Satellite internet services are the only real option in a lot of places in the world. Most of us dwelling in cities kind of take it for granted that there’s broadband internet around but in more rural areas things aren’t always so smooth. If you happen to be in one of those places, then satellite internet is an attractive option. Since all you’ll need is a satellite dish installed and to pay your bill it’s a pretty good option. We think the HughesNet offers the best plans in 2018.
Most of the smaller services have been collapsed into just two real options over the last few years, so it’s not much of a buyer’s market. That said, if you’re trying to figure out which is the best satellite internet provider then you’re in the right place.
The higher speeds and inclusion of a wireless router in your equipment package make them the clear winner any way you look at it. Exede doesn’t even really have niche usage in comparison, although in some areas it may be a little bit cheaper.
The Best Satellite Internet Providers in 2018
|Provider||Price / Month||Download Speed|
|HughesNet||$49.99–$99.99||25 Mbps||Check Price|
|Exede||$49.99–$149.99||12–25 Mbps||Check Price|
Who Should Consider Using a Satellite Internet Provider
If you’re not in the mood to take a look into side by side comparison, then you’ll be glad to know that HughesNet is our pick of the two primary services currently available.
If you have the option of standard broadband… take it. Even though dealing with some of the big cable providers is a serious pain, satellite internet really can’t compete with it.
If your only option is satellite, however, it can be a godsend.
If you’re new to a rural area you might find that HughesNet or Exede are pretty much your only options and prepare for a little bit of disappointment if you’re used to super high speed internet. Even the best satellite services are only going to run at about 25Mbp/s, which isn’t exactly going to leave you in awe.
So if satellite is your only option then you’re going to have to pick a service somehow.
How Does Satellite Internet Work?
Satellite internet is dependent on geosynchronous satellites. These satellites are placed in such a way that they’re almost “fixed” in relation to the Earth’s surface.
From there, the satellite receives a request from your computer, the modem, and finally your dish before it responds. This is the main cause of the high latency which is always seen with satellite connections, it’s mind boggling to think about but the fact is that the speed of light simply can’t do any better.
The biggest advantage of satellite is the same as the source of its weakness: it can beam nearly anywhere. Roughly 19 million people live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure in place but a satellite service can generally reach anywhere in the US without any kind of issue.
The main problem is that satellites are expensive. Between the technology itself, the price to put it into orbit, and a number of other factors you end up with one of the most expensive internet infrastructures possible.
That translates into a high bill for the consumer.
Unfortunately, satellite internet is also even more vulnerable to weather than satellite TV services so even though you’re paying a high cost, things still might end up crapping out at the worst possible moment. Check the weather before you make any online plans.
The Biggest Difference: Data Plans
While broadband internet packages are generally sold by speed and there are very few regulatory controls in place on bandwidth, satellite internet works pretty much the opposite.
When you go with a satellite internet provider, you’re going to pay based on the amount of data in your plan. The speed is really a one-size-fits-all situation for the most part.
Because of this, using satellite internet isn’t going to let you stream your Netflix favorites all of the time, that’s a great way to use up your data allotment in just a couple of days. For basic internet, however, even the middling plans should be more than sufficient for most people.
This means checking your e-mail and browsing the web for the most part, perhaps interspersed with some light, standard-definition streaming on occasion. An HD stream for a few hours can use up your entire month’s allotment pretty quickly… and you’re probably going to be dealing with buffering the whole time thanks to the slower speeds.
We’ll get into some strategies to maximize your usage later on, for now let’s get to the main show: comparison of the two leading services.
Comparing the Big Two
While smaller services do exist, they tend to come into and leave the market rather quickly. Only three or four years ago there were a lot more options, but the necessary and expensive infrastructure of satellite internet means that most of the smaller companies have been consolidated into the big two and those which emerge tend to fall under pretty quickly since they can’t compete for any real length of time.
So your choices come down pretty quickly to HughesNet or Exede.
There’s one big pain when it comes to satellite internet services: for the most part you’ll find that the prices vary depending on the area you’re in. This makes it hard for us to compare things without knowing exactly where you live.
Fortunately, HughesNet has made their prices a little bit more transparent, with just a few different plans available. Remember that the plans for satellite are based on data.
HughesNet’s transparent pricing puts them on top in this category, but it’s definitely not cheap.
For the entry level plan, 10GB is going to run you $49.99/month for the first two years, while the 50GB plan runs $99.99/month for the first two years. The price increase afterwards isn’t all that steep however.
From what we could tell Exede runs a similar rate, but we’ll demonstrate why we still gave this category to HughesNet when we discuss speed in just a moment.
For the most part, even 50GB of data isn’t a whole lot for many of us, it’s definitely enough to severely limit the way you’re using your internet. On average, you can expect the following for a single GB of data:
- 2 hours of standard definition streaming
- 300 photo uploads
- 200 streamed songs
- About 1,000 web pages loaded
- 2,000 e-mails
For most users… that’s really not a whole lot. For instance, a modern game is usually four gigabytes or more so downloading one is going to severely impact the amount of service you get.
There is some good news, however, which is that HughesNet allows for 50GB of additional data… between the hours of 2am and 8am.
In either case, if you go over your allotment and don’t purchase any additional data you’re going to be looking at some seriously restricted speed, which will render your internet all but useless for most applications since even web pages contain a fairly impressive amount of data anymore.
Verdict: HughesNet for their transparent pricing
Satellite internet is slow compared to modern broadband. Where even a super low plan with most modern cable or DSL providers is going to run about 25Mbp/s, you’re going to be looking at that as the absolute maximum for satellite.
HughesNet offers only 25Mbp/s connections, which means that they’re the fastest by a pretty wide margin over Exede’s 12Mbp/s standard. If you opt for the latter you can upgrade to a potential 25Mbp/s connection but you’ll have to pay more monthly, usually on the order of about $10/month.
There’s a hidden problem as well: Exede quite often performs a good amount lower than their advertisements state. This means that not only are they half the speed of HughesNet, they’re also coming in at a much lower rate of speed than they’re advertising due to saturation.
While Exede seems to be planning on adding some additional satellites to their network in order to fix that problem, but the process is going to take a couple of years at best and simply isn’t ready during the current year.
We’ll have to hand this one to HughesNet, since their service is twice as fast… and actually performs at the speeds advertised.
The equipment from both companies is pretty basic overall. You’ll get your satellite receiver and a modem. HughesNet also includes a wireless router, which is a nice touch but their equipment fees are naturally higher because of this, running at about $15/month.
Both companies also charge for their satellite dishes, naturally, with HughesNet’s service ending up costing about $450 total if you want to pay up front for the service or $460 over the course of two years.
On the other hand, Exede runs quite a bit cheaper for their equipment. If you pay up front the dish and modem will only end up costing you about $300.
The lower equipment prices mean this is one area where Exede beats out the competition, but you’ll have to get your own wireless router if you’re planning on going the wifi route.
Satellite services like to lock you in for a long time, which is another disadvantage of the whole affair. Most places are going to try to snag you for at least two years, which is an unfortunately long amount of time if you’re planning on leaving the service since there’s always going to be a cancellation fee.
This means that customer service is one of the primary duties of your internet company.
Most of us have dealt with one of the big cable companies at one point or another and the experience is almost always the same: you get told to reset your router over and over and get shuffled around until you’re just about ready to hang up. If all goes well, things get resolved.
It’s just one of those things you have to deal with as time goes on.
Satellite really isn’t different, but from what we’ve been able to ascertain the following is true about their customer service.
HughesNet suffers from many of the same problems with customer service as their broadband counterparts. This is unfortunate, especially since you’ll be dealing with lower speeds, data caps, and all of the fun stuff that satellites bring on anyways like weather interference.
Exede, on the other hand, has a reputation for excellent customer service. Indeed, this is one of the primary points in their favor, and most testing shows that you’ll be able to get ahold of a tech quickly and easily in order to solve any issues.
Because of that, we’re going to have to give this one to Exede.
Both companies scored about an equal amount of wins with us overall, but we lean in favor of HughesNet for one simple reason: higher speeds.
Keep in mind that we still advise going with a cable or DSL service if you’re able to. Satellite offers basically no advantage for the internet as compared to more traditional services. In some areas it’s the only option however.
We strongly recommend HughesNet if you’re going to use a satellite internet service, however, they simply trash the rest of the competition. The only real reason you would use Exede instead is the lower installation and equipment costs.
Using Your Satellite Internet Service to It’s Potential
If you’re used to broadband, you’re going to need to make some adjustments when you get down to using satellite service.
We’ve compiled a list of suggestions for those who are planning on making the switch, in order to make sure that you can utilize everything to the utmost.
What You Can Do
For the most part, you should be okay with the following activities without threatening your data cap:
- General browsing of the internet
- Checking e-mails
- Uploading documents
- Light use of YouTube and other streaming sites
By light usage, we do mean light. If you’re a YouTube addict, even with lower definition video, you’re going to run out of data quickly and end up having to purchase more.
With both services, if you do hit your data cap your speed will be capped unless you purchase more data. While you may still be able to send e-mails and check websites, it’s going to seriously affect your ability to stream and that buffer wheel is something you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at.
What You Can’t Do
For the most part, basic internet capabilities are going to be about all that you can handle with your satellite internet service.
If you’re planning on doing any of the following, you’re basically going to be out of luck:
- HD streaming
- Massive uploads
- Large downloads
For all of these you’re going to want to find somewhere with a solid wifi connection which is attached to more traditional infrastructure.
Really, if you’re going to be using satellite internet you should make it a priority to find a solid connection somewhere in order to ensure that you can get larger downloads done even if it’s just to grab the occasional movie.
Gaming is particularly problematic in this instance, since satellites are… well, they’re in space. This means that at best you’re going to have about a half second of latency, which isn’t an issue for browsing Facebook but is more than enough to ruin your FPS experience.
HD streaming is also problematic. Netflix, for instance, rates their HD streaming at about 2.3GB/hour, meaning that with a lower data cap… you might get two movies in before you start running into problems with your data.
Maximizing Your Data
Modern internet usage takes up a lot of data. While you can follow the same best practices you likely already use with your phone and tablet, some things we do with our computers are pretty much unavoidable.
We recommend trying to find somewhere with a free wi-fi connection within driving distance of your home. If you can manage this, then you can make things a lot easier on yourself over time.
For instance: downloading games while at a coffee shop can save you a ton of data, although you may want to purchase a couple of coffees while you’re in there to compensate.
You’re probably going to want to cancel your streaming video services and start investing in DVDs or downloadable purchases as well. Streaming movies in HD takes up a lot of data and this means that you’re going to end up slamming into your cap quickly.
Hard media, or downloading movies at another location, is a great way to make sure that you can still watch your favorite shows and movies without risking a lower speed on your internet connection.
Something else you might want to consider is investing in a satellite TV service and using the DVR to record your shows and movies since there isn’t a data cap you’ll be put up against. It makes an attractive, albeit expensive, option for some people.
Maximizing Your Satellite Internet Speed
For those of us used to broadband, the downgrade in speed with even the fastest satellite internet connection available is pretty serious.
There really isn’t all that much which can be done about this, but you might try the following if you find that things are particularly bad:
- Make sure that your satellite dish is as close to the modem as possible. Coaxial runs of over 100 feet are going to drastically affect the speed of your internet. This isn’t always possible, of course, but it’s worth a shot if you think you can pull it off.
- You can also purchase signal amplifiers which work in-line between the dish and the modem. They’re not going to get you up to broadband speed but they can help if you’ve got a long run and nothing you can do about it.
Mostly, however, you’re going to just need to develop some patience.
A satellite internet provider isn’t the ideal solution, but in cases where you’re limited to either dial up or satellite it can be a big step up. Due to the nature of the tech, it can be used pretty much anywhere in the United States, so if you’re unfortunate enough to live in an area where it’s simply not possible to get any other high-speed internet you’ll have to deal with it as is.
Take heart though, HughesNet still provides a pretty good service overall and it’s generally good enough for most people as long as you understand the limitations.