Starlink, even since it’s launched back in late 2020, has been snapping up millions of subscribers across the globe.
Many of those subscribers have come from ViaSat, another staple among the satellite internet fray.
In this guide, I’ll detail how Starlink and ViaSat stack up against each other from a variety of different angles, including expected speeds, costs, and so forth.
Is Starlink Better Than Viasat?
First and foremost, let’s address the burning question on everyone’s mind: In nearly every aspect, Starlink surpasses Viasat.
However, Starlink isn’t without its challenges. Being a newer player in the market, it grapples with issues like restricted coverage areas.
For ease of navigation, here’s a roadmap of the topics I’ll delve into. If something catches your eye, feel free to jump directly to that section:
- The technological backbone of Starlink & Viasat
- The variety of internet plans on offer
- Their geographic availability
- The hardware provisions (and guidance on installation, if needed)
- Anticipated performance metrics: download/upload speeds and latency
- How much each service costs
- Data limits and other potential restrictions
Let’s dive into these aspects in the ensuing sections.
How Both Services Work
Viasat utilizes geosynchronous satellites to provide internet connectivity. These satellites are stationed approximately 22,236 miles (~ 35,785 km) above the Earth in the geostationary orbit (GEO).
While Viasat has previously acquired satellites from competitors including Telesat, it has also launched a total of 3 satellites itself.
Unfortunately, the third-generation series hasn’t fared too well so far. Viasat planned to launch 3 different satellites, which would enable the company to provide worldwide internet coverage and each provide 1 Terabit per second (Tbps).
First, the delays of Arianespace’s Ariane 6 rocked forced Viasat to contract with Starlink owner SpaceX.
In May 2023, SpaceX launched the Viasat 3 Americas, successfully placing it in near-geosynchronous orbit. Unfortunately, the satellite’s 18-meter-diameter mesh antenna reflector wasn’t properly deployed, causing it to malfunction.
As a result, Viasat incurred hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, which it now tries to recoup via insurance claims. That said, the Viasat EMEA and APAC satellites are both scheduled for a launch in 2024.
In contrast, Starlink operates a constellation of thousands of satellites located in low Earth orbit (LEO).
Those satellites roam Earth at a distance of about 342 miles (550 kilometers). As a result, the signal from your antenna to the satellites and back to Earth takes substantially less time to be transmitted.
Thanks to the extensive network of Starlink’s constellation, there is always a satellite available for your antenna to link with, ensuring global coverage, subject to agreements with local authorities.
Viasat sells into both the consumer as well as business market. On the consumer side, it offers three different plans with varying speeds and data caps (more on that later).
Similarly, metered broadband plans are provided for businesses with low-volume data usage. Lastly, Viasat also sells into the aviation and maritime industries, offering plans for in-flight connectivity or shipping vessels.
Starlink offers a total of seven different internet plans. These are called Residential, Portability, Roam, Best Effort, Business, Aviation, and Maritime.
While Residential, Portability, Roam, and Best Effort are aimed at consumers, Aviation, Business, and Maritime cater to different types of enterprise customers.
I’ll mostly focus on comparing Starlink’s Residential and Business plan to those that Viasat offers. Please refer to their respective websites if you need information about Starlink’s or Viasat’s aviation and maritime programs.
Viasat serves all 50 states of the United States. The company claims that it can offer internet coverage to 99 percent of the population.
Apart from the US, Viasat is also available in parts of Central and South America, including Brazil and Mexico. There, Viasat works with local ISPs such as Grupo Prosperist (MX).
Furthermore, its business-oriented aviation and maritime plans essentially offer worldwide coverage (at substantially lower speeds).
Starlink has secured operational licenses in over 60 countries worldwide since its initial launch in the US in November 2020.
While its presence has grown, full Residential coverage in key markets like the United States and Canada remains a work in progress. Currently, a significant portion of the Eastern US is still only available to Roam and/or Best Effort subscribers.
Yet, throughout 2023, Starlink’s capacity and availability have seen consistent improvements. Based on Starlink’s coverage projections, they aim to achieve comprehensive Residential coverage in the US by the end of the year.
Hardware & Installation
Upon subscribing to Viasat internet service, all necessary equipment is provided by Viasat.
This includes a satellite antenna dish with a transceiver and bracket assembly, and the Viasat WIFI Gateway which comprises a modem, wireless router, and a VoIP phone adapter for those opting for phone service. Additionally, a cable of at least 7 feet and potentially a pole are included.
The setup also requires up to 150 feet of RG-6 cable to connect the antenna to the modem, along with all required mounting and cabling hardware.
Customers are advised to secure permission from their property owner if needed. Viasat’s installation process does not support self-installation; therefore, a trained Viasat technician will handle the complete setup.
This technician will also provide guidance on the best location for the satellite dish.
The installation process includes routing the cable through exterior and interior walls or floors, and creating a necessary hole if one doesn’t exist.
It’s important to note that the Viasat system is not compatible with any modems or antennas other than those provided.
For customers who cannot mount the dish on their roof, Viasat may offer a pole mount as an alternative solution.
The beauty of Starlink, among many other factors, lies in its simplicity of installation. Most of the time, you can get started without needing to hire professional help.
Related: How to set up your Starlink kit
Those subscribed to Starlink’s Residential plan will normally receive the Standard rectangular hardware kit.
It contains the antenna, which is your gateway to connecting with the satellites, as well as an accompanying mounting base, a Wi-Fi router, and various power cables.
Should you be subscribed to the Business plan, then you’ll receive the costlier High Performance antenna kit.
Starlink’s High Performance antenna offers a few improvements, including a greater field of view of about 35 percent (thus being able to connect to satellites faster, which effectively minimizes downtime), improved weather resistance, better snow melting capabilities, and more.
The two most important aspects when comparing GEO and LEO satellite internet services are the download and upload speeds as well as expected latency.
This is also where you’ll find the biggest difference between Starlink and Viasat – more on that in the coming chapters. 👇
Download & Upload Speeds
Viasat clusters its consumer internet plans into three distinct buckets. As a result, your download speed will vary depending on the plan you opted into.
That said, the plans are ultimately subject to local availability. You can check the options available at your disposal under the following link.
For example, customers in certain regions can only purchase the 12 Mbps plans while others have access to the 100 Mbps options.
The reason behind this is manifold. Satellites use “spot beams” to deliver internet to specific areas on the ground.
If a particular beam covering Wyoming (example) is closer to capacity (meaning more subscribers are using it), Viasat may limit the speed offerings to ensure everyone under that beam gets a decent service.
In contrast, a beam covering Minnesota (another example) might have more available capacity.
Furthermore, service providers often allocate resources based on anticipated demand. If Viasat’s market research indicates a higher demand for faster speeds or more advanced services in a certain state, they might allocate more resources or newer technology to that region – for example setting up additional ground stations.
Lastly, upload speeds for Viasat should hover around the 3 Mbps to 4 Mbps threshold. Again, the comparatively low upload performance can be explained by the geosynchronous location of Viasat’s satellites since the signal has to travel much further and it thus takes more time to send it back and forth.
Performance-wise, the same logic can also be applied to Viasat’s business plans. Again, the company buckets its plans into distinct clusters, which determine the download and upload speeds you’ll experience.
Download and upload speeds are substantially better when opting in for Starlink. Even at the lower end of the spectrum, Residential service users can expect around 30 Mbps down.
The average Residential subscriber can anticipate speeds ranging from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps, largely influenced by their geographic location.
We at Starlink Insider have also prompted our readers to disclose what performance they experience through the speed survey.
In the US, the average respondent reports download speed of 88.5 Mbps, which falls in line with the estimates Starlink provides.
To gauge the potential download and upload speeds in your area, simply click on the provided link and navigate across the map.
Use the filter settings located in the top left corner to toggle between download and upload speeds, as well as projected latency.
Furthermore, those on the Business/Priority plan benefit from elevated speeds, stemming from both network prioritization and the utilization of superior hardware, specifically the High Performance dish.
Starlink’s FAQ section highlights that within the United States, download speeds oscillate between 40 Mbps and 220 Mbps, while upload rates range from 8 Mbps to 25 Mbps.
Viasat, due to the geosynchronous location of its satellites, is plagued by very high latency. Your ping will often hover around 630 or so milliseconds, with some users reporting latency as high as 750 ms.
As a result, some internet activities, including playing online video games and participating in video calls, are either cumbersome or outright impossible to engage in.
Even the usage of VPNs is not recommended. Not only do they add another layer in the data path but satellite internet providers often employ data compression to optimize the use of the available bandwidth. A VPN encrypts your data, which can make it less compressible, potentially resulting in higher data usage and slower speeds.
Starlink generally offers more favorable latency metrics. Within the United States, latency ranges from 25 ms to 60 ms, influenced by one’s geographical location.
Typically, more isolated regions like Alaska or Southern Chile may face elevated latency times (around 60 ms or slightly higher).
This can be attributed to a combination of fewer proximate ground stations and a reduced number of satellites covering Earth’s polar regions.
Viasat pricing, as you might have guessed, is dependent on the plan that you opt into. On a per-gigabyte basis, Viasat claims on its website that it charges 60 cents for high-speed internet (i.e., before being degraded to standard data).
In comparison, Starlink and Viasat competitor HughesNet, which also relies on geosynchronous satellites, allegedly costs 87 cents per GB.
Viasat plans start at $49.99 per month and can go as high as $299.99 per month for the 100 Mbps plan with 500 GB of high-speed data.
Business plans are even more expensive. A dedicated search for Wyoming, for example, returns the following offer on Viasat’s homepage:
Viasat does try to entice customers by providing them with temporary discounts of $20 to $100 per month for the first three months.
Potential subscribers can also check whether they’re eligible for the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which would reduce their monthly bill by another $30.
Hardware-wise, Viasat does offer free installations. That said, equipment costs $299.99 if you purchase it outright. Alternatively, it can be leased directly from Viasat for $9.99 per month.
The pricing for Starlink varies, taking into account your geographical location. Specifically, in the United States, the Residential package price differs based on your residing area.
For those in regions with “excess capacity”, the monthly cost is $90. However, in areas where capacity is limited, the charge is $120 per month.
To determine your specific pricing bracket, visit the Starlink website. Navigate to the Residential section and input your address in the provided order form.
Upon submission, an order page will display, detailing the exact rate you’d be subjected to. Additionally, Residential subscribers incur a one-time fee of $599 for the hardware, along with a $50 shipping charge.
Subscribers of Starlink’s Business plan are charged based on the amount of Priority data they opt into. Here’s what they will pay per month:
- 1 TB: $250
- 2 TB: $500
- 6 TB: $1,500
Additionally, Business users are prompted to order the High Performance antenna, which costs $2,500 (plus $50 for shipping and handling).
Some markets where demand is not as steep may benefit from hardware discounts. In Canada, for example, the Standard antenna was temporarily discounted to CA$199 (~ $147).
Starlink won’t charge you for installation since its hardware is designed to allow for individual setups. Should you still need help in setting up the hardware, then feel free to check out our Starlink installer directory.
Data Caps & Other Limitations
Imposed data caps are another huge limiting factor of Viasat. As you can see in the screenshot above, Viasat provides only a set amount of “high-speed data” to subscribers.
The lowest amount of available high-speed data is 40 gigabyte per month and can go as high as 500 GB.
After exceeding your data allotment, you will be downgraded to what Viasat dubs “standard data”, which is substantially slower.
Users on Reddit claim that they were throttled down to 3 Mbps to 8 Mbps. Other have claimed it can be as low as 1 Mbps, making even basic internet browsing a pittance.
That being said, you can purchase additional high-speed data within your account terminal. Here’s an overview of what this would cost:
However, keep in mind that prices for topping up data may differ, depending on the plan you chose. Generally speaking, the faster your connection, the more Viasat charges for purchasing additional data.
Another huge limiting factor of Viasat is the contract length. Viasat requires a 24-month contract for satellite internet service, unless you choose the Viasat Month-to-Month Service Term Option and pay the No Long-Term Contract Option fee.
If you cancel your Viasat contract prematurely, then you will be charged $15 for every outstanding month. If, for example, you have 12 months left on your contract, then your termination fee is $180 (= 12 months x $15).
Alternatively, you can No Long-Term Contract Option fee, equal to $300, when you sign up with Viasat. The fee, which will be charged on your first month with Viasat, allows you to get out of your contract at any given time.
Starlink’s data cap is primarily reserved for its Priority plan subscribers. For those on the Residential plan, they benefit from an unlimited ‘Standard’ data allowance.
Based on the data provisions outlined, users can expect download speeds anywhere from 30 Mbps to 200 Mbps, contingent upon their local cell’s congestion.
Those who opt for the Business plan, also referred to as Priority, can anticipate even greater download velocities. But this heightened speed doesn’t persist indefinitely.
Business/Priority subscribers can select from data caps of 1 TB, 2 TB, or 6 TB. Upon breaching these caps, they transition to the Standard prioritization, experiencing speeds similar to Residential plan subscribers.
Furthermore, Starlink doesn’t bind its users with contractual obligations. Subscriptions can be terminated at any point, with users simply settling any remaining dues.
An added perk: if users opt-out within 30 days of receiving their hardware, they are eligible for a refund, though shipping and handling charges are excluded.
For subscribers discontinuing their service after the initial 30-day period, the hardware kit can be sold, allowing for a transfer of ownership to another party.
While ViaSat has made some strides in improving its service, it’s still nowhere near as good as Starlink.
Starlink wins across almost any domain, whether that’s download and upload speeds, latency, data caps, or imposed contractual limitations.
And since Starlink continues to expand its constellation as well as ground station infrastructure, it’s only getting better with each passing day.
We also published a similar guide on Starlink vs. HughesNet. So, if you’re interested, check it out here.