
This one’s pretty easy. Satellite internet, due to the tremendous distances the signal has to cover, has a naturally higher latency than other types of internet. In short, this means you’ll often have a slight delay when taking actions online. This delay might not be too noticeable if you’re just surfing the web or checking your email. However, if you’re gaming, it’s definitely going to be a disadvantage.
5G internet doesn’t suffer from this high latency, so it’ll be a much better choice if this is something that’s important to you. Again, this will primarily be of concern to gamers, but it’s worth being aware of.
As for reliability, both types of service should be solid. Satellite does occasionally suffer from interference from poor weather, but unless it rains heavily a lot where you live, this shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Satellite vs. 5G: Cost and pricing considerations
There’s really no two ways around this one: 5G internet is a lot more affordable than satellite. T-Mobile starts at $50 per month and drops down to just $30 per month if you have a qualifying cell plan. While Verizon starts at $60 per month and goes to as low as $25 per month with a qualifying cell plan.
Satellite, on the other hand, starts at $49.99 per month with strict data limits and can cost up to several hundred dollars per month, depending on the plan. Additionally, while HughesNet and Viasat don’t charge up front for equipment, Starlink does—the gear starts at $599 and can be as much as $2,500 with certain packages. Ouch.
Use cases: Which technology suits your needs?
The use case for satellite internet
We recommend satellite primarily for two groups of people: those that live in remote rural areas with no other viable options, or those that need to take internet with them when they travel. The former group may only have dial-up as an alternative, so satellite will be a breath of fresh air. The latter group would include RV owners and others that frequently find themselves out in the wilderness with no other access.
The average residential user that’s not in a super-remote area, however, may have other options that could be faster, offer higher data caps, or be more affordable. As much as we love satellite, a solid cable or fiber connection will almost always offer a better experience.
The use case for 5G internet
5G internet could be a solid option for rural residents—the wide coverage means it may be available in areas with few other choices. However, 5G may also be compelling to existing customers of a given mobile provider that want to save money (potentially a lot of money) and don’t necessarily need the fastest internet available. The reality is that the performance of 5G often rivals cable connections, and the price when bundled with cell service is almost impossible to beat.
Factors to consider when choosing your internet type
When deciding between satellite and 5G, consider the following:
- Your other internet options: In general, satellite tends to fall short when you have other options for internet service available, whereas 5G holds its own better. However, if your only options are DSL, dialup, and satellite, the latter looks a lot more appealing.
- Your budget: Satellite can easily drain your wallet more than other types of service, particularly if you want a lot of data. You’ll find 5G home internet very affordable in comparison.
- How you’ll use your internet connection: If you’re going to be doing a lot of gaming or HD streaming, satellite may not be for you. However, it holds up well if you just need a service that’ll cover the basics, like email and online shopping.
Is 5G better than satellite internet? Making an informed decision
At the end of the day, satellite and 5G internet are both solid options for rural customers, but they cater to two different audiences. Satellite give you an ideal setup for truly remote areas where it’s your only option. 5G, on the other hand, is a more mainstream choice that doesn’t have some of the shortcomings associated with satellite.
Satellite vs. 5G internet FAQ
No, 5G is not a satellite-based internet service—at least not cellular 5G. The consumer 5G plans available for phones and home internet is a type of cellular mobile network broadcast from cell towers. There are 5G-capable satellites that provide internet on airplanes, cruise ships, and in other niche scenarios, but these aren’t generally available to the public.
Whether 5G is faster than home internet depends entirely on the type of home internet we’re talking about. If you’re comparing it to DSL or some slower cable services, then yes—5G is faster. The fastest 5G connections can rival fiber home internet speeds, but it’s rare to find. Generally, fiber will be the fastest home internet option.
No, 5G is not likely to replace Wi-Fi. This would require every device to have a chip capable of using cellular networks. However, 5G is likely to increase in popularity as a connection powering Wi-Fi networks. Hotspot devices can take a 5G signal and turn it into a Wi-Fi network that any device can access, just like a wireless router can do the same for a cable or fiber signal.