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Is Viasat Internet Good Enough for Streaming, Gaming, and Surfing the Web?
Viasat (formerly Exede) is one of two major providers of satellite internet in the United States (the other being HughesNet).
While it may not provide the same speed as cable or fiber providers, Viasat does have a secret weapon. As of April 2018, the company now offers several unlimited data plans. This is a perk not often seen with satellite internet providers, and it is directly tied to the recent launch of their new Viasat-2 satellites.
The main draw of a satellite connection, in general, is that it allows people in rural areas to get online, even if they’re far away from an established network. With Viasat, almost everyone can get online and enjoy high-speed internet regardless of their location. All you need is a clear view of the southern sky (and willingness to sign a two-year contract).
Usually, satellite connections are much more limited in their data allowances. Because data has to be sent to a satellite for transmission, there’s a maximum amount of capacity that the network can handle at any given time. Keep that in mind as you take a look at Viasat internet plans and pricing.
As mentioned above, Viasat does offer several “unlimited data” plans with 12–25 Mbps download speeds. These options also state that “other traffic may be prioritized” if you use over 100 GB a month, however. While this may sound like a solid deal, 100 GB isn’t very much by today’s standards. Yes, you can technically use as much data as you want, but your speeds will be slowed in the process. Use this handy data calculator to help you figure out your data usage needs.
We’ve found that Viasat’s top connection speeds are reasonably comparable to competitor HughesNet, overall. Still, some customers we spoke to were routinely unable to access the 25 Mbps upgrade due to bandwidth constraints in subscription areas. The effective top speed is often the 12 Mbps plan.
The pricing of Viasat’s plans are generally competitive with other Satellite internet providers, but more expensive when compared to Cable or Fiber. We’ve found them to be more expensive than HughesNet for the speed delivered, but often better in terms of the data allowance. Bundles with DirecTV — one of the top television providers in the nation — are also available with discounts over standalone service.
Satellite connections are generally slower than traditional options like cable or fiber, but Viasat still manages to offer downloads of up to 25 Mbps.
While data with some plans are usually unlimited, expect to see the speed of your connection decrease once you hit 150 GB of usage each month.
In 2018, Viasat launched a new satellite network, aptly named ViaSat-2. This new network brings about a slew of changes to the company’s internet plans, some of which are clearly targeted toward their primary competitor, HughesNet. Most importantly, the company is now offering unlimited data on all of their mainline plans. This includes the 12, 30, 50, and 100 Mbps options that are now available to most current and new subscribers. These plans represent a significant step in the right direction for the company, and for satellite internet as a whole.
Crucially, Viasat mentioned in their initial press release that their new ViaSat-2 plans would be unlimited, up to a certain point. This point varies from plan to plan, but the company mentions that once exceeded, other customer’s traffic may still be prioritized over yours. That said, the new satellite network has a massively-upgraded capacity, so hopefully, this won’t be as large an issue going forward. Time will tell.
While speeds of around 25 Mbps may be fine for online games due to the low amount of data transmitted, the issue you’ll run into with a satellite connection is some pretty major latency.
Every bit of data you use has to travel around 23,000 miles to a satellite in space and then bounce back, and this results in a minimum latency of 500 ms — a limitation that all satellite providers share.
Viasat may serve just fine for Farmville, but will severely limit your effectiveness if you’re playing a game like Call of Duty or League of Legends. Streaming on Twitch becomes basically unworkable on any satellite connection, and quickly eats up data anyway.
The main benefit of a satellite connection is the huge range that Viasat covers. You can access their service pretty much anywhere, but you’re going to pay more and get lower speeds overall.
Generally, satellite internet is intended to serve customers that don’t have access to traditional options. It can’t compete in price or speed with regular Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that have an established ground network — internet speeds are faster with wired connections than they are over the air (sorry, it's just science!).
As a satellite Provider, Viasat is available throughout 98% of the United States. The only real limitation within the contiguous United States is the need for an unobstructed view of the sky. That said, Viasat mainly focuses on offering service to rural customers who lack access to traditional options.
Because Viasat requires a satellite dish to operate, you won’t be able to install service on your own. Fortunately, installation is free when you sign a two-year contract. The company doesn’t allow you to buy the equipment outright, so you’ll be stuck paying a rental fee in all cases.
As far as specifications go, Viasat’s “Wi-Fi modem” gateway device is pretty standard in terms of power. It does have some neat extra features under the hood, however. The dual-band device supports both 2.4 and 5 GHz connections, and includes 5 ethernet ports. Additionally, the modem has support for guest access networks and parental controls, so you can manage your children’s internet access and keep guests off your personal network if you have security concerns.
If you’d prefer, you can use your own wireless equipment. You’ll still be stuck paying the monthly rental fee due to the inability to buy your own satellite, but it’s a viable option for those who would rather use equipment they’re already familiar with.
While Viasat doesn’t offer TV themselves, they do partner with DIRECTV in many areas to offer bundled TV and internet service. The main plan advertised is the “Choice” package, starting at around $45 a month. It offers over 200 channels, a Genie TiVo DVR, and exclusive access to NFL Sunday Ticket. Here are a few of the premium sports channels offered with this plan:
DIRECTV Choice Sports Channels
For heavy streamers and cord-cutters, satellite internet from Viasat is not a viable option. While you can enjoy a decent picture quality using the provider’s higher-tier plans, you’re going to quickly run into data cap issues. Viasat’s “unlimited” plan isn’t truly unlimited, in that you’ll end up with slower connections pretty quickly. 150 GB is pretty easy to blow through in a month and you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated with the limitations. Cutting the cord is much easier with a traditional cable or fiber connection.
If you’re on a plan with a data cap, take a look at your plan’s “free zone”, a range of early morning hours where the connection is not metered. These times, usually ranging from 3 – 6 AM, are periods where the network has a light load and can handle heavier individual usage. Schedule any major downloads for this window to save some precious data!
There’s no doubt about it: Viasat can’t compete with cable and fiber providers when it comes to price or quality of service.
With that said, they’re one of the best options available when traditional ISPs aren’t around. Their 25 Mbps downloads with a premium plan puts them above competitor HughesNet when it comes to top speeds, and they offer options without data caps (albeit with throttling for heavy usage).
Overall, while Viasat won’t allow you to stream HD content all day, it’s a viable option for high-speed internet in underserved areas of the United States. We recommend it above HughesNet for most customers, mainly because of the option for higher data caps that are friendly to streaming YouTube and Netflix.
Interestingly, Viasat is the name of the satellite network that Exede Internet has been operating on for years now. It is also the parent company behind the service, and in late 2017, they decided to consolidate their branding into the Viasat name. No service changes were announced alongside the name change, and if you have Exede email addresses or logins, they won’t be changing, either (for now).