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Best satellite internet provider 2021: Top options compared

We've narrowed down a wide field of satellite internet providers to showcase the top two in speed and availability.

Even with satellite internet being phased out due to its higher pricing and slower speeds, there are still advantages to installing a satellite internet provider dish outside of your home. When comparing the best satellite internet providers, we compared download speeds, data caps and more to choose the best satellite-based internet providers.

There may only be two major satellite internet providers in the U.S., but internet users should still pay close attention to their options. Based on rural availability, reliability, price, speed and other relevant factors, one provider may be a better option than the other. We dove into the data to see which satellite provider is the best home internet for you if cable, DSL, or fiber-optic are not available in your area.


HughesNetViasat

Best OverallBest for High Speeds
Reviews.com Score3/53.25/5
FCC reliabilityOverperformsUnderperforms
J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Score620/1,000Not Rated
Speed options25 Mbps12 Mbps–100 Mbps
Data Caps10 GB–50 GB40 GB–150 GB

HughesNet

Best satellite internet overall

hughesnet.jpg
Shutterstock

WHY WE CHOSE IT

The FCC reported that most HughesNet customers experience more than double the advertised speeds. Additionally, more than 80% of HughesNet customers got advertised speeds or faster, compared to around 50% of Viasat's customers.

  • 3Reviews Score
  • $59.99/mo.Starting Price
  • 25 MbpsDownload Speed

PROS

  • Reliable service
  • Extra GB allowance per month
  • No hard data caps

CONS

  • Slower speed options
  • Higher equipment costs: $349 to purchase
  • Low customer service score

PLANS & PRICING

  • 10 GB: $59.99/mo.
  • 20 GB: $69.99/mo.
  • 30 GB: $99.99/mo.
  • 50 GB: $149.99/mo.

FEATURES

  • No hard data limits; reduces speed to 1–3 Mbps instead
  • Bonus Zone: 2 a.m.–8 a.m. customers receive 50 GB/month of additional data
  • $14.99/month equipment lease
  • $10/month introductory discount for six months
  • 24-month contract

Viasat

Best for High Speeds

viasat.jpg

WHY WE CHOSE IT

If your household is constantly streaming, gaming from several devices and downloading large files and you don't have access to traditional internet providers, Viasat might be the best satellite internet for you.

  • 3.25Reviews Score
  • $69.99/mo.Starting Price
  • 100 MbpsDownload Speed

PROS

  • Faster download speed than competitors
  • Higher data options
  • Higher new customer discounts

CONS

  • Fewer plans than competitor
  • No option to purchase equipment
  • Not rated by J.D Power

PLANS & PRICING

If your household is constantly streaming, gaming from several devices and downloading large files and you don't have access to traditional internet providers, Viasat might be the best satellite internet for you.

FEATURES

  • $20–$50 intro discount for three months
  • Viasat Shield protects home from online security threats
  • $12.99/month equipment lease
  • 24-month contract

How to choose the best satellite internet for your home

Determine how much speed you need

At 100 Mbps for its highest plan, Viasat currently offers the fastest satellite internet on the market. But do you really need that much speed? On the one hand,  100 Mbps for $200 per month is cheaper per Mbps than 25 Mbps at $49.99 from HughesNet. However, you can accomplish most streaming and browsing with slower speeds. Plus, maximum speeds of 100 Mbps may not be available everywhere.  

One of the biggest misconceptions in buying satellite internet is that having more Mbps leads to more usability. If you're only using it for online shopping and social media browsing, you don't need a lot of Mbps, no matter what the sales agent tells you. To help you gauge what you can do with different speed thresholds, check our table of estimated usage.


12 Mbps25 Mbps100 Mbps
Use amountLightModerateHeavy
Web activity*Emailing, web browsing, light SD streamingEmailing, web browsing, SD and some HD streaming, music downloadingMultiple devices streaming HD or 4K video simultaneously, large file downloading, real-time gaming, video conferencing.

*Activity estimates assume 4-8 connected devices

Figure out how much data you use

Data is measured in gigabytes (GB) and is used whenever you send something, receive something, download from, or upload to the internet. Satellite internet plans work similarly to your phone plan: Your data is your allotted internet usage. If you go over your data limit, you won't be totally cut off from the internet, you'll just be restricted to slower speeds (typically 1–3 Mbps) until the start of your next billing cycle. This will allow some web browsing, but no video streaming or file downloading — and that web browsing will be slow enough you may resort to the local paper for news and sudoku.

To give you some perspective, here is what HughesNet says you can do with 1 GB of data:

  • 2 hours of video streaming
  • Upload 300
  • Stream 200 songs
  • Load 1,024 web pages
  • Send or receive 2000 emails

If you stream video at all, you're more likely to struggle with these data caps. Streaming uses up a huge chunk of data. In fact, Netflix estimates you'll need 1GB of data per hour to stream SD video. That's 66 GB to binge all five seasons of Orange is the New Black — more than the top HughesNet plan of 50 GB/month 

We suggest being mindful of your internet habits and see what activities you lean more toward – if you're a heavy video streamer, you might want to invest in a heavier data allowance per month. HughesNet and Viasat provide you with ways to check how you're doing on data within a given month.

What is satellite internet?

Satellite internet is a type of wireless internet connection in which data is transmitted between three points: a satellite in space; a ground unit called the network operations center (or NOC) at the provider's hub; and a satellite dish located at the customer's home.

How can you work around the limitations of satellite internet?

Jameson Zimmer from Broadband Now explained that there are two easy ways to maximize a limited ISP. The first: Avoid streaming video. This eats up data fast. Instead, get TV service from a dedicated TV provider. (And, pro tip: Netflix still offers DVDs by mail.) Second, use an ad blocker in-browser (we like AdBlock) to stop banner ads and unneeded videos from sucking up space.

If your options are already limited to satellite internet, your TV provider is probably satellite-based too — DirecTV or Dish Network. But no, you can't use the same satellite dish for both. TV satellite dishes are only capable of receiving signals; internet connections need to both upload and download information.

In what case is satellite internet preferable over other options?

If you have the option for cable or DSL, it's typically going to be better than satellite internet: cheaper, faster, and no lag. But satellite might still be the way to go if you're on the fringes of your DSL's range.

DSL internet service relies on a customer's proximity to something called a digital subscriber access multiplexer (DSLAM for short), the network device that connects you to the internet. These live in local exchange offices in your area, and the farther away from your DSLAM you are, the slower your DSL internet will be. It's pretty rare, but service on the edge of a DSLAM's range could be painfully slow — we're talking 3 Mbps download and a fraction of 1 Mbps upload. If that's the case for your home, satellite internet is obviously the better choice.

How is satellite internet customer service?

Trustpilot reports that HughesNet earns about 2.9 stars out of 5 from consumers. They note potentially slow speeds and expensive cancellation process as "cons" for signing up with the service. While Viasat also got 2.9 stars, with slow speeds and poor customer support as the main complaints. Bottom line: Satellite internet certainly has some catching up to do when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Methodology

We evaluated satellite internet service providers based on customer satisfaction, data caps, download speed, plans, and customer support to determine Reviews.com scores and create our best internet service provider reviews. To compare internet service providers with other brands across the board, we calculate each Reviews.com score based on the following:

  • Customer Satisfaction: Reviews.com used J.D. Power's 2020 Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study to calculate an average rating of internet providers across all applicable regions.
  • Top Download Speeds: We awarded higher scores to internet providers with higher download speeds.
  • Number of Plans: Internet providers with more plan options to choose from scored higher in our methodology.
  • Data Caps: No one wants to be left without internet for the rest of the month, so we awarded internet providers with higher scores if they had high or no data caps. 
  • Customer Support: We reviewed and compared the number of channels that customers could reach each provider's customer support representatives. The more channels of contact available, the higher the score.