Best Satellite Internet Providers 2013

DishNet
Best way to order: Visit Website

#1 First Place: dishNET

Operated by leading dish TV provider DISH, dishNET is a internet service with multiple connection options, including cable and DSL as well as satellite. dishNET lease satellite capability from two providers, HughesNet and ViaSat, and their coverage extends across the entire USA. The available speed does vary; in most of the Midwest and southwest the maximum speed is 5Mb, while in the eastern states and down the West Coast it’s 10Mb. Of course even 5Mb is a lot faster than a dialup connection, so if you haven’t been able to get a broadband connection before you’ll really notice a difference. You can enter your zip code on dishNET’s website to find out what service is available in your area.

One big advantage of dishNET is that you can bundle it with a satellite TV package. This cuts down on the equipment you need and consolidates payments into a single plan. You also get a $10 monthly discount if you opt for dishNET internet along with a qualifying TV contract.

So what do you actually get for your money? dishNET offer three tiers of service, with download speed dependant on location and data caps of 10, 20 and 30 Gbps depending on tier. Once you reach the data cap your download speed with be throttled until the next contract month, but there are no overage charges for exceeding the cap. You can also buy $25 tokens that each give you an extra 3Gb of full speed downloads. These don’t roll over to the next month though, so don’t buy more than you need. Check your remaining capacity at any time through the mydish.com website. Be aware that the data limit is split in half – half can be used at any time but the rest is only valid between 2:00am and 8:00am. You can select which allocation to use through mydish.com.

Available Plans

Name
Download Speed 5/10Mbps* 5/10Mbps* 5/10Mbps*
Upload Speed 1/2Mbps* 1/2Mbps* 1/2Mbps*
Data Cap 10Gb 20Gb 30Gb
Monthly Fee $49.99** $59.99** $79.99**
Minimum Contract 24 Months 24 Months 24 Months

* Network speed is depends on the coverage at your location.
**You are eligible for a $10 discount if you bundle internet and qualifying satellite TV services.
There’s an additional fee on all plans month to lease the equipment. At the moment dishNET don’t offer the option of purchasing the equipment outright.

Dishnet – Why To Buy
• Save when bundled with satellite TV
• Competitive monthly rates
• High speeds


DirectTV
Best way to order: Visit Website

#2 Second Place: HughesNet

Unlike dishNET HughesNet is a specialist internet company, so if you’re looking for satellite TV as well as broadband this may not be the option for you. On the other hand there are advantages as well. If you just need an internet service there are some very fast options available.

HughesNet is one of the most established companies in the business. HughesNet have a fleet of 13 satellites and have been involved in space based communications for over 30 years. They’re now running their internet services on their Gen4 technology and they take full advantage of that. The biggest benefit to the consumer is download speeds that start at 10Mbps for the basic and intermediate plans and go all the way to 15Gbps on the flagship Power MAX plan. Upload speeds are either 1 or 2Mbps. The data caps are generous too, with limits running from 20 to 40Gb. Like dishNET they’re split into Anytime allowances and Bonus Bytes, which can be used at night only. One nice touch is that usage is split into daily chunks; you’ll be throttled after using up one day’s share of the monthly limit, but it resets the next day. That means one heavy downloading session isn’t going to leave you with slow internet for the rest of the month.

Available Plans

Name Power Power PRO Power MAX
Download Speed 10Mbps 10Mbps 15Mbps
Upload Speed 1Mbps 2Mbps 2Mbps
Data Cap 20Gb 30Gb 40Gb
Monthly Fee $49.99* $79.99* $129.99*
Minimum Contract 24 Months 24 Months 24 Months

*An additional monthly equipment lease fee of $9.99 may apply. HughesNet do offer the option of purchasing the equipment however.

HughesNet – Why To Buy
• Outstanding speed
• Daily data cap reset
• Generous download limits


DirectTV
Best way to order: Visit Website

#3 Third Place: Wild Blue

Like HughesNet, Wild Blue is an internet specialist and doesn’t offer satellite TV packages. Currently they’re offering either their own services as well as being an official HughesNet reseller with the same packages as HughesNet. If you’re considering the HughesNet Power MAX package Wild Blue are definitely worth looking at, as they’re currently offering this package for $99.99 – a saving of $30 over HughesNet. Their pricing for the Power and Power PRO plans is the same.

Wild Blue’s own plans, it has to be said, don’t look as attractive as the HughesNet ones. Speeds are much lower, with the fastest available being 1.5Mbps. As this package is priced the same as the HughesNet Power Pro, which offers 10Mbps and nearly twice the data cap, it’s not an attractive option. The entry level package gives a download speed of only 512Kbps, which is where DSL was at the turn of the century. In 2013 it’s not impressive. The low data caps don’t reflect the modern internet either; data caps running from 7.5 to 17Gb won’t last long in the content-rich modern Web. If you exceed them the speed throttling is extremely strict and the conditions to have the throttling relaxed are also quite complex.

Available Plans

Name Value Pak Select Pak Pro Pak
Download Speed 512Kbps 1Mbps 1.5Mbps
Upload Speed 128Kbps 200Kbps 256Kbps
Data Cap 7.5Gb 12Gb 17Gb
Monthly Fee $49.95 $69.95 $79.95
Minimum Contract 24 Months 24 Months 24 Months


Wild Blue – Why To Buy

• Good deals on high end HughesNet packages.
• Free installation.


Direct Comparison of Providers

Provider DishNET HughesNet WildBlue
Choice Four Stars Four Stars Five Stars
Speed Four Stars Five Stars One Star
Data Cap Four Stars Five Stars One Star
Equipment Purchase No Yes Yes
Price Five Stars Four Stars Three Stars
Free Installation Yes Yes Yes
Where to Order Visit Website Visit Website Visit Website

Understanding Satellite Internet

The days when everyone accessed the internet using a modem are long gone, fortunately. Now high speed broadband is the standard and modern web content is designed to take advantage of it. Almost every home can now get online at speeds high enough to allow video streaming, video chat or online gaming. The most popular way to get online is DSL, with cable TV as runner up. These are great solutions for most people but sadly they don’t work for everyone. If your area doesn’t have cable TV, or you live in a remote location more than about three miles from the telephone exchange, you won’t be able to use either of these services. A lot of people assume that means they’re stuck with a slow dial-up connection, but in fact there’s an alternative. Satellite internet lets you get a fast internet service no matter where you are, and it has a lot of other advantages too. If you have a satellite TV package, or you’re considering signing up for one, you can easily add internet to your system. If you do you’ll get a fast, reliable connection that doesn’t depend on your location or how many other people are sharing a cable with you.

What It Is
The basic requirement for any internet connection is a way to send data in both directions, so you can request web pages or other content then download the content you want. Most connections use a phone line or TV cable to provide this connection. That’s not the only way to do it though. Data can also be sent through a radio signal – if you have a wireless router that’s how it communicates with your devices. Of course a router uses a very low power transmitter to send data a short distance within your home, but with a more powerful system data can be sent over very long distances. This is the principle behind satellite internet.

A standard satellite TV system uses a dish antenna to receive a signal sent from a ground station to a satellite, which amplifies it then beams it back to Earth. It’s a radio signal, in the VHF or UHF wavelengths, and it carries data – coded pulses that your satellite receiver reassembles into a TV picture. Because of the way data transmission works a higher frequency signal can carry more information, and the frequencies used for satellite TV have a lot of spare data capacity even after delivering a full package of channels. With the right equipment this can be used to carry internet data too.

Of course there are some technical issues that need to be solved before using a home satellite system to create an internet link. Satellite TV operates using a one-way connection; your dish is a receiver only and simply collects all the data that’s being transmitted by the satellite. Your decoder then filters out the data for the channel you want to watch and sends it to your TV. That’s only half of what you need for the internet though. Every time you click on a link or type a search into Google your computer sends data through the upstream link to your internet service provider’s server. The server then sends creates a connection to the site you want to see and downloads the site’s files to your web browser. Conventional equipment makes an ideal downstream link because of its high data capacity, but it won’t work for the upstream connection. Without a way to send data to the server you won’t even be able to browse the web, let alone upload your own data or play online games. The satellite signal can carry several hundred TV channels but there are millions of websites on the internet and it’s just not possible to send them all. Luckily there are solutions for that.

How It Works
There are two ways to create a two-way connection using satellite technology. The first is to use the satellite system for the downstream link and a separate system for the upstream one. The simplest way to do this is to use the same technologies used for conventional internet – send the upstream signal to the ISP using a phone line (either dial-up modem of DSL) or cable, and the ISP then sends the download data over the satellite link. This was the only option for early satellite internet services and usually it works well. The drawback is that if your area can’t get DSL or cable the only option was a dial-up modem. This isn’t much of an issue for web browsing because most of the data is transmitted over the downstream satellite link, which is high speed, but it’s a big problem if you want to upload large files – such as adding video or images to a social network – or play online games. Some modern systems use a cellular connection for the uplink and if you live in an area with 3G coverage speeds are much higher, but again 3G coverage doesn’t extend everywhere.

It’s now possible to get a satellite internet service that uses the satellite link for both upstream and downstream transmission. The technology is very similar to what’s used in a satellite phone and lets you benefit from high speed internet absolutely anywhere, no matter what cabling exists in your neighborhood – all you need is a clear line of sight to the southern sky.

The key element of your system is the satellite dish. This is aimed at a satellite in a geostationary orbit. Most orbits aren’t suitable for communications satellites, because if the satellite is circling the Earth it will be below the horizon for most of the time and needs an expensive motorized dish to track it even when it’s visible. However if the orbit is at a height of about 33,000 miles then the satellite’s forward speed will match the Earth’s rotation speed, so it will always be above the same point on the ground. This means that a fixed dish can be aimed at the satellite and will give a continuous link. The height of the orbit doesn’t matter because most of the distance the signal travels is in space, where there is no air to absorb its energy.

The dish is connected to a satellite modem, which converts coded radio pulses to and from internet data. When you click a link, or update a file, your dish transmits data to the satellite. The satellite has its own signal amplifiers and it uses them to retransmit down to your satellite provider’s ground station. From there the signal is converted back into data and sent to the provider’s servers, then into the internet. The website you want to view (or the file you want to download) is then sent from the ground station to the satellite and back down to Earth. Your dish picks up the signal and sends it to the modem, where it’s converted to data once more. At this stage the satellite modem works just like a normal home router, communicating with your computer and other devices through network cables or Wi-Fi.

Is It Secure?
The satellite isn’t just sending its signal to your dish, of course. Because it’s so high it can broadcast a tightly focused high power beam, but that still covers a large area on the ground. Everyone else with a satellite dish is also picking up your signal. Does that mean they can read your emails or see what you’re browsing? You’ll be glad to hear the answer is no. In fact the whole internet is in the same situation; the main backbones of the net are carrying data to millions of users at any one time. To keep information secure your modem agrees a unique code with your provider’s servers, so only the two ends of the connection can read it. To anyone else the data being sent to you is just static.

How Fast Is It?
Satellite internet speed varies depending on the level of service you opt for and the capability of the satellite that transmits to your area. The slowest satellite packages available begin at a download speed of 1Mbps. This is where DSL was ten years ago and by modern standards isn’t impressive; it’s probably adequate if you just need email access and want to do some light web browsing. If you want to stream video or you need to download large files, and especially if you use video chat or online games, you’ll need higher performance. Most satellite providers offer a package with at least a 5Mb download speed and a typical high-end one will give you 10Mbps. Some even go to 15Mbps; this is considerably faster than most DSL or cable connections and will make for a very good internet experience.

Like DSL, upload speeds are usually a lot slower than downloads. This isn’t a problem for most users; when you’re browsing, streaming video or downloading images the vast majority of the traffic is in the downstream direction. For gamers or anyone who uploads large files it might be worth looking at one of the higher end packages to get the best upload speed possible.

Standard broadband technologies – like DSL and cable – have become somewhat notorious for delivering much lower speeds than advertised. Whenever you check out the small print on a broadband offer you’ll see that it’s always described as “up to” a certain speed. There are technical reasons for this. A single connection handles the traffic for a number of subscribers, often up to 20 or so, and at peak times it doesn’t have the capacity to deliver the maximum speed to everyone. DSL also loses efficiency as you get further from the exchange; if the connection from your home to the provider loop is more than about two miles speed can start to drop off sharply. Satellite connections still share transmitter bandwidth with other users but the effects are a lot less noticeable – and this gives impressive results. The FCC monitors the performance of broadband services to see how close to the advertised speed they actually get. The latest figures, for February 2013, show satellite providers way out in front of their competitors. The average DSL service gave 85% of its advertised speed at peak times; the average satellite customer was getting 137%. If speed is important to you satellite could be your best option. If your choice is between a 5Mbps satellite package and a 7Mbps DSL one it’s likely the satellite connection will actually be faster.

What To Look For

Obviously there are a few things to consider when shopping for a satellite internet service, and depending on your needs making the wrong choice could leave you struggling with a service that isn’t fast enough or paying unnecessarily for performance you don’t need. Before signing a contract it’s vital that you work out exactly what you’re looking for then shop around to see who’s offering the best price. Here are some common internet activities and the suggested service level you’ll need to cope with them.

Activity Download Speed Upload Speed Data Cap
E-Mail 1Mbps 512Kbps 10Gb
Web Browsing 5Mbps 1Mbps 15Gb
Streaming Music 5Mbps 1Mbps 20Gb
Video Chat 10Mbps 2Mbps 30Gb
Streaming Video 10Mbps 1Mbps 30Gb
Online Gaming 10Mbps 2Mbps 30Gb


Other Questions

There are some other points to investigate, too. Do you want to lease the equipment or buy it outright? Buying can save you money if you stick with the same provider for a few years. The down side is that it can also lock you into outdated technology; with the speed of advance in satellite internet that’s a real concern. Look into equipment costs and work out how long you’d have to stay with the provider to break even compared with leasing. Another advantage of leasing is quick replacement of your hardware if it fails.

Installation is another thing to look into. Most providers charge around $99 to install your hardware for you, but this is often the first place they go when they offer promotional deals. A plan that comes with free installation can make a big dent in the up front costs of switching to satellite internet. The installation process itself won’t cause you any problems. The technicians will identify a good place for the antenna with your help, mount it and run all the necessary cabling. They’ll set up the hardware for you so you’re all ready to go. If you plan to connect multiple computers to your modem many will also help with that.

Don’t forget the benefits of bundling internet and TV, either. A package from a TV provider like DISH can be a very attractive option. If you already have satellite TV you won’t be able to use your existing dish for internet access because it will be a receiver only, but if you fancy upgrading your TV service or you’re thinking about getting satellite TV for the first time it makes a lot of sense to add internet to the deal.

What To Expect
So once your satellite internet is installed and you log on for the first time, what can you expect? The first thing you’ll notice is the speed of your new connection. Even if you’re used to broadband a high end satellite package is likely to be a lot faster than you’re used to. It makes downloading large files far quicker and less frustrating (just don’t get carried away and run into your download cap too soon!) You’ll notice better quality on video chat and streaming movies, and less lag on games. The fact that it usually meets – and exceeds – its advertised speed is one of the best things about satellite internet.

Reliability is another plus point. Cable salesmen often claim that satellite connections drop out more often than cable ones do. In fact this is true, but it’s not the whole story. If your satellite connection does cut out it’s usually for a matter of a few seconds. A fault with cable can leave you offline for hours. That’s not good if you depend on your connection for work. Of course one place satellite scores well is in the invulnerability of its links. Phone and TV cable scan be damaged by weather, maintenance crews or road accidents, but satellite is immune to all of these. As long as your dish and the ground station are working your connection will be available.

Whatever high speed satellite provider you opt for you’ll notice a big difference from your previous connection. High download rates, outstanding reliability and great value for money all make this a fantastic way to get online. Now you know what to look for you’ll be able to choose the package that suits you best, and get the most out of it.

What Data Plans Are Available?
Most satellite internet providers don’t offer flat rate data plans; you’ll have a monthly download limit. This isn’t actually as restricting as it sounds though. Firstly the limits are relatively generous – up to 40Gb a month with some plans. Secondly, if you exceed your limit you won’t actually be cut off. Under what providers refer to as “Fair Access” policies, users who go over their limit will have their connection speed throttled so downloads will be slower, but you’ll still be able to get online and the speed will still be fast enough for most purposes. If you really need to download huge quantities of data it’s usually possible to purchase extra data allowances, too.

Where Can I Get It?
If you think satellite internet might be for you there’s good news; most of the satellite TV providers also offer an internet service, and there are dedicated internet-only satellite companies too.

Three of the top satellite internet providers are DISH, HughesNet and Wild Blue. All of these will give you a fast and reliable service, but there are differences between them that might affect your choice. Our comparisons above have hopefully given you some good insights on which provider will work best for you.