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Viasat vs. HughesNet satellite internet service

Are you comparing satellite internet in the US? Your choice will probably include a comparison of Viasat vs. HughesNet (with Starlink hitting the market for some folks later this year).

Both Viasat and HughesNet are available in almost all rural parts of the 48 states, plus some limited availability in Hawaii and Alaska. So, when it comes to availability, Viasat and HughesNet are neck and neck.

At first glance, it might look like Viasat offers faster download speeds. Viasat advertises speeds up to 100 Mbps, and HughesNet internet plans all have the same speed: 25 Mbps download. But here’s the secret: Viasat’s 100 Mbps speeds aren’t available in many areas, and only four Viasat plans offer speeds faster than HughesNet.

Viasat plans and pricing

As far as price goes, Viasat plans start as low as $30.00 a month for 12 Mbps, which looks really good at first because it’s half the price of HughesNet’s cheapest plan that’s $59.99 (although HughesNet’s cheapest plan does deliver faster speeds up to 25 Mbps).

And, if you take a look at the fine print, Viasat isn’t just slower. Viasat prices increase after the first three months, while HughesNet prices are locked for 24 months. After Viasat’s three-month promotional period ends, plan prices increase by $20 to $50 per month, depending on your plan.

So, what’s good about Viasat? We like Viasat’s more generous data allowance. Viasat plans offer more data than its HughesNet counterparts. And with satellite internet, data really matters. Running out of data is the most common cause of slow speeds with a satellite connection. HughesNet plans try to make up for their lower data allowances with “Bonus Zone” data that you can access between 2:00 a.m.–8:00 a.m. and lower prices for buying extra data. But all that is a hassle, and extra data anytime of the day is worth more to most customers than extra data in the middle of the night.

If you’re lucky enough to get one of Viasat’s faster plans in your area (50 Mbps or 100 Mbps), go with Viasat. Just make sure you check plan availability first. The 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps Viasat plans offer more data and speed for your dollar. But if Viasat’s slower plans are all it offers in your area and if you don’t plan to use much data, go with HughesNet.

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Provider Introductory Price Download Speed Availability
Viasat $30.00–$150.00/mo.* ($50.00–$200.00 after 3 months) Up to 12–100 Mbps Nationwide

View Plans
or call 855-317-9185

Hughesnet $59.99–$149.99/mo.† Up to 25 Mbps Nationwide

View Plans
or call 855-317-9185

Data effective 10/15/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed.

Bottom line

Get Viasat for the fastest satellite internet available. Viasat’s top speed is four times faster than HughesNet’s max speed. Not all areas have access to Viasat’s racing 100 Mbps speed, though, so check out availability in your area before you sign the dotted line.

Choose HughesNet to get the lowest satellite internet prices. HughesNet and Viasat both offer internet packages between $50 and $70 per month, but you’ll get more than twice as much speed for that price with HughesNet. All HughesNet plans are the same speed: 25 Mbps.

 

Packages and pricing

Viasat offers a variety of speed and data options to fit your needs. HughesNet keeps things a bit simpler with just one speed, but it still offers several data options.

Viasat plans

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Plan Price Speed Data Cap
Liberty 12 $30/mo. Up to 12 Mbps 12 GB
Liberty 25 $50/mo. UP to 12 Mbps 25 GB
Liberty 50 $75/mo. Up to 12 Mbps 75 GB
Unlimited Bronze 12 $50/mo. Up to 12 Mbps 35 GB
Unlimited Silver 12 $100/mo. Up to 12 Mbps 45 GB
Unlimited Gold 12 $150/mo. Up to 12 Mbps 65 GB
Unlimited Silver 25 $70/mo. Up to 25 Mbps 60 GB
Unlimited Gold 30 $100/mo. Up to 30 Mbps 100 GB
Unlimited Gold 50 $100/mo. Up to 50 Mbps 100 GB
Unlimited Platinum 100 $150/mo. Up to 100 Mbps 150 GB

Data effective 10/5/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

With Viasat, you can choose a package with the speed and data threshold that suits your needs. Remember, with all Viasat plans, the price will go up by about 33% after three months.

Viasat plans have a 2-year contract agreement.

Some Viasat services were formerly known as Exede Internet. In 2018, Viasat dropped the name Exede and now calls all of its internet services Viasat Internet.

While all Viasat packages technically come with unlimited data, you will experience slowing after you reach your plan’s data threshold. You can also buy additional data tokens to get more full speed data, but they don’t carry over into the next month. We’ll explain this in more detail in the data section below. To save data, each package tier limits your video streaming quality.

Viasat video streaming quality by package

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PackageStreaming Quality
Bronze360p (SD)
Gold480p (DVD)
Silver720p (HD)
Platinum1080p (HD)

Date as of 10/5/2020.

Unfortunately, the only way to change your video streaming on a Viasat unlimited plan is to upgrade to a better package.

HughesNet plans

HughesNet keeps things a bit simpler than Viasat with just one speed, but it still offers several data options.

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Plan Price Speed Data Cap
10 GB Data Plan $59.99/mo. 25 Mbps 10 GB + 50 GB Bonus Zone*
20 GB Data Plan $69.99/mo. 25 Mbps 20 GB + 50 GB Bonus Zone*
30 GB Data Plan $99.99/mo. 25 Mbps 30 GB + 50 GB Bonus Zone*
50 GB Data Plan $150.00/mo. 25 Mbps 50 GB + 50 GB Bonus Zone*

*Data effective 10/5/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Actual speeds may vary and are not guaranteed.

HughesNet internet plans don’t have names, but they all offer the same speeds, which happen to coincide with the threshold for what the FCC defines as broadband (25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speed).

Each HughesNet package tier has a different data limit. Once you reach that limit, your service will slow down. You can buy additional data if you need full speed data after your limit, and unlike Viasat, HughesNet unused data you purchase will carry over into the next month. We’ll discuss the differences between HughesNet’s slowing and Viasat’s slowing in the data section.

With HughesNet, you could end up saving money because their plans are cheaper overall, but they do offer less data. So with Viasat, the plans are more expensive, but you actually pay less for each GB of data than you do with HughesNet. HughesNet plans come with a 2-year contract agreement.

When can I get Starlink?

Wondering about Starlink and other next-generation satellite providers? We’re eagerly awaiting official release dates on new home internet plans from Starlink and Project Kuiper. These satellite providers will offer faster speeds and lower latency than HughesNet and Viasat.

To date, SpaceX has launched over 800 satellites in the Starlink constellation, which may eventually include up to 42,000 satellites.1,2 Currently in the private beta testing phase, Starlink is expected to begin a public beta in late 2020. Service is expected to cost around $80 per month for unlimited data and speeds 100 Mbps or faster.

For more information, check out “When Will Starlink Be Available?

Pros and cons

Viasat

Thumbs Up Pros

  • Faster speeds
  • Free installation
  • Built-in Wi-Fi

Thumbs Down Cons

  • 2-year contract required
  • Restricted streaming quality
  • Extra purchased data expires at the end of the month
  • Price hike after 3 months

HughesNet

Thumbs Up Pros

  • More affordable
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • Video Data Saver
  • Extra purchased data doesn't expire

Thumbs Down Cons

  • Throttled speeds after data allowance
  • 2-year contract required

Important features

Speed

The fastest satellite provider in your area isn’t necessarily Viasat, even though Viasat offers speeds up to 100 Mbps in some areas. In many areas, Viasat’s top speed is 12 Mbps. So, if you’re judging on speed alone, you’ll need to check with both providers to find out which residential satellite internet provider offers the faster service in your area.

Also, don’t forget the impact that data allowances have on your internet speed. Once you hit your monthly data threshold, your speed may be slowed to 3 Mbps or less. When it comes down to it, having a plan with a higher data allowance may have a bigger impact on your internet speed than bumping up to a faster speed plan.

Technology

While both these ISPs offer similar speeds, Viasat is often listed as the best-rated satellite internet provider thanks to having more advanced technology than HughesNet. Viasat launched satellites more recently than HughesNet (ViaSat-2 launched in 2017, while HughesNet’s most recent update was the EchoStar XIX in 2016).

Both satellite companies are developing satellites for future updates but those won’t be here for a while. Viasat plans to launch its updated satellite system in late 2021, and HughesNet hasn’t announced a date yet for its next satellite system.

Satellite internet has high lag (also known as latency or ping) that can make your connection feel even slower than it is. Satellite internet latency averages 594–624 milliseconds (ms). Compare this with cable internet’s average latency of 15–35 ms, and you’ll understand why gaming can be difficult on satellite internet.

Data

Data restrictions are one of the main differences between satellite internet and other types of internet. While any type of connection could come with a data limit, satellite internet limits are usually much smaller and thus have a more significant effect on the overall service.

Viasat and Viasat allow you to buy extra data. However, while HughesNet’s Data Tokens don’t expire, the extra data you buy from Viasat doesn’t roll over into the next billing cycle, so you lose any unused data. Also, HughesNet Data Tokens are much cheaper than Viasat’s extra data prices.

Viasat

Viasat packages offer unlimited data but you still have a data threshold, which is the amount of full-speed data you can use every month. When you reach your data threshold, you can keep using the internet but you’ll have reduced speed.

If you use up your data allowance before the end of the month but you need more full speed data, you can get more data with the “Buy More” feature on the app or on the Viasat website. Viasat extra data expires at the end of the billing cycle, so it’s use it or lose it!

Viasat buy more data

  • 5 GB for $48
  • 7 GB for $67
  • 10 GB for $95
  • 25 GB for $75

Data as of 10/5/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

HughesNet

HughesNet internet packages vary in price based on their data limits. If you hit your data limit, your internet will still work, but HughesNet will slow your connection to just 1 to 3 Mbps and keep it that slow until the end of the billing cycle.

If you don’t like slowing down, you can buy “Data Tokens” to add incremental amounts of data to your plan.

If you compare HughesNet Data Token prices to Viasat, you’ll see that getting extra data with HughesNet is much cheaper than with Viasat. HughesNet charges $15 for an extra 5 GB, while Viasat charges $48 for 5 GB. Plus, HughesNet rolls over any unused Data Tokens into the next month, but with Viasat it disappears.

HughesNet Data Token prices

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

Data as of 10/5/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Save your data

You can save your data by using the internet during the Bonus Zone with HughesNet or the Free Zone with Viasat. These are only available with select plans.

HughesNet Bonus Zone

The Bonus Zone occurs between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. local time. When you use your internet during the Bonus Zone, the data you use won’t count against your monthly allowance. Instead, HughesNet gives you 50 GB of data for the Bonus Zone.

Plan ahead and use the Bonus Zone to download games and videos you can play offline during regular hours.

Viasat free zone

Older Viasat plans (marketed under the brand name Exede®) had a nightly free use zone where you could use the internet without it counting against your data allowance. The new unlimited internet packages from Viasat don’t have a free zone.

HughesNet Video Data Saver

HughesNet comes with Video Data Saver. This feature automatically adjusts your video streaming to save your data. However, this also limits the quality of video to 480p. That’s still DVD quality, but not HD quality.

If you do a lot of streaming, this feature will help prevent reaching your data limit. When you want to watch something in HD, you can turn off the Video Data Saver by changing the settings when you log into your account.

Viasat video data extender

As with the Free Zone, the video data extender was available on old Exede® plans, but the Viasat unlimited plans don’t offer this feature. Instead, it varies video streaming quality by package. The intent of limiting streaming quality on lower tier packages is to save data.

Reliability

As mentioned before, satellite internet is more susceptible to lag (also known as latency or delay) than other types of internet service. The lag occurs because a signal transmitted via satellite has to travel much farther than it would with other internet types. That extra distance also leaves the signal more vulnerable to interference.

Viasat and HughesNet are both satellite internet providers, so they face the same limitations. If you’re concerned about going over your data limit, go with Viasat. Viasat delivers more data than HughesNet plans do.

Availability

Because both these ISP’s operate by satellite, they’re both available almost anywhere in America. However, the packages available will vary by area because the beam from the orbiting satellite will hit different locations at different angles. A more direct beam can deliver a stronger signal and a better service.

Equipment and installation

Viasat has the better satellites, but HughesNet gives you the option to buy your equipment. Viasat and HughesNet both include built-in WiFi capabilities with their gateways (modem/router combos).

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Monthly Lease PriceLifetime Lease Price / Purchase PriceInstallation Fee
Viasat$5.00$299.99Free Standard Installation
HughesNet$14.99$449.99*Free Standard Installation

*Plus a $100 installation fee. †Applies only to lease option. Data as of 10/5/20. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Viasat

Viasat’s newer satellite technology means it can deliver a stronger service, but the equipment you get in your home has to be compatible with the latest technology—which means you have to get it from Viasat. Viasat doesn’t offer any option for purchasing your internet equipment, so leasing is your only option.

You have two leasing options. You can lease your Viasat equipment for $9.99 per month, or you can opt for the lifetime lease for a one-time fee of $299.99. The lifetime lease is good for as long as you keep the same model of equipment.

If you’re confident that you’ll be using Viasat as your ISP for more than thirty months, the lifetime lease could save you money. But, if you’re just signing up for the standard 2-year agreement, go with the monthly lease. The total cost of the leasing fees for two years is less than the lifetime lease price.

HughesNet

HughesNet gives you multiple equipment leasing options, plus an option to buy. The monthly leasing option costs $14.99, though some areas may get a $5 per month discount, and the purchase option costs $349.98.

Unless you plan to be with HughesNet for a long time (55 months or more), leasing is the more cost-effective option. Also, new customers may get free installation, so you could save even more.

Satellite internet for business

Are you running a business in a rural area? You can get business internet solutions from Viasat or HughesNet. Business internet service can keep your business humming with more data and higher security than satellite service for homes.

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Satellite internet for business plans

ProviderPrice*SpeedsLearn more
Viasat Business$50.00– $500.00/mo.*Up to 12–100 MbpsView plans
HughesNet Business$49.99– $149.99/mo. for the first 6 mos., then $69.99–$199.99/mo.
Up to 25 Mbps
View plans

 *Data current as of 10/5/2020. Prices and availability vary by location. 

†If you reach your monthly data allotment with your Viasat business plan, internet speeds may be reduced to 1 to 3 Mbps until the beginning of the next billing cycle. 

‡HughesNet has no hard data limits, so if you reach the monthly data allotment you will have uninterrupted data, but at reduced speeds (typically 1–3 Mbps).

Add satellite TV to your internet service.

Neither HughesNet nor Viasat bundle with television, but you can get DISH or DIRECTV alongside either service. The perks of satellite TV? You won’t use up data when you’re watching live TV. (Using your DVR will use up data, though.)

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TV ProviderIntro. Price RangeChannel CountFeaturesOrder Now
DIRECTV$64.99–$134.99/mo.*155+–330+NFL SUNDAY TICKETView plans
DISH$59.99/mo.–$94.99/mo.190–290+HD FREE for Life®View plans
Orby TV logo$40.00/mo.44–68+Free local channelsView plans

Data effective 10/5/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.*For 12 months with a 2-yr contract, paperless bill, & autopay. Price increases for months 13-24. †For 24 months with a 2-year contract and eAutoPay.

DISH

DISH offers high-quality satellite television on all its packages. In addition to delivering the entertainment you want, DISH also features the Hopper 3 DVR. With 2TB of space and 4K HD picture quality, you can record hours of your favorite shows with the Hopper 3, and you’ll know they’ll look great.

DIRECTV

DIRECTV satellite TV service also delivers great entertainment, especially for sports fans. The DIRECTV Genie® DVR supports 4K HD for a stunningly clear picture and has a huge storage capacity for virtually endless entertainment.

Orby TV

Orby TV is a budget satellite TV service without all the trimmings. If you don’t need 24/7 sports coverage or specialty channels, Orby TV can save you money on your TV service every month. Plus, local channels are always free with Orby TV.

Our verdict

The best satellite internet providers available are Viasat and HughesNet. Viasat is the best satellite internet provider for speed, data plans, and performance, while HughesNet offers the best value for what you pay.

To get the most speed on a budget, go with HughesNet.

If you’re looking for affordable satellite internet service in rural areas, HughesNet packages deliver twice the speed as Viasat for the same price. And if you need to buy extra data for that late-night movie binge, HughesNet extra data is much cheaper and it carries over into the next month.

Sources

1. Henry, Caleb, “SpaceX Submits Paperwork for 30,000 More Starlink Satellites,” September 2019. Accessed October 6, 2020.

2. Foust, Jeff, “SpaceX Launches Starlink Satellites as It Deorbits Original Ones,” October 6, 2020. Accessed October 6, 2020.

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