The Best Satellite Internet Providers of 2018
Satellite internet is the best way to get online if broadband is out of reach. Unfortunately, you have very few satellite internet providers to choose from. HughesNet and Viasat (formerly Exede) are the only two major companies offering country-wide satellite internet today. If you’re looking for a rural internet alternative to mobile, DSL, or dial-up, you probably want something fast, affordable, and reliable. Luckily, both HughesNet and Viasat can satisfy these criteria. Below, we break down the features of each satellite internet provider to help you decide which is right for you.
HughesNet – #1 Rated Satellite Internet Provider
HughesNet is our top pick for best satellite internet provider. This is largely due to their value, consistent speeds, widespread availability, and extensive extra features. HughesNet offers four tiered plans providing data from 10 GB to 50 GB with no hard data caps. Plus, the HughesNet Bonus Zone allows you to extend your monthly data even more. All HughesNet plans include a modem with built-in Wi-Fi, so customers can get their wireless devices connected without having to purchase a separate router. HughesNet’s new Gen5 plans launched with their most recent satellite, boosting speeds and improving their service reach. As a result, all HughesNet Gen5 plans offer speeds of up to 25 Mbps, nation-wide. Our runner-up, Viasat, also has great potential but falls behind due to inconsistent speeds and low availability of their new premium plans.
Viasat – Runner-Up
Like HughesNet, Viasat has a lot of great features to be enjoyed. They offer a money-saving Hibernation Plan, an unlimited data Free Zone, and no data caps. Currently, Viasat’s most widely available packages offer speeds of up to 12 Mbps in most areas and 25 Mbps in others. Viasat is actively working to improve their service speeds and availability after the recent launch of their ViaSat-2 satellite. With this launch, they promised to roll out new unlimited data plans and offer speeds up to 100 Mbps. So far, these plans have failed to reach most areas of the country and are only available to a few lucky customers. But if you live in the right place, you may be able to get your hands on some of the fastest satellite internet speeds available today!
Packages and Pricing
HughesNet 4.0/5.0 | Viasat 3.0/5.0
Satellite internet providers often make their plans available on a regional basis, so the exact packages listed below may not be available to you.
HughesNet Gen5 Packages
|Packages||Promo Pricing||Download Speed||Upload Speed||Details|
|10 GB||$49.99/mo.||25 Mbps||3 Mbps||VIEW PLAN|
|20 GB||$59.99/mo.||25 Mbps||3 Mbps||VIEW PLAN|
|30 GB||$79.99/mo.||25 Mbps||3 Mbps||VIEW PLAN|
|50 GB||$99.99/mo.||25 Mbps||3 Mbps||VIEW PLAN|
*Prices vary based on location. The majority will have the above plans available to them. HughesNet offers the same 25 Mbps download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds across all of their plans. This is where HughesNet is a better choice for satellite internet since Viasat cannot offer the same high speeds to all of their customers. Each HughesNet plan also includes built-in Wi-Fi, a 2-year price lock guarantee, no hard data caps, and 50 GB of extra monthly data during the Bonus Zone (2 am to 8 am). HughesNet’s promotional pricing is available on their two cheapest packages and will last for the duration of your 24-month contract. HughesNet customers can choose from 10, 20, 30, and 50 GB of monthly data starting at $39.99. The only difference between HughesNet’s plans is the amount of data you can use each month before your internet speeds decrease. You will still be able to get online if you reach your data limits, but you may not be able to stream video or download large files.
Viasat Liberty Plans
Viasat currently has two main sets of internet packages, called Unlimited plans and Liberty Plans. Customers in most locations will only be eligible for the Liberty Plans, so we’ll start there.
|Packages||Promo Pricing||Regular Price||Download Speed||Upload Speed|
|Liberty 12||$30/month||$50/month||12-25 Mbps||3 Mbps|
|Liberty 25||$50/month||$75/month||12-25 Mbps||3 Mbps|
|Liberty 50||$75/month||$100/month||12-25 Mbps||3 Mbps|
*Prices vary based on location. The majority will have the above plans available to them. The Liberty Plans offer data limits of 12, 25, and 50 GB per month. Viasat’s packages appear cheaper than HughesNet’s due to their heavily discounted promotional pricing, but customers can expect to be charged regular plan prices after their first three months. Though you do get a bit more data for the price from Viasat, many customers will only be eligible for internet speeds of up to 12 Mbps. Remember that with HughesNet, all customers can expect speeds up to 25 Mbps.
Viasat’s Unlimited Plans
|Packages||Promo Pricing||Regular Price||Download Speed||Upload Speed|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$50/month||$70/month||12 Mbps||3 Mbps|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$70/month||$100/month||25 Mbps||3 Mbps|
|Unlimited Gold 50||$100/month||$150/month||50 Mbps||3 Mbps|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||$150/month||$200/month||100 Mbps||3 Mbps|
*Prices vary based on location. Viasat’s unlimited plans are only available in a few select markets. Viasat’s new unlimited plans offer zero data caps and significantly higher speeds than their Liberty Plans. Depending on your location, you may be able to choose between four different internet speeds for your service. However, speeds between 50 Mbps and 100 Mbps are only available in a few select locations. Plus, these unlimited plans aren’t cheap! Viasat’s highest speed plan will cost you $200/month once your 3-month promotional term ends. For those skeptical of unlimited data claims, we’ve dug into Viasat’s fine print. Even on the Unlimited plans, Viasat may prioritize other customer’s data over yours if you use a certain amount of data in a month. This will result in slower speeds during congested hours. The unlimited plans also restrict your video streaming quality depending on which internet speeds you’re paying for. For example, the Unlimited Bronze 12 plan streams videos at 360p and Unlimited Silver 25 at 480p. This may be a downside to people who don’t want to pay for higher-priced plans but still wish to stream videos in HD.
Features and Benefits
HughesNet 4.0/5.0 | Viasat 3.0/5.0
No Hard Data Caps
Both HughesNet and Viasat won’t restrict your internet usage with hard data limits. Once you use up Viasat’s Priority Data from your Liberty Plan, you can tap into free data at throttled speeds (1-3 Mbps) with their Liberty Pass. If you reach your monthly data limit with HughesNet, your internet will similarly be slowed for the rest of the month instead of being cut off completely. This means you’ll be able to keep using the internet for light browsing and e-mail. Both companies also offer data top-offs which will immediately return your service to regular speeds. The difference is that HughesNet’s Data Tokens cost $3 per GB while Viasat’s extra data costs $10 per GB.
HughesNet and Viasat both offer bonus data during the night, incentivizing customers to make heavy downloads at less congested times. When you use the internet during HughesNet’s Bonus Zone (between 2 am and 8 am daily), you will chip into 50 GB of extra data instead of using your plan data. Viasat’s Free Zone is half as long (3 am to 6 am) but provides unlimited extra data during this time.
Both companies will send a qualified technician to your house to install your satellite dish and modem. Free installation may be available from Viasat depending on your service area. The Viasat technician will conduct signal tests, set up equipment, and show you how to access your Viasat account online. HughesNet customers may be eligible for a free installation as well, however, this is typically a limited-time promotional offer. The HughesNet technician will set up all equipment for you, including your Wi-Fi modem. They’ll even connect up to two wireless devices to your new Wi-Fi network to get you started.
Every HughesNet customer can create up to 10 email accounts, each with 10 GB of storage space. Viasat stopped offering email accounts in 2017, but previous customers will still be able to access their WildBlue or Exede email.
Data Saving Features
HughesNet’s Video Data Saver is a handy way to save your monthly data, so you can avoid reaching your limit and getting hit with throttled speeds. The Video Data Saver can easily be switched on and off from your account and will automatically adjust the quality of videos you’re watching to DVD quality (480p). Viasat has the same feature, called the Video Data Extender which is available to all customers on their Liberty Plans. Viasat also offers the Viasat Browser, driven by artificial intelligence to load pages more efficiently and cut down on data use.
Extra Care and Repairs
Viasat offers customers an extra level of support with EasyCare. EasyCare costs $5.99 per month and gives customers access to free service calls, shorter phone wait times, and a free annual dish relocation at the same address. Similarly, HughesNet offers Express Repair which ensures your internet service is restored as quickly as possible if there is a problem. It costs $7.95/month for Basic Service (a technician will help you out within 2 business days) and $11.95/month for Premium Service (a technician will arrive the next business day). Unlike Viasat’s EasyCare support, you will still have to pay $99 for onsite visits during your first month of HughesNet’s Express Repair and $29.95 for visits after that.
Viasat’s Hibernation Plan allows customers to save money by suspending their service for up to 6 months of the year. This is useful if you want to travel or if you’re using satellite internet in your vacation home. On the Hibernation Plan, customers are charged $9.99 per month and any lease fees. HughesNet customers may have a similar option, but they will have to speak with a customer service agent to come to a suspension agreement.
Modem and Routers
HughesNet 4.0/5.0 | Viasat 4.0/5.0
Both Viasat and HughesNet plans include a satellite dish and modem for a $9.99/month lease fee. HughesNet’s lease fee will increase to $14.99/month after two years, so customers may want to purchase their HughesNet equipment for an upfront cost of $349.98 instead. You will be able to keep the purchased equipment when you cancel your service. Viasat’s equipment can be purchased for just $299.99 but will have to be returned upon cancellation.
HughesNet’s two-in-one HT2000W Wi-Fi Modem and router is available to all customers in all regions. Viasat also offers a Wi-Fi modem in some locations, but there is no guarantee that the Viasat modem you receive will include a router. You may have to purchase an additional router elsewhere or lease the Viasat Wi-Fi Modem for an additional $5 per month.
Both HughesNet’s Wi-Fi Modem and Viasat’s Wi-Fi Modem provide advanced dual-band frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, so you can connect your devices to the strongest Wi-Fi signal. The Wi-Fi modems also support WPS, WEP, and WPA security standards and allow you to create a separate guest network.
HughesNet 3.0/5.0 | Viasat 3.5/5.0
Both HughesNet and Viasat customer support can be reached by phone, instant chat, and email. The two companies claim to reply to emails within 24 hours and quickly respond to chat requests. The HughesNet knowledgebase is designed to provide support articles. However, this knowledgebase lacks any kind of organization and is awkward to search through. If you like DIY support, you may enjoy Viasat’s help pages more. These contain many helpful articles as well as a community forum. Neither HughesNet nor Viasat is known for their customer service. Often, HughesNet customers report friendly interactions with service agents and quick installations by technicians. Other times, customers have felt ignored and misled. Similar reports have been given by Viasat customers who claim that service agents are constantly pushing upgrades on them or making false promises.
What About Other Satellite Internet Providers?
You may be surprised that there are only two satellite internet providers to choose from. This wasn’t always the case. Many smaller satellite internet providers have been bought up by either Viasat or HughesNet while other providers simply resell their packages. A few small companies can be found servicing small areas and niche markets in the United States.
DISH’s main services are satellite television, but the company also offers high-speed internet through a partnership with HughesNet.
Viasat has been a parent company of Exede, owning and operating the company under “Exede” until early 2018 when it dropped the name for “Viasat Internet”. Little has changed since the company changed names except for the launch of Viasat’s unlimited plans.
WildBlue was a much earlier generation satellite internet provider. Viasat acquired WildBlue Communications back in 2009 and most WildBlue customers have upgraded to Exede or Viasat internet services.
Earthlink used to offer its own satellite internet services. Now, the company has been acquired by Windstream Holdings, Inc., and provides high-speed broadband internet. They still offer DSL internet to people in remote areas and are an authorized retailer of HughesNet Satellite Internet.
Satellite internet may not be your first choice if you have high-speed cable internet available to you. But for many people, satellite internet is the best and only way to get high-speed internet in a rural location. Viasat is a great option, with loads of useful features and speedy unlimited data plans on the horizon. However, the sparse availability of their new services still puts Viasat in a close second. HughesNet’s Gen5 plans offer consistently high speeds to all customers, stable pricing, and wide plan availability across the country. That being said, both HughesNet and Viasat are solid satellite internet providers.