Advertisements

For some people in remote areas of the country, broadband coverage is limited or entirely non-existent. In these circumstances, choosing a satellite internet service is necessary to stay connected to the world.

Instead of running along phone lines or dedicated fiber optic cables, which can be difficult or even impossible to install in remote areas, connectivity comes from orbiting satellites. But, as a result, this type of internet connection can be more expensive than mainstream services, and speeds tend to be relatively restricted. That said, satellite internet remains a crucial link for people living in remote areas.

The top two satellite internet providers in the country are HughesNet and Viasat/Exede. Let’s take a look at their features, as well as the pros and cons of each to help you decide which service is best for you.

HughesNet

HughesNet is the most enduring name in the satellite internet market. It was a pioneer in the industry and has swept away the majority of the competition over time.

HughesNet recently launched a new satellite, the EchoStar XIX, and updated its service from Gen4 to Gen5. This upgrade has predominantly been focused on boosting speeds, but coverage consistency and plan value have also improved.

HughesNet has four satellite internet plans, offering monthly data caps of 10GB to 50GB. Although they advertise unlimited data, the reality is that once the plan cap has been reached, your download speeds will be reduced to 3Mbps. Their current pricing structure is as follows:

Plan Price per Month Download Speed Upload Speed
10GB $49.99 25Mbps 3Mbps
20GB $69.99 25Mbps 3Mbps
30GB $99.99 25Mbps 3Mbps
50GB $129.99 25Mbps 3Mbps

 

Equipment can either be hired from HughesNet or bought outright. To purchase a satellite antenna and modem, and have it installed (which is required for service activation) costs just shy of $550. To lease the same equipment and have it installed costs $9.99 per month for a minimum of 24 months, plus a $99 lease set-up fee. Over the course of 2 years, this would cost almost $340. It represents good value to people who intend to keep their service for just two years, but for those who plan to stay on with HughesNet, it may be more economical to purchase equipment outright.

All plans come with a minimum contract length of two years. If you do need to terminate your contract early, this can incur a heavy penalty. The base rate is $400 if the service is canceled within 90 days of activation. Beyond that is a sliding scale, with the fee reducing by $15 per month. There is no charge to cancel the service after the contract term has expired.

If equipment is leased, prompt return is required after the cancellation of service. If HughesNet does not receive the equipment within 45 days of termination, they will charge a fee of up to $300.

Like all telecom companies, HughesNet doesn’t have the best reputation for customer service. A considerable amount of critique tends to center on third-party installation companies, but this does not exonerate HughesNet. It is clear that there remains substantial room for improvement. The company does offer 24/7 telephone support to all customers, but no live chat, Twitter, or email options.

Pros

  • Fast, reliable connectivity for remote areas that are neglected by mainstream services.
  • A range of price plans, providing flexibility according to customer requirements.
  • Transparent pricing.
  • 24/7 customer service telephone line.

Cons

  • 2-year contract can be off-putting for users who require greater flexibility or intend to move within the contract period.
  • ‘Unlimited data’ is misleading; after the monthly data cap has been reached, the service becomes effectively unusable.
  • Poor weather can make the service unreliable, although this is common across all satellite internet providers.
  • Weak reputation for customer service.
  • Expensive cancellation and late equipment return fees.

Viasat/Exede

Formerly known as Exede, the internet provider has recently launched a new satellite and rebranded itself as Viasat. This change has ushered in a noticeable improvement in service, particularly in terms of reliability and speed.

There are five plans to choose from, offering a decent range of speeds and data caps. This is the current structure:

Plan Price per Month

(After 3 Months)

Download Speed Upload Speed Monthly Data Cap
Unlimited Bronze 12 $50 ($70) 12Mbps 3Mbps 40GB
Unlimited Silver 25 $70 ($100) 25Mpbs 3Mbps 60GB
Unlimited Gold 30 $100 ($150) 20Mbps 3Mbps 100GB
Unlimited Gold 50 $100 ($150) 50Mbps 3Mbps 100GB
Unlimited Platinum 100 $150 ($200) 100Mbps 3Mbps 150GB

 

Although we would prefer to see consistent pricing across the entirety of a contract length, Viasat still represents reasonable value for a satellite internet provider. For high-volume users, including businesses, the Unlimited Platinum 100 is impressive.

Equipment can only be leased, either for $9.99 per month or a lifetime lease of $299. If you plan to retain your plan for more than 30 months, a lifetime lease is the sensible option. The minimum contract length is two years, and a penalty of $15 per remaining month will be charged in case of early termination.

Like HughesNet, customer service isn’t spectacular with Viasat; again, third-party installation services crop up as a regular source of consternation. There is a 24/7 support line, as well as an online form and customer service mailbox.

Pros

  • Fast, reliable connectivity for remote areas that are neglected by mainstream services.
  • A wider range of plans – including one for heavy use.
  • Improvement in service since 2017 rebrand.
  • More customer service options than HughesNet

Cons

  • Increase in plan prices after 3 months.
  • Poor weather can make the service unreliable, although this is common across all satellite internet providers.
  • Customer services still requires improvement.
  • Expensive cancellation fees.

What to Consider When Choosing a Satellite Internet Provider

internet

If you’re in the market for a satellite internet plan, there are some points to consider when making your choice.

Usage

Be realistic about how much data you actually use. If you’re a light user, a heavy-duty plan is needlessly expensive. Likewise, if you have multiple demands on your connection, a low-cost plan will likely leave you disappointed.

Download and upload speeds

If you have a specific need for the highest possible download and upload speeds – particularly if this is crucial to your work – aim for the upper end of each service.

Data cap

Casual users needn’t be too concerned about download caps, but if you’re consistently online – again, particularly for work – it’s best to choose the highest cap you can afford.

Price

Satellite internet services aren’t cheap. Give careful consideration to your current and future needs when taking out a plan, and don’t feel pressured into over-committing.

The Verdict

On balance, the best overall experience is found with Viasat. There’s a wider choice of plans, with the Unlimited Platinum 100 offering a service on par with DSL packages, although at a significantly higher price point!

HughesNet still offers great options for remote users, particularly the affordable 10GB plan for light users, and we appreciate the consistent price structure. However, Viasat services still edge ahead for most categories of consumers.  HughesNet is planning on launching another satellite before 2020, so it is worth keeping an eye on how data and speeds improve in the future.

Advertisements