When you live in a rural area, the idea of cable or DSL internet like Xfinity or AT&T can seem laughable – a pipedream. Dial-up or satellite internet can be the only way to go – and of the two, satellite is the far better option.
The thing is, there are actually only 2 options available to you for satellite internet service providers (ISPs): Viasat and HughesNet. And if you want respectable speeds, we definitely recommend Viasat.
Formerly known as Exede, Viasat launched a second satellite into orbit in 2018, allowing them to boost their internet speeds up to 100Mbps — comparable with DSL speeds. And with a wide variety of plans and speed options, Viasat is a formidable ISP – and sometimes the only option.
Prices + Plans
|Plans||Initial price||After 3-mo. Price||Data speeds||Data threshold||View plans|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||$50/mo.*||$70/mo.*||12Mbps**||40GB||View plans|
|Unlimited Silver 12||$65/mo.*||$95/mo.*||12Mbps**||60GB||View plans|
|Unlimited Gold 12||$95/mo.*||$145/mo.*||12Mbps**||100GB||View plans|
|Unlimited Bronze 25||$50/mo.*||$70/mo.*||25Mbps**||35GB||View plans|
|Unlimited Silver 25||$70/mo.*||$100/mo.*||25Mbps**||60GB||View plans|
|Unlimited Gold 30||$100/mo.*||$100/mo.*||30Mbps**||100GB||View plans|
|Unlimited Gold 50||$100/mo.*||$150/mo.*||50Mbps**||100GB||View plans|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||$150/mo.*||$200/mo.*||100Mbps**||150GB||View plans|
* Prices and plans vary with location.
** Up to speeds listed. Actual speeds may vary.
As a satellite ISP, Viasat is able to provide service just about everywhere, but that availability comes at cost. Viasat boasts some of the most expensive plans for the megabits they offer - considerably more so than DSL or cable plans.
Alas, that’s the cost of living beyond the reach of the cable/DSL “grid.”
So, if you’ve previously used DSL or cable internet — oh my lanta. But, that’s the name of the game for satellite internet. If you have a choice to use a different type of internet (like cable or DSL) – do it. You’ll get faster speeds for less in nearly all cases.
But in comparison to HughesNet, Viasat has a better dollar-for-Mbps ration: in most cases, you’ll get more speed for the same or less. For example, one of Viasat’s 25Mbps plans are the same cost as either of HughesNet’s 20 or 30GB plans — and with a much larger data threshold.
That said, we’ve got a big gripe about Viasat’s plans and pricing, which we’ve talked about in our “Best Satellite ISPs” comparison review: Viasat’s transparency sucks, plain and simple.
Depending on where you’re located in the U.S., you’ll get a different selection of plans and prices. For example, when I input my zip code, not only did I get higher prices for the Unlimited Silver 25 (by $50 a month!), but I also saw the “Liberty” plans, of which I hadn’t seen before.
Plus, I was under the impression that they didn’t do discounts anymore — yet my editor was offer a myriad of them when he typed in his own zip code.
Lastly, we had to trawl through Viasat’s website repeatedly just to find some of their plans.
So basically, before you jump on the bandwagon expecting awesome speeds — use their availability checker to see if the plans in your region will actually be better than HughesNet. They might not be.
We got a little off track there with my rant, so I apologize. We mentioned higher data caps than HughesNet helping to make Viasat a better-priced option at times. Well, while HughesNet’s plans are structured around the amount of high-speed data you get before being throttled (10GB, 20GB, 30GB, etc), Viasat offers much higher options before you’re speeds are slowed down - and there are no overage fees if you do.
For example, the Unlimited Bronze 12 starts you at a 40GB data threshold. If it’s your area, the highest-tier Unlimited Platinum 100 gives you 150GB of data before throttling starts – and there’s the option to upgrade to unlimited data, too.
And even if you only have the less-advertised Liberty plan options like I got, which had as low as 12GB of data, you also get “Free Zones.” Every customer gets a 5-hour window of time where you can use unlimited data without having it count toward your data allotment for the month.
The exact hours vary, but typically fall between midnight and 8am. For instance, my free zone would be between 3am and 6am every single day. This period of time is simply a low-usage time when few people are using the internet bandwidth.
The Free Zone is a great chunk of time to take advantage of downloading large files, like games, video, or updates.
Viasat also offers a no-contract option if you want to skip a 2-year commitment — but there’s a kicker: it’ll cost you $300 to opt out. Ouch. If you think you’ll stick with Viasat for at least 2 years – go with the contract.
Of course, if you decide to go with the contract, but change your mind later and want to cancel, you’ll face early termination fees (ETF) of up to $300. The good news is it’s prorated and just $15 for every month remaining, so it’s cheaper than sticking it out – but a few hundred dollars at once can be painful to stomach.
The price jump
As you might have noticed above, Viasat has a 3-month price jump: you start out at a great price, then it leaps up. The thing is, you wouldn’t know it: they advertise a 2-year pricelock, but they’re sneaky – that pricelock doesn’t take effect until after the 3-month jump.
|Plans||Data speeds||View plans|
|Unlimited Bronze 12||12Mbps**||View plans|
|Unlimited Silver 12||12Mbps**||View plans|
|Unlimited Gold 12||12Mbps**||View plans|
|Unlimited Bronze 25||25Mbps**||View plans|
|Unlimited Silver 25||25Mbps**||View plans|
|Unlimited Gold 30||30Mbps**||View plans|
|Unlimited Gold 50||50Mbps**||View plans|
|Unlimited Platinum 100||100Mbps**||View plans|
* Up to speeds listed. Actual speeds may vary.
As we already mentioned earlier, Viasat launched a 2nd satellite into orbit in 2018. This allows them to provide never-before-seen-from-satellite internet speeds of up to 100Mbps -- 4 times HughesNet’s highest speed of 25Mbps.
That said, while impressive in comparison to the other satellite provider, Viasat’s 100Mbps top-end speed is still short of the speeds that cable, DSL, and fiber-optic internet can offer. For many ISPs offering those delivery types, 100Mbps is their starting speed, and top-end speeds can reach 1Gbps or even 2Gbps – crazy fast.
And Viasat’s lower speeds are slow indeed — as low as 12Mbps, which is half the standard HughesNet speed of 25Mbps. For a reference point, 12Mbps is just enough speed for 1-2 people to check their email, surf the web, and stream Netflix – but that’s about it.
So while Viasat offers higher middle- and top-range speeds than direct competitor HughesNet, if you can’t get those speeds in your area, you might actually be better off going with HughesNet. You’ll simply have to see what’s in your area – and test whether you’re actually getting those speeds.
Latency - a problem with satellite internet
Latency, also known as ping, in simple terms is the time it takes for your internet data to travel to and from point A to point B. With satellite internet, there are a lot of stops in between: your device, your dish, to the orbiting satellite, to a stationary dish on the ground… so it’s more like point A to Point B to Point C to Point D… and back.
That’s the primary reason satellite internet offers such slow speeds: so far, there’s only so much they can do about latency. But tech is advancing, and I’m sure we’ll see faster and faster speeds soon.
In the meantime, live-action video games aren’t going to work that well with a satellite connection.
We mentioned data caps already in the “Overages” section, but they bear mentioning again. Viasat advertised their data as being unlimited – and that’s true. But, high-speed data is not. You get a certain amount of data before you’ll get slowed down. For reference, by each plan’s price range:
- 40GB threshold — $50-$70/mo.
- 60GB threshold — $70-$100/mo.
- 100GB threshold — $100-$150/mo.
150GB threshold — $150-$200/mo.
Those are actually pretty good - aside from higher data speeds, you tend to get a higher threshold with Viasat than with HughesNet. For example, Viasat’s Unlimited Bronze 25 gives you 35GB of data for $50, then $70 a month at 25Mbps download speeds. HughesNet’s closest plan gives you 30GB of data per month for $100 a month. That’s a huge difference.
Equipment + Setup
|Price||$9.99/mo.||$299 (one time)|
Satellite internet works by having a dish installed on your roof or the side of your home, with its face facing south. It’s then wired into a modem and router in your home (“gateway”). A professional will come and install them, typically as a contractor for your ISP.
It’ll probably take a few hours – 2 or 3. Arrival time will likely vary, unfortunately, so you may be best taking half or the whole day off from work. This is pretty standard, and Viasat is no exception.
When it comes to owning or leasing the equipment — dish + gateway — Viasat doesn’t let you buy it. You get two options, instead: month-to-month lease or a lifetime lease.
Month-to-month is pretty cheap: just tack $9.99 a month to your bill. Lifetime takes that $9.99 off, but at $299, you’d need to stick with Viasat for almost 3 years (30 months, to be exact). If you can afford that and intend to do so, then all power to you — it’ll probably be worth it.
ISPs, like the rest of the telecommunications industry, are highly-complained about. In this age, no one wants to be without internet. Viasat is no exception.
Since they launched their second satellite, Viasat has become the fastest of the two satellite internet service providers available. Although more expensive than DSL or cable (by a lot), when you live in a rural area, you don’t have any other options if you want internet access.
So with typically higher speeds for the money (depending on your specific region), Viasat tends to be the better of the two satellite options available. Test Viasat, compare it to HughesNet for your area, and see for yourself.
Can you game with Viasat?
Yes and no. Because of the long latency, satellite internet in general -- both Viasat and HughesNet -- will not work well for live-action multiplayer games like Call of Duty or most online MMORPGs.
For other games, however, it can work just fine — just remember that if you’re downloading a game, take advantage of the Free Zone so you don’t use up all your data.
Where is Viasat available?
Viasat is available in 49 states, with Alaska being the only one missing. You’re most likely to find the fastest speeds in California, Texas, and New York.
Can you stream Netflix with Viasat?
Is Viasat better than HughesNet?
We covered this more widely in our head-to-head review on the best satellite internet providers, but we’ll touch briefly on the competition here. HughesNet is the only other one, and their big advantage over Viasat is as a budget provider with straightforward pricing.
While Viasat’s plans and prices vary, and they have that 3-month rate hike, HughesNet stays rock-steady: all 4 of their plans offer the same speed (25Mbps) and are available across their coverage area for the same prices, no matter where you are.
Before Viasat launched their new satellite, HughesNet was the dominant force — but since then, the latter has struggled to match Viasat’s relatively blazing speeds and higher data thresholds. Although tending to be a lower cost overall, HughesNet still loses the dollar-to-Mbps game to Viasat, too.