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For town and city dwellers, it's difficult to comprehend the struggles of rural areas when it comes to accessing the internet. Broadband and cellular internet can range from abysmal to non-existent, making satellite internet a vital resource for those who need to stay connected and even work remotely.
Also: The best hotspots
However, it can be challenging to determine which one is the best fit for your needs. In the US, there are three primary providers of satellite broadband: HughesNet, Starlink, and Viasat. Each company and service has its own pros and cons.
So, how do they compare to one another? Let's take a closer look and find out.
HughesNet is an established name in the satellite internet service space, and it offers a broad range of plans to accommodate for light and moderate internet users. The company provides different data allowances, ranging from 15GB to100 GB, with corresponding monthly rates of $65, $75, $100, and $175.
HughesNet has the added advantage of offering customers an extra 50GB per month for off-peak use. It does not impose hard data limits, which means you can still access the internet even if you've reached your data allowance. However, the company may reduce the internet speed to 1-3 Mbps, which can affect the user experience.
Lastly, HughesNet is available in the contiguous US, Puerto Rico, Alaska, and wherever there is a "clear view of the Southern Sky." The company requires customers to sign a 24-month contract.
A new name -- but a big name. Elon Musk's Starlink cuts through the confusing raft of options offered by other companies and has just two plans: Starlink 1TB and Starlink Premium 1TB, priced at $110 per month and $135 per month, respectively. Customers who exceed the Priority Access data usage limit of 1TB will then be switched to Basic Access.
For heavy users, Starlink is a no-brainer option. However, customers should note that they have to pay for the hardware upfront, unlike other providers that offer free equipment. There is a one-time equipment fee of $599 for Starlink and $2,500 for Starlink Premium.
There is no contract, though.
Customers can cancel their service at any time without incurring additional charges. So, despite the upfront costs, Starlink is still an attractive option for many. It's available in select regions in the US, Canada, and abroad, and the company has nearly half a million customers and is active on all continents.
Viasat offers a broad range of plans at decent prices to suit all but the heaviest of users. The plans start at $50 per month for 40GB and go up to $200 per month for 300GB. (All plans offer unlimited lower-speed "standard data" after high-speed data is exhausted.)
The company is eligible for the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program, too, further increasing its appeal. The downside of Viasat is that things do start to get pricey for heavier users, and the 24-month contract means users will be penalized if they want to switch providers.
Additional features include a $20-$50 introductory discount for three months, a Data Extender that automatically streams video at DVD quality (when enabled), and an equipment lease of $12.99 per month. You can also purchase equipment for $300.
Viasat is accessible in almost all areas of the US, including some international regions and Puerto Rico.
Overall, HughesNet is the best satellite internet service -- especially for those who need basic internet services in rural or remote areas where other internet options are limited or not available. It offers a variety of plans and options to suit different needs and budgets. With max download speeds of 25Mbps and upload speeds of 3Mbps, HughesNet is a suitable option for basic internet use. Additionally, HughesNet has been in the satellite internet business for decades, making it one of the most experienced providers in the industry.
|Best satellite internet service||Max speeds||Regular monthly rate||Contract||Monthly equipment costs||Data allowance|
|HughesNet||25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||$65-$175||2 years||$15 or $350 one-time purchase||15-100GB|
|Starlink||20-250Mbps download, 5-30Mbps upload||$110-$135||None||$599 one-time purchase (or $2,500 for Premium)||1TB|
|Viasat||12-150Mbps download, 3Mbps upload||$50-$200||2 years||$15 or $300 one-time purchase||40-300GB|
Choosing the right satellite internet service can be a daunting task. This table might make it easier for you to decide:
|Choose this satellite internet service...||If you want...|
|HughesNet||The best option for low to medium data users. Reliable service, no hard data caps, extra GB allowance per month for off-peak use, and a broad range of plans to accommodate light and moderate internet users.|
|Starlink||High speeds, generous 1 TB bandwidth, and no contract.|
|Viasat||Lots of different plans and offerings with faster download speeds and higher data options and accessibility in almost all areas of the US, including some international regions and Puerto Rico.|
There are three big names in the internet satellite business, and these three companies offer different plans and options covering a range of speeds and data bandwidths for different prices.
What I've done here is break down the offerings available and examine the pros and cons for each. I also examined customer reviews to ensure that the quality of both the satellite internet service and customer service is acceptable. My goal was to present a comprehensive overview of each provider's strengths and weaknesses to help you make an informed decision
It's important to note that internet speeds -- especially satellite internet speeds -- are dependent on many factors, from the load on the infrastructure to the weather, and these can reduce the maximum rated speeds advertised.
Satellite internet is wireless internet transmitted from satellites orbiting the Earth. Customers will need specialised equipment and a satellite dish to access these services.
At 250Mbps for its highest plan, Starlink currently offers the fastest satellite internet on the market. But do you really need that much speed? While more speed sounds good on paper, there's no point paying for it unless you're actually making use of it.
There are also a number of misconceptions related to download speeds. A higher download speed doesn't mean a better, more reliable connection, and it doesn't mean that you get a more reliable connection.
|Web activity*||Emailing, web browsing, light SD streaming||Emailing, web browsing, video-conferencing, SD and HD video streaming, music downloading||Multiple devices streaming HD or 4K video simultaneously, downloading large files, gaming, video conferencing on multiple devices.|
*Activity estimates assume 4-8 connected devices
Data is measured in gigabytes (GB), and it is important to realize that this includes both data that you are downloading and uploading. Every time you send or receive something, download a file, upload a file, or back up to the cloud, you are eating into your data allowance.
Satellite internet plans are similar to cellphone plans, but with one big difference. If you go over your satellite data limit, you will not be completely cut off from the internet. Instead, you will be restricted to slower speeds (typically around 1-3 Mbps) until your next billing cycle. This restricted service will allow for web browsing, but activities such as video streaming or file downloading will be affected.
To give you some perspective, here's what 1 GB of data translates to :
All three satellite providers offer customers a way to keep an eye on data usage within a given month, so you can be mindful of how much data you are using and whether you're close to being dropped onto the lower-speed data plans.
Satellite internet is expensive because of the space-based infrastructure that is used. Launching satellites into space is not cheap, and ground stations are necessary to control the satellites. Additionally, transmitting data via satellites orbiting 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth costs much more than sending it via wires. The equipment that users need is also more specialized and requires custom installation.
All of these factors contribute to the overall cost of satellite internet.
While Starlink has certainly shaken up the market by offering higher speeds and more data bandwidth for your money, I would still consider satellite internet as a last-ditch alternative where decent broadband or cellular service is not available. The higher equipment costs, along with the bigger monthly costs, make it a pricier choice.
On top of that, latency (the time it takes your data to go from you to the destination, or vice versa) is always going to be a concern with satellite internet because every packet of data has to be beamed up to and down from satellites orbiting 22,000 miles above the Earth.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides a discount of up to $30 per month on internet service costs for eligible households. Those who live on qualifying Tribal lands may qualify for a discount of up to $75 per month.
More details can be found on the FCC website.