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HughesNet vs. Viasat: Clash of Two Satellite Internet Titans

These two major providers are often the only broadband choices for customers in remote parts of rural America. Which one comes out on top?

This summer Viasat aims to differentiate itself in the satellite internet service provider space by introducing enhanced broadband service plans, ranging from 25 megabits per second up to 150Mbps, in over 175 different cities across the country. Sure, it might not match the flashiness of introducing a multi-gigabit plan, as some ISPs have done this year, but it's not to be underestimated.

For Americans living in rural or less densely populated parts of the US, satellite internet might be the only option for getting online. That's unfortunate because satellite internet is slower, less reliable and less affordable than ground-laid cable or fiber internet. Even outdated technologies like DSL might offer faster speeds at a better value.

Still, established satellite providers can offer service pretty much anywhere, and if nothing else is available, your choice boils down to HughesNet and Viasat. (Apologies to Elon Musk's Starlink satellite internet, which is only available to a limited number of customers in select areas across the country thus far.) Picking between the two might feel like picking between Coke and Pepsi -- a matter of taste between two largely identical products -- but there are some distinct differences you'll want to be well aware of before deciding. Let's have a look.

HughesNet vs. Viasat Overview Comparison

HughesNet Viasat
Max speeds 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload 12-150Mbps download, 3Mbps upload
Lowest promo cost $45-$140 $65-$300
Regular monthly cost $65-$160 $85-$400
Contract Two years Two years
Monthly equipment costs $15 or $450 one-time purchase $13 or $299 one-time purchase
Data allowance 15-100GB 40-300GB
Sarah Tew/CNET

The minimum threshold for "broadband" internet is download speeds of 25Mbps and upload speeds of 3Mbps, and that's exactly what you'll get from HughesNet. All its plans come with those speeds, though they vary by the amount of data you get. 

Monthly data allowances range from 15GB to 100GB, which is lower than the data that comes with comparative plans from Viasat, but you can add data as needed throughout the month. Additionally, all plans are "unlimited," meaning that you won't be hit with an overage fee for exceeding your limit, but you will have to endure drastically lower speeds for the remainder of your billing cycle if you don't want to pay for more data.

Read our HughesNet review.


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Sarah Tew/CNET

Viasat plans cost a bit more than HughesNet, but they're also likely to come with more data and, in some locations, faster speeds. Viasat data allowances range from 40GB to 300GB, and speed options of 12Mbps to 150Mbps may be available. 

Watch out for a price increase after just three months, especially if you go with one of the high-speed, high-data plans. Your monthly bill could go up as much as $100 after three months, and since all plans come with a two-year contract, you could be stuck with some pricey payments for the next 21 months.

Read our Viasat internet review.


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Comparison map between Viasat and HughesNet

Both providers offer service across the country, though HughesNet does a better job covering Alaska than Viasat.


Availability is similar

Both HughesNet and Viasat are available across all 50 states, and they're the only major ISPs able to make that claim. That's because satellite internet doesn't depend on ground-laid cable or fiber deployments or the need for a cellular tower. All that's needed is a dish at your home -- to be installed by your provider -- to allow you to connect to satellites orbiting approximately 20,000 miles above the Earth. You should be eligible for Viasat or HughesNet internet service if you've got a clear view of the southern sky.

How do Viasat and HughesNet plans and prices compare?

Both HughesNet and Viasat offer four distinct plan tiers. At first glance, it would appear that HughesNet's cheapest plan is cheaper than the opening offering from Viasat, and Viasat's top plan is significantly faster than the best selection from HughesNet. All true, but let's dive into the details a bit more.

HughesNet plans and pricing

Plan Max speeds Starting price per month Price after 6 months Contract terms Equipment costs Data allowance
HughesNet Gen5 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $45 $65  Two years $15 a month or $450 one-time purchase 15GB
HughesNet Gen5 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $55 $75 Two years $15 a month or $450 one-time purchase 30GB
HughesNet Gen5 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $90 $110  Two years $15 a month or $450 one-time purchase 45GB
HughesNet Gen5 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $140 $160  Two years $15 a month or $450 one-time purchase 75GB

Viasat's current plans and pricing

Plan Max speeds Starting price per month Price after 3 months Contract terms Equipment costs Data allowance
Unlimited Bronze 12 12Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $70  $100 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 40GB
Unlimited Silver 25 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $100  $150 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 60GB
Unlimited Gold 50 50Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $150  $200 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 100GB
Unlimited Platinum 100 100Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $200 $300 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 150GB
Unlimited Diamond 100 100Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $300 $400 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 300GB

Viasat's new Choice internet plans

Plan Max speeds Starting price per month Price after 3 months Contract terms Equipment costs Data allowance
Choice 25 25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $65 $85 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 40GB
Choice 50 50Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $85 $120 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 60GB
Choice 75 75Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $120 $170 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 100GB
Choice 100 100Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $170 $250 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 150GB
Choice 125 125Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $250 $350 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 300GB
Choice 150 150Mbps download, 3Mbps upload $250 $350 Two years $13 a month or $299 one-time purchase 300GB

One of the first things you'll notice is that the promo period for both these providers is significantly shorter than the 12 months you typically get with most cable and fiber providers. HughesNet cuts that in half by bumping the price by $20 after six months. If that weren't bad enough, Viasat offers promo pricing for only three months before kicking things into a pricier gear -- and with the fastest plan, the price jump is a staggering $100.

Viasat gives customers more speed options

When it comes to the fastest speed available, Viasat tops HughesNet. The Unlimited Gold plan has a max download speed of 50 megabits per second, Unlimited Platinum tops out at 100Mbps and the new Choice plans can get up to 125-150Mbps. HughesNet can't match that -- all plans offer a top speed of just 25Mbps, with the more expensive tiers merely offering more data each month. 

However, Viasat's faster plans aren't available everywhere. Even though it boasts a 150Mbps plan, the top speed tier available in some areas is the 12Mbps plan. Meanwhile, the 25Mbps you get from HughesNet is available across all serviceable areas, allowing HughesNet to boast that it can provide broadband speeds to all customers in all its regions. 

Just keep in mind that the Federal Communications Commission's current definition of "broadband" (25Mbps download, 3Mbps upload) was formulated in 2015, making it an outdated benchmark for modern internet usage. Give HughesNet points for consistency, but the claim of "broadband everywhere" isn't anything to brag about.

Viasat and HughesNet share a sketchy idea of unlimited data

HughesNet touts its "unlimited data,'' and Viasat even puts "unlimited" in the plan names -- but both providers are playing fast and loose with the term.

In the case of HughesNet, there are indeed no hard data limits. This means you won't be cut off and won't face overage fees if you go over your monthly data allowance. That said, you will experience extreme slowdowns once you hit your monthly data cap. Specifically, customers who exceed the monthly data cap can expect their download speeds to be throttled from 25Mbps down to 1Mbps to 3Mbps for the remainder of the month. 
It's a similar story over at Viasat. The company won't charge you any additional fees for going over the data limit, but you will suffer from severely reduced download speeds for the remainder of that month. 
It's tempting to give Viasat the nod here because the data caps for each plan are higher than those you'll get with HughesNet. For example, Viasat's Platinum package comes with 150GB or 300GB of data, while HughesNet's top package features 100GB -- and that plan isn't available in all areas. Also, Viasat has a Data Extender feature that allows you to change your video quality -- from the typical 720p to 480p -- to help lower your data usage. But let me throw out a couple of caveats, as well. 

First, just like the speeds, Viasat's data allowances can vary from region to region. Meanwhile, HughesNet's data caps are consistent across the entire coverage map. HughesNet also offers a "Bonus Zone" -- a window between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. when customers can use an additional 50GB per month of data. It's not exactly convenient, but it could potentially double your data allotment if you're an early riser or can schedule large downloads in advance. Viasat doesn't offer that nationally. Lastly, HughesNet customers also can buy Data Tokens, each of which will add additional gigabytes to your monthly cap. Again, Viasat doesn't match that.
It's a close call, but I'm inclined to give a slight edge to HughesNet, even though the totals are lower when it comes to a data comparison. Both providers have data limits that can be tough to live with, but HughesNet presents consistency across its plans and opportunities to purchase more data if needed.

Additional fees are steep, but Viasat's are slightly cheaper

One of the necessary evils of satellite internet service is a higher equipment fee than you'll see with cable, DSL or fiber. For example, most cable providers will allow you to skirt the monthly modem/router fee by using your own equipment, but neither HughesNet nor Viasat gives you that option. Let's take a closer look at what you can expect. 

One-time installation fee 

Self-installation isn't an option with either of the major satellite internet providers. With Viasat and HughesNet, it's professional installation only, requiring a technician visit and setup of the satellite dish and equipment. With both providers, the installation will cost you $100. 

A Viasat satellite dish

Unless you want to buy it for a steep upfront fee, you'll need to pay $13 per month to rent your equipment from Viasat -- and installation costs $100, too.


Additional monthly equipment fee 

As I mentioned above, you won't be able to use your own modem with either HughesNet or Viasat. Instead, you'll need to rent your equipment or pay for it up front. With HughesNet, that means another $15 per month to lease the HughesNet Wi-Fi Modem, though you can also buy the equipment for a one-time fee of $450, which includes the installation fee.

Viasat takes a similar approach but charges customers $13 a month to rent its Wi-Fi equipment. If you want to go the route of buying the equipment upfront, you'll be charged a one-time fee of $300. That isn't chump change, but it's significantly less than the $350 you'd pay with HughesNet (minus the installation cost).

Contracts and early termination fees

Both HughesNet and Viasat require a two-year contract. With Viasat, if you cancel before the contract is up, you'll need to pay an early termination fee of approximately $15 for every month remaining on your contract. In the case of HughesNet, the amount could be as steep as $400 if you cancel within the first 90 days of service. 

Viasat does offer the option of forgoing the two-year contract by paying a $300 upfront fee at the start of the service. This will save you $45 if you decide to cancel after the first 30 days of your service. Gee, thanks.

Though Viasat wasn't scored at all, HughesNet finished dead last in J.D. Power's most recent ISP customer satisfaction survey for the US South region.

J.D. Power

Customer satisfaction is a mixed bag

The 2022 American Customer Satisfaction Index for ISPs didn't include separate scores for satellite providers like Viasat and HughesNet. While the ACSI confirmed to CNET that scores for both providers were included in the overall rankings, it's impossible to pull out their individual numbers. As an industry, the numbers weren't pretty this year, but it isn't easy to know exactly what that means for either of our satellite providers.

Unfortunately for HughesNet, the 2021 J.D. Power US Residential Internet Service Provider Satisfaction Study did highlight it in the study's South region. The company earned a disappointing score of 578 on a 1,000-point scale, dead last among all ISPs listed in that same region. This isn't necessarily surprising given satellite internet's reputation for spotty service. The technology is known to be finicky in bad weather, sluggish in performance and expensive compared with other modes of internet.

It's one of the main reasons billionaires like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have invested in low-earth orbit satellites, which are approximately 60 times closer than those in use by Viasat and HughesNet. With satellites closer to the ground, the signal from your dish won't need to travel as far, which can potentially reduce latency and boost speeds. But while Musk's Starlink has made a lot of progress over the last year, neither service is widely available yet.

The bottom line

So, did you choose Coke or Pepsi? If you reside in a remote stretch of rural America, your only choices for internet service may be HughesNet and Viasat. While HughesNet's consistency across all corners of the coverage map makes for a decent pitch, the chance for higher download speeds and greater data allowances tilts the scales toward Viasat. Be sure to check with both to see which one is the better fit at your address -- and if anything else is available, be sure to consider that as well.

HughesNet vs. Viasat FAQs

Which is faster, HughesNet or Viasat?

If you match them up, based simply on which service has the fastest speed at its top end, then the clear winner is Viasat. Some of its markets are now able to reach 150Mbps download speeds. That said, not all Viasat customers have access to that top download speed. There are some markets where subscribers will see max speeds of 12Mbps. In those cases, HughesNet comes out on top because all of its markets have access to 25Mbps download speeds.

Do HughesNet and Viasat have data caps?

Both Viasat and HughesNet play a little fast and loose with the term "unlimited data." Yes, it's true that neither enforces a true data cap in the sense that customers won't be charged overage fees or cut off from service once they hit their monthly data allowance. But, once that data limit is hit, customers will experience a severe slowdown in internet speed, including throttling around 1-3Mbps for the remainder of your billing cycle. You may avoid taking a hit to your budget, but you'll certainly get a punch to the gut when it comes to the performance of your internet connection.

Can you game with Viasat and HughesNet?

You could try it, but we wouldn't recommend it. The high latency -- or delay, put more simply -- inherent with satellite internet service, especially the plans offered by HughesNet and Viasat, make real-time gaming impractical. If you want to play chess or solitaire, you might be in business, but any first-person shooter games, multiplayer matches or real-time strategy contests would be difficult.