- Satellite internet is a viable option for rural areas lacking cable, fiber, or phone lines.
- Starlink is the best satellite internet service, offering download speeds of 25-220 Mbps.
- Viasat offers multiple plans with download speeds ranging from 12-150 Mbps.
- HughesNet is a reliable satellite internet service with coverage in North America, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
- LEO satellite internet companies like OneWeb and Kuiper Systems are upcoming players in the industry.
There aren’t many internet service providers that reach rural locations. An internet connection requires cable, fiber, or phone lines, which many rural areas lack. Cellular internet is another option, but you must be within range of a cell phone tower to receive a signal, and the speeds are limited. If you’re completely out of internet connection options, satellite internet is worth checking out.
Cable internet providers expand their network from time to time, but there’s no telling when their service will reach your home. Instead of waiting indefinitely, you could consider satellite internet services. Satellite internet can be accessed anywhere, even from moving vehicles like boats or mobile homes. It doesn’t require a wired connection.
However, satellite internet often requires additional equipment, and the performance can be spotty, depending on the company and location. In this article, we will take a look at the best satellite internet services and compare them to see which one comes out on top. When you’re done reading this article, you will be one step closer to finding the best satellite internet service for your needs.
#1 Best Overall Satellite Internet Service: Starlink
Starlink is a sub-division of SpaceX that was founded by Elon Musk in 2015. It is the best satellite internet service at the moment. Starlink uses Low Earth Orbit satellites (LEO) that communicate with one another to cover large surface areas. The company advertises download speeds of between 25 to 220 Mbps, which is far better than any other satellite internet service. Latency is good too, with most regions receiving 25-50ms. Of course, weather and other factors affect the performance.
Besides the impressive performance, Starlink frequently launches more satellites to improve their service and cover more ground. At the moment, Starlink is available in North America, South America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. Click here to see the complete Starlink availability map and upcoming expansions. If Starlink is not available in your region, you’ll need to sign up for the waitlist and pay a deposit for the equipment.
While Starlink delivers excellent download speeds and latency, there are some downsides. The first would be the heavy upfront costs. The self-install hardware is sold separately. The basic equipment costs a $599 one-time fee. The pricing structure also varies depending on your region. Recently Starlink adjusted their monthly fees to match capacity in certain areas. Data caps also vary but most customers receive unlimited data. On average, the price for Starlink Residential is between $90-120 a month, in addition to a one-time fee of $599 for the hardware.
|Starlink has fast download speeds, between 25 to 220 Mbps.
|There are expensive upfront fees for hardware.
|It has decent latency for online video games.
|The performance drops significantly during peak hours.
|It’s available in several countries.
|It has very slow upload speeds.
#2 Best Satellite Internet Service with Multiple Plans: Viasat
Viasat launched its satellite internet service in 2001. It transfers data with geostationary satellites which orbit the Earth at about 22,000 miles. These satellites are much further away than LEO satellites (the satellites Starlink uses) and therefore have much higher latency. The latency is often between 600 and 1000ms, which is too high for online games. It can also drop out entirely if there is heavy cloud coverage in the area.
As for the coverage, Viasat provides service to most of the U.S. as well as Puerto Rico. The service is expanding to certain countries in Europe, and they have maritime plans too. The best location is within the southern U.S. states. Viasat advertises a wide range of internet connection speeds and plans, ranging from 12 Mbps to 150 Mbps and plans start from $60 to $300 a month. Bear in mind, that only certain plans are available for specific regions, and some areas might not receive coverage at all.
The downside to Viasat is the data caps. The entry-level plan offers speeds of between 12 and 25 Mbps and the High-Speed data cap is set to 60 GB. Viasat uses a system called High-Speed data, which prioritizes your traffic over other customers. Once you run out of High-Speed data, you can continue to use the service, but your traffic will be at the back of the line. When that happens, download speeds will slow to a crawl, especially during peak hours. The Viasat satellite internet equipment can be purchased for a one-time fee of $299 or rented for $13 a month.
|Viasat has multiple plans with download speeds ranging from 12 Mbps to 150 Mbps.
|Viasat prices increase after the first 3 months.
|Good coverage in most of the Southern U.S.A.
|It requires customers to sign a 24-month contract.
|The service is relatively reliable.
|The internet speed can slow to a crawl during peak hours.
#3 Best for Reliability: HughesNet
HughesNet is another satellite internet service that a lot of people in the U.S.A. rely on. The company was founded in 1996 making it one of the oldest satellite internet companies. It also uses geostationary satellites, so the latency is about the same as Viasat.
As for the internet service plans, HughesNet offers Residential and Business packages. The maximum download speed is rated at 50 Mbps and that’s in specific locations during ideal conditions. HughesNet has data caps, but it doesn’t disable your service if you exceed them. Keep in mind, that the advertised download speed can drop significantly during peak hours and poor conditions. Many HughesNet users reported their download speeds dropped from 25 Mbps to 3 Mbps.
HughesNet prices start from $49.99/month to $159/month for 25 Mbps. For the equipment, you can choose to pay $450 upfront or rent it for a monthly fee. A trained technician performs the hardware installation. While HughesNet isn’t the best satellite internet service, it can provide a basic internet connection to remote areas. To learn more about how HughesNet compares to Starlink, read this article.
|It is available in North America, Alaska, and Puerto Rico.
|The latency is too high for online games.
|Provides a relatively stable internet connection.
|The download speed often drops to 3 Mbps during peak hours.
|Internet plans start from $59 a month.
|You have to lock in a 24-month contract.
LEO Satellite Internet Companies Coming Soon
At the moment, Starlink is the main internet service that uses low earth orbit satellites. However, there are a few new players coming to the scene that we are keeping an eye on. For instance, OneWeb, Kuiper Systems, and Telesat are some upcoming satellite internet companies. These companies don’t offer services to the public yet.
As more companies enter the LEO internet industry, there will be more options for consumers, and the internet will be widely available. These types of services are particularly needed during disasters or other events that might knock out power grids or cell phone towers.
How to Pick the Best Satellite Internet Service: Step-by-Step
When it comes to choosing a satellite internet service, there are a few key factors you want to consider:
- Download Speeds and Usage
Let’s take a closer look.
The best satellite internet for you will depend on your location. You can enter your address in the coverage map of either of these three companies to see what options are available in your area. However, even if satellite internet is available in your area, obstructions such as mountains, hills, or trees, can interfere with the connection. For the best performance, the satellite dish needs to be in a clear view of the sky.
To check if Starlink is a suitable option for your area, you can download the Starlink app, tap on Find an Install Location, and follow the steps. The app will scan the sky and any obstructions and let you know if Starlink is a viable choice. The other companies, Viasat and HughesNet, do not have this feature. You will have to call them and have a technician visit for an evaluation.
Download Speeds and Usage
Naturally, a faster download speed means you can get more work done in less time. Ideally, you want to choose a service that can consistently provide you with the advertised download speeds. Starlink offers the fastest download speeds at the moment. Of course, the download speeds are not always consistent and can be affected by a wide range of factors that are out of your control.
Another point to consider is your internet usage. While some satellite internet plans can handle online streaming services such as Netflix, other tasks like playing online games could be a no-go. Online games require relatively low latency and only Starlink can achieve that. The other satellite internet companies use traditional satellites that are much further away and therefore the latency is much higher.
Viasat and Hughesnet both require customers to sign a 24-month contract with steep penalties for breaking the contract. In other words, if you sign a 24-month contract, you have to stick with it until it expires, even if the service is not as advertised. Starlink doesn’t use contracts and you can cancel the monthly membership at any time. In fact, Starlink offers a 30-day trial and you can return the equipment for a full refund.
What to Know Before Buying a Satellite Internet Service
Satellite internet sounds great on paper, but there are some downsides you should know about.
Unreliable Download Speeds
As we mentioned before, satellite internet’s download speed is not very reliable. Besides obstructions and weather conditions, it’s also prone to throttle during peak hours. Even Starlink is not immune to this issue. Simply put, when too many people are connecting to the service, it overwhelms the satellites, and the packets can’t be transferred as quickly. So, it’s not unusual for a 100 Mbps download speed to drop to 10 Mbps or even lower during peak hours.
Another issue with satellite internet services is the high latency. Companies that use LEO satellites offer much better latency but it still varies depending on the area. Most Starlink customers get a latency of between 50ms to 100ms. Viasat and Hughesnet have similar latencies of between 600 to 800ms because they use geostationary satellites. So, online games and video chats are a no-go on Viasat and Hughesnet.
Slow Upload Speeds
Unfortunately, even Starlink suffers from slow upload speeds. However, Starlink’s upload speed is much faster than the alternatives. To give you an idea, according to a report by Ooka.com, the average upload speed for Starlink U.S. was 7.74 Mbps. In comparison, Viasat scored 1.02 Mbps and Hughesnet was slightly faster at 3.78 Mbps. So, uploading files with these services will take a long time. However, sending text messages and photos through online chatting apps shouldn’t be a problem.
Alternatives to Satellite Internet
While satellite internet works in extremely rural areas, there are many factors that can affect the performance. One alternative to satellite internet is fixed wireless, which is a service provided by mobile carriers. Fixed internet broadcasts a signal to a hotspot-like device that converts it into Wi-Fi for home use. If there’s a cell tower nearby, fixed internet could be a good alternative because it’s more reliable and supports faster speeds. To read more about how fixed internet compares to satellite internet, read this article.
Overall, if there are no cable or cellular internet connection options in your area, your best bet would be to see if Starlink is an option. Cable internet is much better than satellite internet, for reasons you can read about in this article. Starlink is the best satellite internet service on the market and you can take it for a 30-day trial. If Starlink is not available, the next best option would be Viasat.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Aleksandr Kukharskiy/Shutterstock.com.