We dug deep into each satellite internet provider’s website and read the fine print in their contracts to find out what is included in their plans and their terms and conditions. Based on what we found, we believe HughesNet is the best option. It provides good, fast internet service in most of the lower 48 states as well as parts of Alaska, Hawaii and Canada, and the same four plans are offered in all locations. Most communication companies, including satellite TV provider DISH, partner with HughesNet to provide satellite internet services to their customers.
HughesNet Gen5’s four service plans are available in every service area and all have download speeds of 25Mbps. It also provides internet service for other satellite communication companies’ customers.
If you have DISH satellite TV, you can get HughesNet satellite internet at a discounted price. You can choose from four plans and all offer 25Mbps download speeds.
Fastest Downstream Satellite Internet
Viasat’s fastest download speed is 30Mbps, plus it offers unlimited data plans in some areas, including Alaska. Standard installation is free, and your package price is guaranteed for three years.
HughesNet Gen5 is so good that many communication companies, including DISH and Earthlink, partner with it to provide satellite internet services to their customers.
It only has four plans, but they range from 10GB to 50GB of bandwidth, which is much more than other companies, most of which only offer between 5GB and 25GB. These four plans are available everywhere in the continental U.S. And with HughesNet’s price lock guarantee, the price won’t increase during your full two-year contract. Every plan comes with 25Mbps download speeds, which is one of the fastest rates available.
If you use up your allotted bandwidth during the month, HughesNet doesn’t cut off your internet service. Instead, it slows your download speed to 1Mbps – that isn’t fast enough to watch videos, though you should still be able to send emails. You get an additional 50GB each month to use at full speeds during HughesNet’s Bonus Zone, which is the off-peak hours between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. each day.
The company’s satellite internet service comes with built-in Wi-Fi, so you can use it with cell phones, smart home appliances and thermostats. Also, many television providers, such as DISH, let you bundle their services with HughesNet for a discount.
DISH is a reseller of HughesNet satellite internet, and it offers discounts if you bundle internet with one of its television subscriptions. Plans are even further discounted if you add telephone service, which makes DISH one of the best values for satellite internet.
You can choose from the same four service plans available directly through HughesNet, and they cost between $50 and $130 a month. Satellite internet through DISH is only a good deal if you want or already have satellite TV.
If you are a new customer, you can have the receivers and equipment installed and set up for free. The equipment leasing fee doesn’t change, and it’s around $15 per month. The $99 activation fee may be waived, depending on the plan you choose and the deal you make while talking to DISH representatives.
As when you buy directly through HughesNet, all the plans come with 25Mbps download speeds. This is fast enough for someone to browse the web while another person watches their favorite television show without slowdown or buffering. If you reach your monthly data limit, which varies by plan between 10GB and 50GB, you can still access the internet, though at a much slower speed until your next billing cycle begins. To speak to a DISH representative for more details, call 1-877-298-2324.
Fastest Downstream Satellite Internet
Viasat, formerly WildBlue, teamed up with Exede to provide satellite internet service to areas it previously didn’t cover.
While it covers a lot of areas, its plans vary by location. In some places, Viasat only offers 5Mbps downstream speeds, and in other locations it can reach up to 30Mbps, the fastest download speed of any service we evaluated. Most areas have plans with speeds between 12Mbps and 25Mbps, which is comparable to DSL internet service and fast enough to stream videos from Netflix, download files quickly and play online games.
The company also has unlimited data plans. However, most Viasat’s plans have data caps between 12GB and 50GB. If you reach your data limit, you can still connect to the internet, but your connection is slowed down to 480p – this isn’t fast enough to watch a video on YouTube, but you can still search the web and send out email. Most of Viasat’s plans are cheaper for the first three months of service, usually by $20 to $50, but the price goes up for the remainder of your contract.
Internet Security Included
Earthlink provides satellite internet service through HughesNet, but it offers a discount if you bundle it with its web building and hosting services.
And part of that bundle includes internet security through Norton Security, a good protection program that blocks viruses, Trojans, rootkits, ransomware and several other malware threats. All the satellite packages EarthLink offers have a minimum of 25 Mbps download speeds, which is fast enough to support several people connected at once without causing slowdown. EarthLink offers a hibernation plan that lets you suspend service during months you’re not at home, which is good if you use HughesNet at a cabin or summer home. But these months will be tacked on to the end of your contract rather than forgiven entirely.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Speed & Performance||Bandwidth Threshold||Account & Contract||Support & Resources||Basic Plan Estimate (monthly)||Installation Cost Estimate||Equipment Leasing Fee (monthly)||Activation Fee Estimate||Base Optimal Downstream (Mbps)||Premium Optimal Downstream (Mbps)||Base Optimal Upstream (Mbps)||Premium Optimal Upstream (Mbps)||Base Anytime Bandwidth (GB)||Premium Anytime Bandwidth (GB)||Late Night Bandwidth (GB)||Bandwidth Throttling At Data Cap||Can Purchase Overage Data||Number of Plans||Early Termination Fee||Hibernation Plan Available||Phone||Dedicated Customer Support Portal||Live Chat||Online Resources|
|HughesNet||View Deal (opens in new tab)||5/5||10||10||8.3||10||$49.99||$0 - $149||$14.99||$99||25||25||3||3||10||50||50||Yes||✓||Up to 4||$400 w/in first 90 day. After, deduct $15/month||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Viasat||View Deal||4.5/5||9.8||8.8||8||10||$50||$0 - $99.99||$9.99||$0 - $99.99||Varies by plan||30||3||3||Varies by plan||Varies by plan||Varies by plan||Yes||✓||Up to 10||$15/each remaining contracted month||✓||✓||✓||-||✓||✓|
|EarthLink||View Deal||4.5/5||10||9.3||6.8||8.5||$49.99||$0 - $149||$14.99||$99||25||25||3||3||10||50||50||Yes||✓||Up to 4||$400 w/in first 90 day. After, deduct $15/month||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
|Dish||View Deal||4/5||10||6.8||6.3||10||$49.99||$0 - $149||$14.99||$99||25||15||3||3||10||50||50||Yes||✓||Up to 4||$17/ each remaining contracted month||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓|
Why Trust Us?
We have researched and evaluated satellite internet service providers for eight years. We also review traditional internet providers and other web-related services, so we’ve learned the lingo and know the minimum requirements for a good user experience. Many Top Ten Reviews testers have offered their knowledge, expertise and personal experiences with satellite internet to help us understand the mechanics of how it works, what to expect from providers and when satellite internet is the best option.
In addition to relying on our own expertise, we read about other people’s experiences in blogs, product feedback and online reviews to learn about quirks of the industry and gauge what consumers can realistically expect from a satellite internet provider. We stay on top of news releases and articles about the changing market to ensure the information we provide is relevant and useful to you.
How We Tested
There isn’t an easy way to test satellite internet because providers require a two-year contract, plus the installation of special equipment. Also, because speeds vary based on the plan you have, where you live, what time you are online and several other variables, it isn’t very likely we’d be able to recreate an optimal test environment. So, we pored over each provider’s website, reading terms and conditions, footnotes, and legal contracts and documents to understand exactly what you’re charged for (equipment leases, installation and activation fees) and if there are special conditions for existing versus new customers.
To get an idea of each provider’s plans, prices and coverage, we armed ourselves with eight residential addresses in popular areas, such as Tampa, Florida; Castro Valley, CA; and Springfield, VA, as well as places in Alaska, Hawaii, and British Columbia, Canada. We learned it’s tricky to get coverage outside of the continental U.S., and you need to contact providers for most information.
How Much Does Satellite Internet Cost?
Basic satellite internet packages start at $50 and gradually increase as you choose faster download speeds or more bandwidth. You can also expect to pay between $100 and $150 for installation, $15 per month to rent hardware and a one-time activation fee of $100.
Is Satellite Internet as Fast as Cable?
As with any internet connection, the speed of your connection depends on what is available in your area, the package you’ve signed up for and how many people are connected at once, both in your home and on the service provider’s network. Both cable and satellite internet connections provide packages with the optimal download speeds of 25Mbps, which is the speed experts suggest for online gaming, TV streaming services and connective multiple devices at a time. Cable internet services, however, often have packages that have higher connection speeds, some as much as 2 Gbps, while only one satellite internet service company, Viasat, has a package with 30 Mbps downstream speeds.
The biggest difference between most cable internet service companies and satellite ISPs is satellite internet services tend to place a monthly data use cap. Once you reach this cap your internet speeds dramatically decrease until your next monthly billing cycle begins. The biggest data package we’ve seen is 50GB, which is enough bandwidth to stream TV services, like Netflix, for about 75 hours each month, or browse social media pages for about five hours each day during your billing cycle. You can purchase more bandwidth on a month-by-month basis, but it tends to be much more expensive if you consistently need more data each month than if you invest in a cable internet service.
How to Choose a Satellite Internet Provider
Satellite internet is ideal for people living in rural areas who don’t have access to standard cable or fiber optic internet services. The best satellite internet providers offer coverage in virtually the entire continental U.S. and keep you connected to fast internet regardless of where you live.
How Does Satellite Internet Work?
Though it depends on your connection and the plan you subscribe to, downstream speeds are generally faster than upstream speeds and can range from about 0.5Mbps to roughly 30Mbps – typically, they’re about 12Mbps. The downstream, or download, speed affects how long it takes to buffer movies or download music or photos, as it’s essentially how fast you can get a signal from the satellite and provider. Upload speeds range from 1Mbps to 3Mbps and affect how long it takes to share videos, pictures or music on social media sites. Typically, you have much more downstream allowance than upstream.
Each company we reviewed offers plans that differ based on speed, data or both. Low-data plans are cheaper than high-data plans, and most providers have a tool on their website to help you assess how much data you need. Truly unlimited data plans for streaming lots of movies or playing online video games don’t really exist for satellite internet because of the limited amount of satellite resources given to internet providers and the need to keep bandwidth open for other customers.
Bandwidth Threshold: More Means Multitasking
Similar to a cell phone plan, each satellite internet plan allots you a certain amount of data to use per month, usually somewhere between 10GB and 50GB. With most service providers, if you go over your allotted data, your speeds are throttled – you can still access the internet but at much slower speeds until the next month, when your data limit refreshes. However, some companies allow you to pay for a small amount of additional data once your go over your original limit, though usually no more than a couple of gigabytes.
Another thing to consider when looking at satellite internet providers is whether a company offers unlimited, unmetered or extra internet access during off-peak or early-bird hours, usually between midnight and 8 a.m. Depending on the provider, during those hours you can download large files without it counting against your allotted data for the month. This feature helps balance the monthly data caps and gives you a little more enjoyment for your money.
Account & Contracts: Know Your Options
When you purchase satellite internet you usually have to sign a contract with the provider, typically for two years. Talk with the provider you choose to see whether it can lock you in at its introductory price for your entire contract term or find out if that cost rises after a few months.
In case you travel and are away from home for long periods of time, most providers offer hibernation plans. They stop your service but maintain your contract, though the company may still charge you the same or a reduced cost each month.
You can cancel your service before your contract term is up, but you will most likely have to deal with early termination fees. Many companies charge a large lump sum plus an additional fee for each remaining month in your contract, but this varies by provider.
Equipment & Installation: What’s Included
It takes roughly three to four hours to install a satellite dish, and it must be done by a licensed professional using company-provided equipment. There are no options to install any part of the system yourself or to use cheaper equipment. Some companies provide a 90-day warranty on the installation, but not all do. After this small window closes, most satellite internet providers charge you to have someone come out to reposition your dish or troubleshoot your system.
You can purchase the necessary equipment up front or make a monthly lease payment. While it may be cheaper to buy the equipment outright, you don’t get the same warranties and equipment upgrades that come with leasing. Some providers offer free installation if you choose to lease. Make sure the installer checks that your router and other equipment work before leaving, and most can help you connect your internet-enabled devices during the installation visit.