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Starlink Vs. Viasat: Which Is Best For You

Starlink Vs. Viasat: Which Is Best For You March 13, 2024


Starlink and Viasat are two major players in the satellite internet market. Starlink is operated by SpaceX and provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet across the globe through a network of satellites in low Earth orbit. Viasat is a more established company that provides satellite internet through a fleet of satellites ...

Starlink and Viasat are two major players in the satellite internet market. Starlink is operated by SpaceX and provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet across the globe through a network of satellites in low Earth orbit. Viasat is a more established company that provides satellite internet through a fleet of satellites in geostationary orbit.

With both companies expanding quickly, many rural and remote internet users now have a choice between Starlink and Viasat for their home internet needs. This article will compare the two on several key factors like speed, data caps, coverage, hardware, pricing, and customer satisfaction. The goal is to provide an in-depth side-by-side comparison to help readers determine which may be the better option for their household.

Coverage Areas

Starlink and Viasat currently have very different coverage areas.

Starlink’s satellite internet service is available in select areas across North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of South America. However, it is still in beta with limited availability. Starlink aims to achieve near global coverage once all planned satellites are launched.

Viasat offers satellite internet across the Americas as well as Europe. Its coverage spans the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil in the Americas. In Europe, it covers the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Scandinavia.

A key difference is that Starlink is focused on individual consumers and households, while Viasat also serves airlines, maritime vessels, and large enterprises. Viasat may have broader coverage for these commercial markets.

For most individual users, Starlink’s service area is still very limited, while Viasat has wider current coverage across North America and Europe. However, Starlink aims to rapidly expand its coverage footprint in the coming years.

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Speeds

When it comes to speed, Starlink and Viasat offer different max speeds and real-world performance.

Starlink advertises max download speeds up to 200 Mbps and max upload speeds up to 20 Mbps. However, user reports show typical download speeds between 50-150 Mbps and upload speeds around 10 Mbps. Speeds can fluctuate based on location, weather, network congestion and other factors. Still, most users report sufficient speeds for activities like streaming, gaming, and video calls.

Viasat’s max advertised speeds depend on the plan – the fastest offers download speeds up to 100 Mbps and upload speeds up to 3 Mbps. However, real-world speeds are often much lower due to network congestion, data throttling, and other restrictions. Typical Viasat speeds are in the 15-25 Mbps down range, with extremely slow upload speeds. This can make activities like video calling and gaming nearly impossible during peak usage times.

So while Viasat advertises higher maximum speeds, Starlink typically delivers faster real-world download and upload speeds, which are crucial for modern internet activities. Starlink’s low latency also makes the speeds very usable with minimal buffering. Viasat speeds are usually insufficient, unstable, and prone to congestion issues.

Latency

Starlink’s satellites orbit much closer to Earth than traditional satellites like Viasat, at about 340 miles up compared to over 22,000 miles. This allows Starlink to have much lower latency than Viasat. Latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel to and from the satellite. Lower latency is critical for activities like online gaming, video conferencing, and voice calls.

Starlink has a latency of 20-40ms, which is similar to cable and fiber internet. Viasat’s latency is 600-700ms. That high latency makes activities like gaming and video calls difficult. Actions you take don’t happen instantly on the screen because of the delay. Starlink’s latency is low enough to enable real-time activities.

The height of Viasat’s orbit means even at the speed of light, data takes a while to make the round trip to the satellite. Starlink cuts that travel distance down significantly by having satellites much closer overhead. If low latency is a priority for your usage, Starlink has a huge advantage over Viasat. For some users, like online gamers, the latency difference can be a dealbreaker.

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Reliability

Reliability refers to the consistent uptime and availability of an internet service. This is a key consideration, as interruptions can impact the ability to work, attend school, access entertainment, and more.

Overall, Starlink tends to offer better reliability compared to Viasat according to various user reports. Starlink uses a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit, making coverage more consistent. The satellites seamlessly hand off connections with one another to maintain service. While obstruction from trees or buildings can cause drops, the network is designed for stable uptime.

In contrast, Viasat relies on traditional geosynchronous satellites in a much higher orbit. This leaves the service susceptible to weather disruptions, with rain fade being a common issue. The satellite has a wider coverage area, so there are fewer handoffs between antennas. But any outage of the single satellite affects all users in that coverage zone. Reviews cite frequent downtime with Viasat, especially during inclement weather.

Independent testing has confirmed Starlink’s superior reliability metrics. According to Ookla Speedtest Intelligence, Starlink maintained low levels of latency fluctuation compared to geosynchronous satellite internet providers. This steady performance indicates more reliable uptime. So for users that require consistent connectivity, Starlink would likely provide better service. But Viasat may still offer reasonable reliability for casual internet use. Checking with locals can provide insights on typical uptime in a given area.

Data Caps

When it comes to data caps and throttling, Viasat and Starlink offer very different experiences for customers.

Viasat has strict data caps that range from 40-150GB per month depending on your plan. If you exceed your monthly data cap, Viasat will significantly throttle your speeds to just 1-5Mbps until the next billing cycle starts. This makes it very difficult to do data-intensive tasks like streaming video once you’ve used up your high-speed data allotment. Viasat does offer the option to purchase data tokens to get high speeds back, but these tokens can be expensive.

In contrast, Starlink has no enforced data caps and does not throttle customers’ speeds based on data usage. You can use as much data as you want each month without penalties. This unlimited data approach makes Starlink a much better option for households with high data needs. Streaming, gaming, video calls and other bandwidth-heavy activities are not a problem.

The bottom line is that Viasat’s restrictive data caps can be very limiting for customers in the modern world where high bandwidth applications are commonplace. Starlink’s unlimited data provides a lot more flexibility. If you use a lot of data each month, Starlink is likely the better choice to avoid speed throttling.

Hardware

Starlink and Viasat require different equipment to set up their satellite internet services.

For Starlink, the main hardware is a small satellite dish that customers mount on their roof or wall to connect to the orbiting Starlink satellites. The dish has a self-orienting motor to locate the best signal. It connects to a WiFi router inside the home via a cable. Customers also need to install a mounting tripod and cable kits. The dish, router, cables and accessories cost around $600 upfront.

Viasat requires a larger dish antenna, around 2 feet wide, also installed outdoors with a clear view of the southern sky. The dish links to an indoor WiFi modem. Professional installation runs around $350, but the equipment is otherwise free. Customers don’t have to pay the upfront hardware cost like with Starlink.

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