Unlimited Satellite Internet Has Its Limits


The two biggest providers of residential satellite internet in the US both offer unlimited data—at least that’s what they say. We’re here to explain what unlimited data really means for Viasat and HughesNet satellite internet. We’ll also answer some questions about data caps and how to get more data.

Unlimited data: Viasat vs. HughesNet satellite internet

Both Viasat and HughesNet offer plans with “unlimited data.” (The “unlimited” refers to the amount of monthly data you can use.) While both satellite providers do technically allow you to use as much data as you like, they still come with data caps or thresholds (more on that below).

Wait, so is there such a thing as unlimited satellite internet?

Technically, the only two satellite internet service providers operating in the US, Viasat and HughesNet, both offer unlimited data. (Space X’s Starlink has yet to launch, but details are nil on data limits.) However, Viasat and HughesNet’s “unlimited data” is not the kind we’d like: continuous, as-advertised download and upload speeds. It’s the kind where you get throttled after going over your limit. But it’s still better than getting roadblocked or being charged for overage fees. So, you’ll never have to worry about missing an email if you spent your month’s data revisiting Prince’s back catalog.

Viasat satellite internet

Data caps

Viasat offers a variety of data caps (12–150 GB) across several internet speed packages. The internet speeds available will depend on the plan (up to 12–100 Mbps), but you can get up to 150 GB of data (Unlimited Platinum 100 plan). So, since these aren’t hard data caps, what happens when you go over your data threshold?

Overages

You won’t accrue any overage charges with Viasat. Instead, if you go over the data in your plan, Viasat deprioritizes your data and your speeds will be “extremely slow.”

Here’s what that means for you: Whenever you click something online, it sends a request to a server on your provider’s network. After your data is deprioritized, all your requests have to wait in line behind the requests of everyone on the Viasat network who hasn’t hit their data caps yet. This will continue until the next billing cycle.

“Unlimited data plans come with a set usage threshold. When you reach your usage threshold, you can still use the internet, but you may experience slower speeds during network congestion; typically the early morning or early evening hours, when our network sees the most traffic from people who are home using the internet.”

Free Zone

You may have heard about Viasat offering a Free Zone, but that’s not quite accurate. Only customers who subscribe to some Liberty internet plans (sold when Viasat was still using the name Exede) can use the Free Zone to extend their data. The Free Zone is a period between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. where data usage doesn’t count against your threshold.

Unfortunately, the Free Zone is not available on the current Viasat Unlimited plans.

How to add more data

You can always add more data to your Viasat plan. You just need to log in to your Viasat account and click Buy More Data, which costs about $10 per GB.

HughesNet unlimited internet plans

Data caps

Like Viasat, HughesNet also has data caps on its unlimited plans, but the speeds are the same across all plans: 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speed. Plus, the highest monthly data threshold you can get from HughesNet is 50 GB—half of what you can get with Viasat’s Unlimited Platinum 100 plan.

Overages

You won’t be charged an extra fee when you hit your data threshold with HughesNet. But HughesNet will slow your internet speed to 1–3 Mbps until the next billing cycle.

To get your speed back to (or up to) 25 Mbps, you can purchase data tokens, which cost about $3 per GB.

Bonus Zone

Much like the discontinued Viasat Free Zone, the HughesNet Bonus Zone is a period during off-peak hours when the data you use doesn’t count against your main monthly allowance. The Bonus Zone runs from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. The HughesNet Bonus Zone data is not unlimited, but it does give you an extra 50 GB for the month. In most cases, that’s more than you can use in such a small window of time, so it should last you through the month.

Pro Tip:

Get the most out of your data by downloading videos during the Bonus Zone. That way you can save data by watching them offline instead of streaming in real time.

Beyond the Limits

Despite some limitations, satellite internet is a smart alternative to dial-up and a reliable choice for broadband internet in rural areas. As long as you’re aware of how your data usage affects your service, you can plan ahead to avoid going over your monthly allowance.

*The price lock guarantee applies only to the standard monthly internet service fee and the monthly equipment lease fee (in each case, before any promotional discounts) and excludes all taxes and surcharges. The price lock guarantee runs for 24 consecutive months from the date of account activation, requires that the customer’s account remain in good standing, and may terminate with certain account changes.

FAQ

What are HughesNet data tokens?

Data tokens are chunks of extra data you can buy from HughesNet. You can use data tokens to get your service back to full speed after you use all your regular monthly data. They come in a variety of prices and data amounts.

  • 3 GB for $9
  • 5 GB for $15
  • 10 GB for $30
  • 25 GB for $75

Is there any unlimited satellite internet?

Technically both HughesNet and Viasat offer unlimited satellite internet because they never cut your service off. (Although they will restrict it after you hit your monthly data threshold.)

That’s as close to unlimited satellite internet as you can get for residential service.

Is HughesNet unlimited internet?

You’ll never run out of data on a HughesNet plan, but your download speeds will slow from 25 Mbps to 3 Mbps if you hit your monthly data allowance. So, while it has unlimited data, it does not have unlimited data at full speed.

Is Viasat internet unlimited?

Viasat internet won’t shut off your service if you use too much data. But its plans do have monthly data thresholds. After you reach that threshold, Viasat puts you at the back of the line for all internet traffic on their network. It’s technically not slowing you down, but it will feel like that during busy times.

What’s the best satellite internet you can get?

Viasat offers more speed and more data than HughesNet at similar price points. If you have both options, we recommend Viasat.

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