Best satellite internet providers of 2021

Best satellite internet providers of 2021 ...

It's not surprising that many rural Americans lack adequate internet access. There's a bit of disagreement on the exact numbers, but despite varying opinions, skeptics agree that the US has work to do to increase and expand its internet infrastructure.

In the interim, satellite internet connection is the one type of internet access that is currently accessible to people in the rural area of all 50 states. It doesn't match the internet speed capabilities of fiber or cable connections. Still, when internet access is absolutely essential (and the epidemic has revealed just how critical it is), satellite broadband may play a significant role. Nevertheless, which satellite internet provider is the best?

Frankly, there aren't many choices out there. But when you begin to explore satellite internet access, here's what you'll find, starting with a quick comparison between the best satellite Internet providers.

Read more: Best rural internet providers of 2021 Best broadband providers for rural areas in 20 years

Let's dive a bit deeper to see what each satellite connection provider brings to the table.

HughesNet is a global provider of Hughesnet.

HughesNet is a national network of Hughesnet customers.

HughesNet receives high marks for its consistent internet service, thanks to the high speed internet, and its high score for high quality. Unlike other satellite internet service providers, whose download speeds may vary from location to location, HughesNet's max download speed -- though not as fast on the top end as others -- are available to all customers in every remote area. In addition, a federal Communications Commission report on broadband in 2018 stated that HughesNet scored the highest among all participating providers for delivering the actual median download speed at 150% or more of the advertised speed.

Things to consider? While HughesNet does not have any data limits, once you reach your monthly data allowance, you'll find its download speeds reduced to 1-3 megabits per second. HughesNet also failed to top J.D. Power's 2020 US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study, ranking dead last in the South region for overall customer satisfaction, with 620 out of a possible 1,000 points (with the regional average at 738 points). HughesNet customers believe this wireless internet is the best rural internet option, with high speed satellite internet available for lesser rates.

Read more about satellite internet.

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HughesNet's Hughes Network

Viasat Viosaat

Viasat Viareggio Vibrata Viesitat

Viasat satellite internet gives you the flexibility to select an internet provider that best suits your needs. Those internet service plans include some slower than what you'll find with HughesNet and several faster. Packages also include more data -- up to 150GB -- though, like HughesNet, you may find your data "deprioritized" if you exceed your monthly data allowance.

Viasat Flex, a satellite/DSL internet service from ViAsaat, further flexes its versatility muscles. This service, which is free to rural areas on AT&T's DSL network, aims to improve signal reliability and decrease latency.

Finally, Viasat swerves once again when it comes to equipment. It used to be that Viasat didn't allow you to buy equipment. If you wanted to buy your gear (which includes installation costs), HughesNet charges $450, and Starlink devices currently cost $499, but that also meant you couldn't afford the $13 monthly equipment rental charge. You can now get your Viasat equipment for $299, which is cheaper than its rivals.

Learn more about satellite internet.

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Starlink is a fictional character created by StarLink.

John Kim/CNET/John Kim

When eccentric billionaire Elon Musk isn't making headlines with his Neuralink brain implant project or rumor milling about his Twitter bio, he's been making some notable progress with the Starlink satellite internet project. Granted, this satellite provider is still in a beta phase -- that is, it's not available to everyone but currently to just over 69,000 active users -- but the initial results, as shared by our own John Kim, are encouraging.

First, at 150Mbps, the maximum download speeds are higher than those offered by HughesNet and Viasat. Musk claimed in February that Starlink should be able to reach speeds of up to 300Mbps by the end of 2021. It also has a latency of 20 to 50 milliseconds, compared to the more common range of 450-700ms for HughesNet and Viasat.

Starlink will instead have only one satellite internet plan that includes a satellite dish and router for an internet signal. Recent, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated that there are "no intentions" to introduce tiered pricing or packages.

While the current equipment fee of $499 is higher than those charged by either HughesNet or Viasat, Starlink does not require a two-year contract and offers truly unlimited data andamp; incredibly fast upload speeds, which is rather impressive as prospective upgrades for anyone stuck with satellite internet. Those details may change once Starlink enters its beta phase, but they're intriguing aspects of the pitch that may help it stand out from the competition.

Read about our hands-on experience with Starlink.

See at Starlink!
Now playing: Watch this: SpaceX Starlink satellite internet is being tested.

What's on the horizon for satellite internet?

Stay tuned to CNET for the latest information on Starlink as it enters its beta phase and aims to expand its coverage.

It should also be noted that another multibillionaire, Jeff Bezos, may disrupt the game, as Amazon's Project Kuiper also seeks to enter the industry. While not quite at the beta stage that Starlink has achieved thus far, Project Kuiper turned some heads when its prototype delivered speeds of up to 400Mbps in recent iterations.

Innovations from low Earth orbit satellites will be only one element of the puzzle in ensuring that millions of households are unable to access a reliable broadband source. As your options (hopefully) improve, we'll keep this post updated.

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