If you recently moved to a more rural area, you have probably experienced firsthand the difficulties that arise when comparing satellite internet providers.
Satellite Internet stands as one of the more popular options for residents outside of the city, but not all satellite providers are created equal. In fact, differences emerge when you start comparing speed, data allowances, and pricing. To save you time from calling around, we’ve analyzed each of the most popular choices for satellite Internet with full transparency in regards to specific features and pricing. Furthermore, we’ve outlined some of the things you should consider before deciding to choose satellite Internet as your primary service provider. Finally, we’ve taken the liberty to separate fact from fiction in regards to some of the common held beliefs that people have about satellite Internet. Our ultimate goal is for you to make an informed choice that manifests into a solid Internet provider that best fits your individual needs and budget.
With over 1 million customers in the United States and over 40 years in experience with satellite technology, Hughes Communications stands as one of the more popular choices for high-speed Internet in rural locations. In 2012, Hughes launched the EchoStar XVII satellite which brought new plans that featured faster download speeds and increased bandwidth. Like most Internet providers, current promotions and plans are determined by a customer’s specific area. With that being said, HughesNet’s plans feature download speeds between 5 and 15 mbps and data allowances between 10 and 100 GB. With HughesNet, data allowances are split into two different time frames that include ‘Anytime Data’ and ‘Bonus Bytes’. Bonus Bytes can be utilized by a customer between the hours of 2 a.m. and 8 a.m.
In many areas HughesNet offers Smart Browsing, a proprietary service which essentially allows customers to continue surfing the web even if they’ve exceeded their data allowance. While Smart Browsing doesn’t work with data intensive activities like streaming video, a user can access many websites and access their email at high speeds. In addition to Smart Browsing, HughesNet offers their customers various resources to help their customers get the most out of their service including a download manager to take advantage of the Bonus Bytes. Additionally, customers get access to the Status Meter which lets you monitor your data consumption throughout the month.
HughesNet offers 24/7 technical support via phone, email, and chat. An onsite technician visit can be costly without one of HughesNet’s warranties. To avoid a costly technician visit, you can elect to sign up for one of HughesNet’s repair warranties which are generally free for the first 30 days of service. The Express Repair Premium plan ensures a technician is dispatched within 24 hours to repair an issue for $11.95 a month. The Express Repair Basic plan is cheaper at only $7.95 a month, but a technician would have up to 72 hours to fix any issue a customer might face.
Emerging in 2012 through ViaSat, Exede Internet service quickly earned accolades through their innovative technology. Currently serving nearly 700,000 U.S. residents through the the ViaSat-1 satellite, Exede was recognized for having the highest capacity communications satellite by the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012. All Exede plans feature download speeds of up to 12 mbps and upload speeds of up to 3 mbps. Select plans feature a wireless modem and download speed bursts up to 25 mbps. Like other satellite providers and in accordance to the ‘Fair Access Policy’, Exede Internet plans place a data cap on your usage. Data plans range from 10 GB all the way to 150 GB depending on the specific region.
Similar to HughesNet’s Smart Browsing, Exede’s Liberty plans feature the Liberty Pass. With Exede’s Liberty Pass, a customer can continue to browse the web at high speeds even if they’ve used up all their data for that monthly cycle. Instead of incurring an overage charge, if a customer exhausted all of their data then their download speeds will be slowed down to between 1 and 5 mbps. A user can expect to have the higher download speeds on the liberty pass outside of peak usage time between 7 and 11 PM when most people are using the Internet.
Even though Exede customers are required to sign a 2-year agreement, they offer a 3-year price lock guarantee. This gives customers consistency with their bill for the first 36 months of service. Also, as an Exede customer you receive antivirus software for free for the first 12 months of service.
All Exede plans feature a limited 90-day service labor warranty. Leased equipment is covered under a Limited Equipment Warranty in rare cases of malfunction. Damage to the equipment that’s caused by the customer or natural disasters are not covered by the Limited Equipment Warranty.
In October of 2012, Dish Network broke into the broadband market with its introduction of DishNet, a satellite-based Internet source. Primarily serving rural locations, DishNet offers customers the opportunity to bundle their television and Internet service for a discount and also conveniently combines the two services on one easy-to-read bill. Furthermore, by bundling the two services together, Dish Network rewards customers with a $10 discount for as long as the customer has the services bundled together.
DishNet’s plans resemble HughesNet’s, complete with data allowances and faster speeds for their premiere plans. Specifically, DishNet offers three different plans for customers to choose from that include their self-proclaimed Good, Better, and Best satellite Internet plans. Like HughesNet, all plans feature 50 GBs of off-peak data that can be utilized between 2-8 a.m. and download speeds range between 10 mbps and 15 mbps. Unlike Exede’s Liberty Pass or HughesNet’s Smart Browsing feature, customers of DishNet will have their speeds throttled whenever they’ve exceeded their monthly allotment.
Like HughesNet and Exede, Dish Network provides a limited warranty on DishNet’s equipment. This warranty is limited to faulty equipment and does not cover malfunctions that arise from user error or a natural disaster. DishNet also offers 24/7 technical support and troubleshooting solutions for their customers.
With its headquarters located in Akron, Ohio, Skycasters has been providing broadband Internet via satellite since 2001. Covering the majority of the Western Hemisphere, since 2009 Skycasters has primarily catered to business accounts. Offering both fixed and mobile satellite broadband options, they position themselves as a primary provider for rural areas or as a fallback solution if you lose connection to your primary provider in an urban setting. The pricing of their plans are considerably more costly compared to the residential plans offered through HughesNet, Exede, and DishNet. While there is a plethora of plans and equipment to choose from, they range in price between $149 to over $4,000 a month. Skycasters’ download speeds range between 768 kbps and 18 mbps.
While Skycasters does offer unlimited plans that range between $430 and $4,130, most of their plans fall under the ‘Fair Access Policy’ like HughesNet and Exede and feature data caps.
These caps fall between 2 GB and 150 GB. For their Gold V plans, Skycasters breaks their data allowances into two different time periods under two categories named Peak Data and Off Peak Data. Off Peak Data can be utilized after 7 PM and before 7 AM. Unlike other satellite providers, Skycasters’ data plans feature overage charges. Within their Evolution Platinum V Service Plans, customers pay 10 cents for each megabyte or $10 per gigabyte that they use beyond their monthly limit.
Like all satellite providers, Skycasters require customers to sign up for a 24-month commitment. Breaking the 24-month commitment results in an early termination fee which the specifics of that fee are not revealed on their website.
Founded in 2000 as a joint venture between Gilat Satellite Networks, Microsoft, and EchoStar, StarBand served customers for 15 years before ceasing operations in September of 2015 due to increased competition in the satellite Internet market. By October of 2006, StarBand offered its next-generation service through its Nova plans which increased download speeds, offered more bandwidth, and optimized the technology for VOIP services. StarBand’s plans featured limits on data usage, with data allowances ranging between 1 GB and 5 GB of anytime bandwidth each week and an unmetered zone between midnight and 6 a.m. Download speeds left a lot to be desired as the Nova 500 plan offered up to 512 kbps and the Nova 1500 plan’s max download speed was 1.5 mbps. Upload speeds fell between 100 kbps and 256 kbps.
Unlike Skycasters, users of StarBand who exceeded their monthly data allowance were not subjected to overage charges. However, their speeds were slowed down to dial-up Internet levels.
StarBand customers enjoyed extra perks that included 5 different email accounts with 7 GB of storage capacity for each one. Additionally, subscribers gained access to spyware and virus protection and 24/7 online customer support. While StarBand did offer technical support to its customers, their hours of operation were Monday-Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on the weekends between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
From the standpoint of the user, satellite Internet works like most other Internet providers. You connect your computer to a modem that’s provided by your provider of choice and you can begin to enjoy the Web. While your online experience will certainly be reminiscent of other hardline high-speed Internet services you might have had before, the inner workings of establishing that dedicated connection takes several important parts. Together these different technologies work together to provide users of satellite Internet a secure, dedicated signal complete with fast speeds and little disruptions. Below we’ll explain the technology used to provide you with high-speed access and outline the trip your Internet signal takes each time you start surfing the Web.
Geostationary satellites orbiting the Earth provide an opportunity to provide Internet service anywhere in the United States without the expensive infrastructure needed to run cable or telephone wires in order to establish a connection. These satellites in space orbit in a fixed location perpendicular to the Equator at around 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, and serve as the intermediary location between the satellite dish on your house and your satellite Internet provider’s land-based network operations center. The network operations center, commonly referred to as a NOC, is located on Earth’s surface and is connected to the Internet. Whenever you’re using your Internet service, each link you click on sends a signal to the geostationary satellite in space. The signal then travels to the NOC, where it’s transformed into the information you’re looking to retrieve from clicking on said link. The signal then returns to the satellite in space, back to the dish on your house, through your Internet modem, then finally the information you requested is displayed on your computer’s monitor. Each signal completes around a 90,000 mile round trip. While the distance your signal travels is vast, this entire process happens in under a second, which means you can surf the web as quickly as you desire.
After selecting the Internet provider that best fits your needs, a professionally certified installer will be dispatched to your residence within four business days. Installations typically take 2-4 hours depending on the nature of the installation. First, the installer will ensure you have a clear view of the Southern sky in order to give the user a strong connection and the best Internet experience possible. If a clear view of the Southern sky cannot be attained, then the technician will not install the service.
Once the install has determined the location that will ensure the best connection, the technician will secure a modest satellite dish that’s roughly 30 inches by 28 inches either on the roof of the home, on the side of your house, or on a grounded pole mount. If these standard installation methods don’t result in an optimal connection, the installer might recommend a different approach which could result in custom installation charges. An installer will always discuss custom installation charges with you prior to completing the work. After securely fastening the dish, the technician will then run a standard coax cable from the dish to the modem located inside the home. This process will require some drilling to give the user the best Internet experience.
After connecting the coax cable to the modem inside the house, the installer will run an Ethernet cable to your computer to test the service. Typically a speed test is run to make sure the user is getting the best signal possible. After the speed test is complete, the installer will ensure everything else is working properly. Prior to leaving, the technician will pull up the electronic agreement on the computer and the customer will sign the contract.
As mentioned previously, the speeds you will receive through your satellite Internet plan will be comparable to other hardline Internet providers. However, hardline Internet providers typically offer extremely large or unlimited data packages. Certain activities, like excessive streaming through services like Netflix or Hulu, are data intensive. Other online activities like playing fast-twitch or interactive games online don’t work well with a satellite connection due to latency or ping rate. If you’re planning on using a streaming service as your primary television provider or play fast-twitch games like Halo or Call of Duty, then you will want to make sure there are no hardline Internet options in your area prior to ordering satellite Internet.
While the installation for satellite Internet isn’t too intrusive, if you rent your residence then you will want to make sure you get your landlord’s permission to install a satellite on their property. The most common points of installation occur on the roof, on the side of a home, or on a pole mount. If you live in an apartment dwelling then satellite service probably is not the best fit for you as it can be difficult to install the dish in a secure location. Furthermore, you will need a clear view of the Southern sky in order to have satellite service. If your apartment’s point of entry is facing the North, then you would not be able to have satellite service. Mountains, hills, and a dense tree line can also make it difficult to have satellite Internet if they’re obstructing the view to the Southern sky. It’s important to note that Internet access is a right and a landlord cannot bar you from having service via satellite if that’s the only means to receive high-speed Internet at the residence you’re renting.
In order to ensure that the user has the best online experience, it’s important that the satellite dish is installed in a fixated position. Because of this, you will not be able to take your Internet with you on the go. This can be problematic for a customer who has a career that requires them to have Internet access out in the field or for a customer who travels often. In these special circumstances, a customer who needs to be able to take their Internet with them on the go would be better served by getting access from a mobile hotspot. Hotspots are similar to satellite service as they have data allowances. However, unlike a satellite plan, hotspots also have overage charges for customers who exceed their data allotment. Also, when considering hotspot options you will want to make sure the areas where you’ll be using the service most often are within your carrier’s coverage zone.
No matter if you’re getting satellite Internet or satellite television, any satellite service you choose will require you to sign a 2-year agreement. The biggest benefit from having an agreement is the peace of mind in knowing that you’ll know exactly what your monthly bill will be each month. If you think that you might move in the next two years, don’t fret! Most satellite providers will move you once for free. However, be prepared to sign a new two-year agreement if you’re moving the service. If you’re planning on terminating the agreement once you move then you will have to pay an early termination fee. Most satellite providers lessen their early termination fees the longer you have the service. To further explain, if one person canceled their service two months into the agreement and another person canceled their service 12 months into the agreement, then the person who had the service for 12 months would pay a smaller early termination fee.
As you know, certain online activities use a lot more data that basic web browsing. Streaming services through Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, or Spotify can cause you to burn through your data allotment rather quickly. It’s important to note that just because you use one or more of these services does not necessarily mean you need the largest data package available. Most satellite providers give you the freedom to upgrade or downgrade your plan at any time. If you’re unsure what your data needs might be, choose a plan that gives you an opportunity to move up if you need to. There’s no need to pay a higher monthly bill initially if you’re not completely sure what your data needs are yet. Both HughesNet and Exede allow their customers to monitor their data usage online so you can easily keep track of how much data you and your family typically use.
As companies around the country look for ways to reduce their overhead costs, many employers have started to offer their employees the opportunity to work from home. Depending on the nature of the work, an employer might require their employee to connect to a VPN in order to securely access their company’s resources and database. Similar to fast-twitch gaming, virtual private networks are affected by latency or ping rate. In fact, it’s common for your Internet speeds to slow down by 70% when you connect to a VPN on a satellite connection. Mobile hotspots offer less latency and generally can offer a better online experience when you’re attempting to connect to a VPN. If you’re running a business out of your home and you don’t need access to a VPN, then satellite service should serve you well. If you’re planning on choosing a home-based career, check the minimum requirements for the computer and Internet provider prior to accepting a position.
If anyone in your home is planning to connect a wireless device such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop to the Internet service then you will want to make sure you purchase a wireless router. A wireless router simply transforms your Internet connection to enable wireless devices to be connected to the service without an Ethernet cable. Most satellite providers provide an Internet modem but it’s up to the customer to supply a wireless router if they need one. Generally you can find wireless routers at your local Wal-Mart or electronics store and prices typically run between $30 and $100 depending on the router’s technical specifications. The size of your home and your desires for the router’s reach will help you decide which one will best fit your needs. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to install a wireless router. It’s as simple as plugging it up to the back of your Internet modem. Be sure to secure your router with a password when you set it up. This will ensure that your neighbors are unable to connect to your service and prevent them from using up your data.
The major satellite providers, HughesNet and Exede, both offer options for their customers to purchase their equipment upfront rather than paying the $9.99 lease fee each month. With HughesNet and Exede, you’ll pay around $199.99 when you choose to do this. Also, HughesNet will charge you an additional $99 for installation when you choose to purchase the equipment. As technology advances, new equipment will be made available which could leave you with obsolete technology that’s not compatible with the newer technology.
When making this decision, you will first want to consider how long you’re planning to have the service. If you’re planning to have the service for the foreseeable future, like 10 years, then purchasing the equipment can save you a lot of money. On the other side, purchasing equipment will make you the owner of said equipment which could cause you to be liable for replacing faulty equipment after 12 months of service. By leasing the equipment, your equipment is automatically covered if it goes faulty as long as you didn’t cause the damage or it wasn’t caused by a natural disaster.
One of the largest gripes about satellite Internet is its inability to accommodate fast-twitch online games through consoles like Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Due to the vast distance your Internet signal has to travel, fast-twitch gaming like Halo or Call of Duty will be greatly affected by latency. Online gamers often refer to this as lag. It’s important to note that you will still be able to download updates to your games and consoles with no problems. While fast-twitch games do not work online, turn-based games perform remarkably well. In fact, you can play popular mobile games like Civilization, Words with Friends, and Angry birds without any problems. Also, you can still play campaign game modes on your console of choice without an Internet connection.
If you’re living in an area where hardline cable connections are not available and you have someone in your house that’s an online gamer, consider getting them a GameFly subscription. GameFly is a subscription based service that enables someone to rent new games, keep them for as long as they desire, then mail them back for another one. While the games cannot be played online, they will provide the gamer in your household with some great entertainment.
As mentioned previously, certain online activities use data at a faster pace than basic web browsing. Basic web browsing includes viewing static text such as reading the news online, shopping through Amazon, or perusing your Twitter feed. However, watching videos online can use your data rather quickly. When you look at the table below, you can see how expensive streaming services like Netflix and Hulu can be when utilized on a data plan. A conservative rule of thumb is that for every 45 minutes you stream a movie in high definition, then you will use about 1 GB of data. Streaming in standard definition will allow you to get twice has much streaming time. However, when factoring in the average movie’s runtime as around 2 hours and 10 minutes, all of the sudden the price tag for each Netflix movie becomes really expensive. The table below factors in these figures and demonstrates how expensive each movie on Netflix and Hulu will be on a data plan. Furthermore, the table below assumes that the only thing a customer does with their plan is watch movies which is rarely the case. These figures do not include the subscription fee you pay for Netflix which generally runs between $7.99 and $11.99 a month. If your goal is to save money in regards to your entertainment needs, then choosing a television package through Dish or DirecTV would be the most cost effective way to get the entertainment you’re looking for.
These figures show that Netflix can be extremely costly when utilized on a data package.
Satellite technology has improved tremendously over the past 5 years. However, because of the frustrations many experienced when it was first introduced in the 1990s, there are some commonly held beliefs about the service that are no longer true. Below we’ve debunked some of these misconceptions and provided clarification towards some of the commonly help beliefs towards satellite Internet.
To the surprise of many, satellite Internet is very secure compared to most Internet providers. This stems from the fact that satellite technology is not hard-wired in the ground. The dedicated signal you receive is not shared with anyone and because it’s transmitted through the air, it cannot be tapped into. Furthermore, HughesNet triple encodes the data that’s transmitted making the signal practically impenetrable to people attempting to steal your service. If you have a wireless router, be sure to secure it with a password to put your mind at ease and ensure only you and your family are utilizing the service.
Often referred to as rain fade in the satellite industry, SEVERE thunderstorms will cause a momentarily disruption in service. However, satellite dishes today are designed to handle snow, rain, and able to withstand winds up to 60 mph. In other words, you should have reliable service most of the time. To this effort, HughesNet recently introduced Power Control Technology which enables their dishes to power through most thunderstorms enabling their customers to experience very little disruptions throughout the year.
Satellite Internet is fully compatible with wireless devices. However, unlike many cable providers, satellite Internet companies rarely supply wireless routers as part of their equipment package. On the one hand this can seem cheap, but it actually benefits the consumer greatly. Cable companies that provide routers will typically charge you a leasing fee for their equipment that ranges between $5 and $15 a month. By having the liberty to purchase your own equipment, you have the opportunity to save a lot of money over the long term. You can purchase a wireless router for as little as $30 at your local electronics store and installing the equipment is extremely easy. All you have to do is plug your wireless router into the back of the modem provided by your Internet service provider and you’re set! If you don’t want to go through the hassle of setting up the equipment yourself, Exede currently offers a wireless modem in select areas that’s able to transmit speeds up to 25 mbps.
It’s true that most console games through Xbox One or PlayStation 4 perform poorly through a satellite Internet connection. This has nothing to do with speed, but there will be a lag when playing fast-twitch games online due to the great distance your Internet signal has to travel to transmit the information. It’s important to note that mobile games, which have actually grown in popularity tremendously over the last couple of years, perform well through a satellite connection. Also, you can always upgrade your console games and download new games with your console of choice.
When comparing the monthly prices of satellite Internet with cable companies like Comcast or Time Warner Cable, you will find that initial promotional pricing is similar across the board. With pricing being similar, the biggest difference between cable Internet and satellite Internet is the fact that most cable providers don’t place limits on the amount of data you can use. However, large cable companies are notorious for increasing your monthly bill tremendously the longer you have the service. This is one of the benefits of entering an agreement with a satellite provider as you’ll know exactly what you will pay over the service term. Also, when you compare the prices of satellite Internet to wireless broadband services often attained through a company like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, or Verizon, satellite plans start to look modest. This notion is magnified when you start factoring in overage fees that wireless broadband services charge after you exceed your data allowance.
Some satellite plans do throttle your speeds if you use up all of your data to dial-up levels, which can make certain online activities impossible to do. However, both HughesNet and Exede have recently introduced new technologies to prevent this from happening. With Smart Browsing through HughesNet or the Liberty Pass through Exede, customers who exceed their data allowance during their monthly cycle can still browse the web at high speeds without incurring overage charges. Also, you always have the option to purchase additional data when you need to which can be done online or over the phone.
While this was certainly true in the infancy of satellite services, today’s satellite dishes continue to get more powerful AND smaller. The average dish is roughly 28 inches by 30 inches, resembling the size of a large pizza. While it’s smart to let the professional installer decide where the best location will be to install the dish and get the strongest signal, both HughesNet and Exede provide pole mounts as part of their free standard installation offers.
Again, as technology has progressed satellite speeds have increased greatly since residential services were first introduced in the 1990s. In the 1990s, the best download speeds maxed out around 1.5 mbps. Today, consumers of satellite Internet can experience speeds upwards of 25 mbps. With up to 25 mbps you and your family can all connect to the web at the same time without diluting your network’s speeds. Furthermore, if you have at least 5 mbps download speed then you can stream movies online in high definition without experiencing buffering issues. To put your mind at ease, you’ll be happy to know that once the installer sets up your service, they’ll run a speed test on your computer to show you what speeds you’re currently receiving.