Smart Home & AI

Best Satellite Internet Providers: Starlink vs Hughesnet vs Viasat & More

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Are you among the millions of Americans who still don’t have access to DSL, cable, or fiber internet where you live? Do you feel like you’re stuck in the dark ages using a dial-up internet connection? Yes, city and suburb dwellers, dial-up is still a thing!

Luckily you likely have another option — satellite internet. And depending on where you live, you could get a speedy internet connection. Learn more about your options in my review of the best satellite internet providers. I also include some personal experiences from my fellow team members with some of these companies.

Best For AffordabilityBest For No ContractsBest For Lower Latency
Hughesnet logoViasat logo.Starlink logo.
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Why Consider Satellite Internet Service?

Satellite dishes at sunset.
There are a number of reasons why you might consider getting satellite internet, depending on where you. need it.
Image credit: TebNad, Shutterstock

Many people who live in rural areas don’t have a lot of options for internet service. If you don’t have access to DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), cable, or fiber networks, then a satellite internet service may be the only way to go.

What are your other rural internet options? LTE (cellular) internet, which isn’t widespread either (yet), or dial-up, which is much slower than satellite internet. Another benefit of satellite internet over dial-up (and even cable) is the fact that you don’t have to suffer through connection issues if phone or cable lines are down.

Satellite Internet Providers Compared

This table compares home satellite internet plans. Starlink also has a priority/business plan if you need faster speeds of 220+ Mbps and higher priority data.

 HughesnetViasatStarlink
Required Contract Length24 monthsNoneNone
Monthly Service Price$49.99-$94.99$99.99–$119.99$120
Equipment Fee$14.99-$19.99 per month$15 per month$599 (one-time)
Installation FeeFree standard*Free standard**Self-install
Early Termination FeeUp to $400NoneNone
Standard Data CapUnlimitedUnlimitedUnlimited
Download Speed50-100 Mbps25-150 Mbps30-150 Mbps
Upload Speed5 Mbps3-8 Mbps8-20 Mbps
Latency100-650 ms692 ms30-40 ms
Bundled Voice OptionCheckmark
*Hughesnet free installation available with equipment lease, not purchase.
**Viasat free installation is subject to credit qualification. Not available in all locations.

4 Main Factors To Keep In Mind About Satellite Internet

  1. Where you live: Satellite internet’s data limits, slow speeds, and prices are prohibitive for most people who have better internet access options. I recommend only going with satellite when you don’t have other options.
  2. Your tree cover: Satellite service requires an unobstructed view of the sky, meaning that heavy tree cover around your house will block your signal. And some companies require that the best service you’ll receive is in certain places on your roof.
  3. “Unlimited” data: While all plans in our reviews say they have unlimited data, there’s a caveat to that. Essentially, you’re sharing your signal with others around you, and no company has completely unlimited juice to go around. This means that when you reach your peak data during the month, your speeds may slow during higher-use times of the day. In other words, the more remote you are, the better.
  4. Higher latency (or lag time) is an issue with all satellite internet providers. What does latency mean? Latency refers to the time it takes for the signal from your home to travel to the satellite and back. Lower latency is important for such activities as video conferencing, TV streaming, and multiplayer gaming.

Best Satellite Internet Providers For Home Use

You don’t have many options for satellite internet. But for the available providers, I based my reviews on several factors, including download and upload speeds, latency times, reliability, monthly service pricing, equipment fees, and customer feedback. If you have a rural business, all of these companies also offer business plans.

Best For Affordability: Hughesnet Review

Hughesnet logo.

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Hughesnet is a well-established satellite internet provider, offering service in all 50 states and Puerto Rico — and they have better widespread coverage for reliable speeds of at least 50 Mbps than their competitors. Hughesnet’s best selling point is that some of its pricing plans are the most competitive for what you get.

The major downside of Hughesnet is that they still require a 24-month contract for all plans and have early termination fees of up to $400. Viasat now offers a no-contract plan. Still, Hughesnet is making good strides in the satellite internet industry.

They now offer a Fusion plan for some areas. This plan combines satellite and wireless technologies to reduce latency for a more reliable connection (although, I still don’t think it rivals Starlink in reducing latency based on the customer feedback I’ve found). Hughesnet also now offers Wi-Fi 6 and Mesh Wi-Fi Nodes in their equipment for more widespread coverage in your home.

Our Personal Experience With Hughesnet

When we moved to the mountains, being city dwellers, we took for granted that there would be high-speed internet. Fortunately, the cell phone signal was strong, so we were able to tether for work. But that was a no-go for video streaming or playing games.

Enter Hughesnet. Install was simple enough (you choose where you want the satellite dish placed – and while the installers may initially be resistant to placing it on your roof – you’ll want to think carefully about how this may affect the look of your yard, etc. – don’t get pushed into choosing a location).

For video, the satellite connection worked great. The shows can buffer and stream, so you shouldn’t have too many issues. However, for things that require quicker response time, such as games and real-time applications (remember the signal travels all the way to a satellite and back), you may not be as happy.

Long story short – if you don’t have a high speed cable or fiber internet option, and cellular tethering is too expensive, satellite may be your best option.

Alex Schenker, Co-Founder of Safe Smart Living,
ProsCons
Coverage in all 50 statesRequires a 24-month contract
Competitive monthly pricing with Select planSlower top speeds than competitors
Fusion plan has much lower latency than ViasatMonthly cost rises $25 after first year
Free standard installation if you lease equipmentNo mobile satellite options (for RVs, boats, etc.)
Ability to bundle voice and/or Norton 360 Deluxe with internet
24/7 customer support via live chat, phone and email
Gets better overall user reviews for performance and customer support than Viasat
BBB rating: A+

HughesNet Pricing

All Hughesnet plans have unlimited standard data caps and require a 24-month contract. You’ll also incur a one-time lease setup fee of $99 but will get free installation. You also have the option to purchase equipment; however, if you do, you’ll have to pay $199 for installation.

 SelectEliteFusion
Service Price/Month*$49.99$64.99$94.99
Equipment Lease/Month$14.99$14.99$19.99
Equipment Purchase Option$299$299$449.99
Priority Data/Month100 GB200 GB200 GB
Download Speed50 Mbps100 Mbps100 Mbps
Upload Speed5 Mbps5 Mbps5 Mbps
Latency650 ms650 ms100 ms
*Pricing is for the first 12 months of service. Then they raise pricesb by $25 per month.

Best For No Contracts: Viasat Review

Viasat logo.
viasat logo 250 png

Visit Website | Call: 833-257-8396

Although Viasat is a bit pricier than HughesNet (their main competitor), they rolled out a new Viasat Unleashed plan in March 2024 that requires no long-term contract and provides “unlimited” data and download speeds up to 150 Mbps (depending on your location, of course).

How does their unlimited data work? After 850GB of high-speed data usage in a month, you still have unlimited access to standard data. However, you may have reduced priority during peak times of network congestion, which could result in slower speeds.

Viasat has coverage for over 99% of the U.S., and they offer free professional installation within 3-5 days for those whose credit qualifies (free installation isn’t available in some locations). The good news for rural customers is that Viasat is continuing to up its speeds in more locations.

ProsCons
Coverage in all 50 statesDownload speeds of only 25 Mbps available in some locations
Low startup costsHigh latency
No contractsSeveral complaints about poor customer service
No data overage feesNo mobile satellite options (for RVs, boats, etc.)
Free standard installation (if you qualify)
24/7 customer support via phone and email
Gets better customer reviews than Viasat
BBB rating: A

Viasat Unleashed Plan Pricing

  • Service Plan: $99.99–$119.99/month
  • Equipment Rental: $15/month
  • Download Speed: 25-150 Mbps
  • Upload Speed: 3-8 Mbps
  • Latency: 692 ms (average)
Starlink logo.

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Billionaire Elon Musk may have bungled the Twitter takeover, but his SpaceX Starlink venture is a huge success in the making. Starlink’s home satellite internet service is a reliable option that many users say far outperforms Hughesnet and Viasat. A recent survey by CableTV found that Starlink was one of the top internet service providers (ISPs) for customer satisfaction, beating out Google Fiber, Verizon, AT&T, and many others.

With the lowest latency compared to other satellite providers, Starlink is your best bet if you have hardcore internet gamers or streamers in your home (like I do with my kids). It’s also helpful if you work from home and need more reliable video conferencing. Many contributors on Reddit say Starlink is the only way to go for multiplayer gaming with satellite internet.

However, Starlink’s upfront pricing is expensive: $599 for basic home internet hardware plus $120 per month for service. Depending on where you live, you can get download speeds up to 150 Mbps. Or you can upgrade for the high-priority plan for 220+ Mbps speeds

Another plus with Starlink, no contracts are required, and you can pause your service anytime. You also get unlimited standard high-speed data; however, there’s the caveat with “unlimited” because data is subject to their fair use policy. However, this is the case with all satellite providers.

Our Personal Experience With Starlink

I have used Starlink satellite internet in a few different places. When I lived in a more rural location, it was a great option for a higher-speed connection. The higher speed was a big draw because there were not many other options available. Though it is not as fast as the speed I have now in a big city, it was a big improvement, and I was able to do more online and use more connected devices like gaming, etc.

I also appreciated the option for unlimited data. This service was fairly reliable and less expensive than using my mobile data. It was also easy to set up and use the equipment. Of course, there were times when service and speed lagged, but that is true with any satellite internet service. 

Danielle DeGroot, Rural Internet User, Writer/Researcher for Safe Smart Living
ProsCons
Availability in 50 states (most areas)Very expensive upfront costs due to hardware kits
Low latency compared to othersRequires self-installation of hardware (but most users say it’s fairly easy)
No service contractsBBB rating: F
Can pause and restart service anytime
30-day trial period
Also offers fixed business and mobile plans (for RVs, boats, etc.)
Refurbished hardware available at approx 33% off

Starlink offers a 30-day trial period with a full refund if you’re not satisfied.

  • Equipment: $500
  • Service Plan: $120/month
  • Download Speed: 30-150 Mbps
  • Upload Speed: 8-20 Mbps
  • Latency: 30-40 ms
Starlink pricing plans.

How Does Satellite Internet Service Work?

Watch the video below for a quick demo to understand how broadband satellite internet works and how it’s evolving.

What’s On The Horizon For Satellite Internet?

Advancements in satellite technology continue to evolve, bringing higher speeds and lower latency into remote homes and underserved communities. A major factor that’s driving latency improvements is the use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, which orbit much closer to the Earth (approximately 550 km away from Earth). SpaceX’s Starlink currently has an estimated 5,800 LEO satellites that cover the entire globe.

For decades, Hughesnet and Viasat have been providing traditional satellite internet using one or two geostationary satellites that orbit the planet at 35,000 km. However, both Hughesnet and Viasat are now beginning to partner with LEO companies to offer better services.

Other companies are taking note. For example, Amazon’s Project Kuiper is expected to launch over 3,000 LEO satellites in its mission to bring fast, affordable broadband internet to unserved and underserved communities around the world. Although Project Kuiper has experienced delays, it plans to offer initial service (similar to Starlink) to some customers in late 2024 with speeds as high as 400 Mbps. I’m excited to see how this new offering rolls out in the coming year.

Need To Boost The WiFi In Your Home?

If you have areas in your home that aren’t getting fast enough internet, you might want to consider getting a good WiFi router and/or extender to help the wireless connection reach throughout your home (or if you plan to use WiFi outdoors). Trouble spots can be an issue no matter what type of home internet you have. Hughesnet is on top of this with their new equipment offerings for satellite internet, but other providers may need more juice.

Why Trust Safe Smart Living?

Sally has been researching and writing about internet service providers for over 10 years. She spends countless hours keeping up with the latest technology, trends, companies, and all things internet-related. She and her team at Safe Smart Living are committed to providing our readers with thoroughly researched and honest reviews about the safest, most trustworthy, and highest-quality services and products you can find on the market for a variety of needs.

Sally Jones

While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s graduate school for journalism and public relations, Sally began a long career researching and writing about hard-to-understand topics, such as insurance and finance. Her additional experience in marketing, fundraising, public relations and financial planning at various foundations and nonprofit organizations over the years has given her the practical tools to inform consumers about making the smartest business and personal financial decisions. Her work has appeared in many notable media outlets, including The Washington Post, Entrepreneur, People, Forbes, Huffington Post, and more. Speaking of smart living — growing up in the (at-the-time) per-capita murder capital of the U.S. (Richmond, VA) taught her a thing or two about the need for personal and home safety. Sally stays on top of all the latest gadgets and services to protect her and her teenage daughters from potential predators and thieves. And she brings this knowledge to every article she writes.
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