Viasat home internet review: Available everywhere, but prices are sky-high - CNET
If you’re checking out Viasat internet, chances are you’re in or moving to a rural area with limited broadband options. The good news is that you can count on Viasat being available — satellite internet reaches nearly every nook and cranny in all 50 states — and you won’t need a phone line, coaxial cable or anything of the sort for service. The bad news is that satellite internet comes with some inherent flaws, like high pricing and low data allowances.
That said, Viasat still may be one of your best rural internet options, especially if DSL service is painfully slow and cable internet isn’t available.
Viasat home internet
- Great availability in rural areas
- Max speeds faster than most rural providers
- No data overage fees (sort of)
- Viasat speeds should improve in 2022
- High prices that increase after just three months
- Speeds no better than 12Mbps in a lot of areas
- High latency and service disruptions are common with satellite internet
Is Viasat internet any good?
For a satellite provider, Viasat offers decent speeds (up to 100 megabits per second) and higher data allowances than you’ll find from rival provider HughesNet. Viasat also does what it can to mitigate high latency and inconsistent reliability — two common frustrations with satellite internet — with its unique Viasat Flex service.
The provider isn’t totally free of flaws, however. First and foremost are the nosebleed-worthy monthly rates, which are higher than what you’ll get from most other providers to begin with and increase after just three months of service. Then there are the speeds. Admittedly, Viasat speeds are faster than HughesNet and DSL service in many areas, but plenty of locations will see max speeds of only 12Mbps. Even if the fastest Viasat speeds are available, 100Mbps is well short of what you’ll get with cable or fiber. There are plans to improve Viasat’s speeds and high-speed availability next year, but more on that in a bit.
The downsides to Viasat can be a little off-putting, especially if cable or fiber is available at your address. Plans like those will give you much better bang for your buck, but for many rural residents, satellite internet is the quickest, most cost-effective means of getting broadband at home.
Viasat plans and pricing
Viasat home internet has four plan tiers: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Some markets will only have access to the first three plans, and available speeds or data allowances can vary by location with each. As you can probably guess, the more lustrous the plan name, the more speed and data.
Viasat home internet plans
With introductory pricing starting at $50 to $150 per month, Viasat is easily one of the most expensive providers — and again, that’s before the price increase. After just three months, the monthly price jumps by $20 to $50. Pricing does stay fairly stable after that thanks to a two-year price guarantee, but three months is still the quickest price increase of any provider, most of which will at least give you a year’s worth of promo prices.
And don’t be fooled by the “unlimited” part of each plan name. All Viasat plans come with a data cap, and if you exceed it in a given month, you can expect Viasat to throttle your speeds. More on that in just a bit.
What you get depends on where you live
I’ve mentioned it a few times already, but it’s worth repeating: Viasat speeds and data allowances vary by location. Depending on where you live, download speeds of 12, 25, 30, 50 or 100Mbps may be available. The one constant is upload speed, which is up to 3Mbps in all service areas across all plans.
In many areas, Viasat only offers the 12Mbps speed tier. In that case, the jump from Bronze to Silver or Silver to Gold just means more data. For example, if 12Mbps is the max available speed in your area, the difference between Bronze and Silver will simply be that Silver comes with more data. Or if both Silver and Gold offer 25Mbps, Gold will come with a higher data allowance than Silver, though the two plans have the same speeds.
On the data side, the Bronze package might have a monthly data allowance of 35, 40 or 80GB while Silver can include 45, 60, 100 or 120GB and Gold may come with 65, 100 or 200GB. Platinum comes with 150 or 300GB, which sounds like a lot, but even the highest Viasat data allowance falls short of what the average U.S. household uses in a month. Again, the amount of data you get depends on your location and the specific plan you choose.
Where are the fastest Viasat speeds available?
According to a Viasat spokesperson, Viasat offers speeds up to 100Mbps in 48 ZIP codes across 31 states. Top service areas include suburban and rural areas around Chattanooga, Tennessee; Frankfort, Kentucky; Indianapolis, Indiana; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Dallas, Texas.
The Viasat spokesperson also told CNET that faster speeds, in more locations, are on the way. To that end, Viasat plans to launch its Viasat-3 satellite in the first quarter of 2022, which will “deliver more data with higher data thresholds, faster speeds (100+ Mbps service speeds), higher quality streaming, enhanced service reliability and service anywhere in the US.”
Additional Viasat services
The Viasat-3 satellite launch is the latest example of Viasat’s efforts to improve satellite internet service. Others include Viasat Liberty and Viasat Flex plans, which are already on the market in select locations.
Viasat Liberty plans all come with up to 12Mbps and 12, 25 or 50GB data blocks. Once you’ve used your data for the month, Viasat will reduce your speeds to 1-5Mbps or lower, depending on network congestion. The main difference between Liberty plans and standard Viasat Unlimited plans is cost (Liberty plans are a bit cheaper but come with less data) and Liberty plans come with free, unlimited data from the hours of 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.
The free zone could be a big bonus if you know how to schedule your downloads, or if you’re just a night owl. But keep in mind, with max speeds of only 12Mbps, you may not be able to download a whole lot during a single three hour window. Standard definition movies, which typically have a file size of 1GB to 3GB could take less than 30 minutes to download, but you might struggle to finish downloading larger files, such as video games and HD movies.
Viasat Flex is an add-on service available with standard Viasat Unlimited plans in select areas. The service combines satellite and DSL service to give users a more reliable connection with lower latency.
Since there are two internet connection types with Viasat Flex, two separate modems and installations are required, Other than initial equipment and installation fees, though, there are currently no added monthly costs for the service. Viasat Flex is still in the testing phase, so it’s unclear if there will be added pricing down the road, and if so, what it may be.
What to expect with Viasat internet plans
Regardless of which Viasat service or plan you choose, expect equipment fees, installation costs and contract requirements to come with it.
The Viasat Wi-Fi equipment lease fee is $13 per month, which is about average compared to other providers. You can’t get rid of that fee by using your own equipment, but you do get the option of buying Viasat’s equipment outright for a one-time fee of $299. While three hundred bucks can be tough to part with upfront, purchasing the equipment will essentially pay for itself after 15 months.
When deciding whether to rent your Viasat Wi-Fi equipment or pay for it upfront, keep in mind that installation can also add to your upfront costs. The Viasat installation fee is $100, but free installation is available in select areas to customers with qualifying credit.
If you want to really pile on the upfront costs, you can opt for a plan with no contract. Viasat’s no long-term contract option comes with a $500 upfront, nonrefundable payment. That’s right, half a thousand dollars, nonrefundable. Otherwise, all Viasat plans require a two-year contract.
Comparing Viasat to HughesNet and other rural internet options
Let’s start with the other widely available satellite option, HughesNet. Compared to HughesNet, Viasat generally offers faster speeds (unless your address is only available for 12Mbps) and higher data allowances for around the same monthly price.
HughesNet pricing ranges from $60-$150 a month and all plans come with download speeds up to 25Mbps and upload speeds up to 3Mbps. You’ll also get less data with HughesNet, as plans only come with 10-50GB per month. However, HughesNet customers have the option to buy additional data throughout the month, while Viasat customers don’t. Equipment fees and installation costs are roughly the same between the two providers, and both come with a two-year contract.
Viasat vs. everything else
Unless you’re in a truly remote rural location, it’s rare that Viasat and HughesNet will be your only internet options, though they could be your only option for broadband speeds (at least 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload). Fixed wireless, cellular and DSL internet are also popular choices for internet in rural areas.
Viasat is faster than many fixed wireless providers, including AT&T and Verizon, which have max download speeds of 10-12Mbps. Other fixed wireless providers, such as Rise Broadband, can offer faster speeds of up to 50Mbps at a lower price than comparable Viasat speed tiers. Fixed wireless also has lower latency than satellite, but both service types are susceptible to service disruptions during inclement weather.
Cellular internet, including 5G service, from providers such as Verizon and T-Mobile could offer faster speeds, more data and lower latency than Viasat internet service. Verizon LTE offers speeds up to 25Mbps and unlimited data starting at $40 a month for qualifying Verizon mobile customers or $60 a month for customers who do not have Verizon mobile service. T-Mobile Home Internet, on the other hand, offers speeds of up to at least 50Mbps and unlimited data for around that same $60 a month price.
DSL internet is cheaper than Viasat, but available speeds are a mixed bag. In some locations, DSL providers like CenturyLink, Frontier and Windstream can only deliver speeds ranging from 1-10Mbps. In other locations, DSL could offer speeds up to 100Mbps or higher, for prices much lower than Viasat’s 100Mbps plan. Many DSL providers also include truly unlimited data, or at the very least higher data allowances than you’ll get with Viasat plans.
In short, Viasat offers faster speeds and more data than HughesNet in many areas, but it’s possible that providers of other internet types could net you lower costs, faster speeds and more data. It all depends on what’s available at your address, so make sure to explore all of your internet options before committing to a particular provider or plan.
Viasat customer satisfaction is hard to gauge
The American Customer Satisfaction Index and J.D. Power do not include Viasat in their yearly customer satisfaction reports, so it’s difficult to tell exactly what customers think of their service.
As of this writing, Viasat has 1,511 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau in the last three years, most of which are what you’d expect to see for any internet service provider: service issues and unexpected fees.
To Viasat’s credit, it does appear the company makes an effort to respond to every complaint in order to further explain the situation or offer a resolution. Of the 1,511 complaints, 720 were closed in the last 12 months. Viasat’s timely responses have helped earn it an A+ rating from the BBB.
With speeds up to 100Mbps and more monthly data than you’re likely to get from rival satellite provider, HughesNet, Viasat is a decent broadband option in areas where cable or fiber service is not available. Other internet types may offer faster speeds or more data for a lower cost in some locations, but in many areas, Viasat will be the better value — just be prepared for relatively high upfront costs and a stingy price increase after your first three months of service.