Viasat Review – 2020

Rating:
3.2/5

Overview of Viasat Internet Services

Viasat is one of the few internet providers in the USA that deliver their connections by satellite. Of that small number of options, only two companies have national coverage: Viasat and HughesNet. Although Viasat covers every state in the USA, HughesNet’s coverage footprint is slightly larger because it also serves US territories in the Caribbean. Headlines state that Viasat provides the fastest satellite internet available in the USA today.

Starting operations in 1986, Viasat is now a leading communications company and is based in Carlsbad, California. Until 2018, this internet service was called Exede. As well as being a provider of satellite internet to homes, Viasat is a leader in providing internet on aircraft.

The company currently operates four satellites and has big plans to create a global “constellation” of satellite services with three new vehicles, collectively called Viasat-3. This project will be fully operational by 2022 and each satellite will communicate at a rate of 1 terabit per second.

The prospects for the company are very bright and it looks as though it intends to consolidate its reputation as the fastest satellite internet provider in the USA by increasing its delivery speed. Viasat customers can expect a continually improving service.

Table of Contents

Pros of Viasat

  • Is available everywhere in the USA, including Alaska and Hawaii
  • Offers satellite internet and TV bundles
  • Offers a telephone service add-on
  • Modem includes WiFi router
  • Unlimited data from 3 am to 6 am

Cons of Viasat

  • Upload speeds are low
  • Minimum contract term of 24 months
  • Top speeds are not available in all of the service areas

Some Points About Viasat

Although Viasat is known throughout the industry for offering internet speeds of up to 100 Mbps, few of its customers actually get that speed. In fact, the top speed that Viasat offers to residential customers is 25 Mbps. Most of its plans only provide speeds of “up to” 12 Mbps. These speeds bring Viasat’s system much closer to its main rival, HughesNet. All of the HughesNet plans promise 25 Mbps.

Satellite internet systems are complex and not as cost-effective as internet delivery systems that run over the telephone network (DSL) or the cable TV system. Messages only reach the internet once they pass through a gateway at the Viasat base. This is called an internet access point (AP). Up to that point, connections are run over a private wireless network. After the AP, communications run over the cables of the internet.

The satellite network involves beaming signals between the dish of the customer and the dish of the Viasat access point. Rather than traveling directly, point-to-point, those transmissions are directed towards a satellite in geostationary orbit above the earth. The satellite acts as a relay, bouncing signals back down to earth, either to the Viasat base or the receiving dish of a customer, depending on the direction of the traffic.

The Viasat satellites are positioned at 22,300 miles above the surface of the earth. So, in order for a request for a web page to get from the computer of a customer through to the server that hosts that website, the signal has to pass over several different transmission media and travel a long way.

A browser on a computer in a customer’s home will use the household WiFi network to get to the home’s internet gateway. The signal then travels down a cable to the satellite dish, where it gets translated into a radio wave. That radio wave is transmitted to the satellite floating at the edge of the earth’s atmosphere and then immediately ricocheted back 22,300 miles down to Viasat’s offices on earth.

The Viasat receiver dish collects the signal and converts it into an electronic pulse, which follows a cable through to the gateway computer of the AP. That computer works out the best neighboring router to forward the signal to and sends it on its way. From that point, the signal is passed along the links of the internet from router to router until it reaches the host of the desired web page. The code for the web page has to make the same journey in reverse.

The Viasat satellite system doesn’t replace the internet, it just provides a route of access to it for those customers who are not able to connect to any wired network.

Everyone is aware that advertising overstates the benefits of a product. However, when deciding on which ISP to go with, overconfident promises on speed can make the difference between which service a buyer goes with. So, one ISP might overstate its speeds and grab customers away from better, cheaper providers. Viasat is lucky in this respect because its main rival, HughesNet consistently under-promises on its speeds and over-delivers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tests the actual speed of the major ISPs compared to their advertisements. The results are published in the Report on Consumer Fixed Broadband Performance in the United States. The latest report shows that Viasat exceeds its promise by 131 percent during off-peak hours, while it fails to meet it’s promises speeds during peak hours – giving just 90 percent.

By comparison, HughesNet exceeds its promised speeds by 261 percent during off-peak times and 186 percent during peak hours. So, a plan with HughesNet that promises 25 Mbps actually delivers around 50 Mbps and around 65 Mbps in off-peak hours. The 25 Mbps plan with Viasat delivers 32.75 Mbps off-peak and 22.5 Mbps during peak hours.

Viasat’s plans are not consistent across the country. The company is famed for delivering a download speed of 100 Mbps. However, it is very difficult to track down a location where that speed is available. In Miami, the top speed available from Viasat is 25 Mbps, in rural California (Durham) the best speed is 12 Mbps, and in Chicago, the top speed offered is 30 Mbps.

The pricing is inconsistent as well. A customer in Miami pays $150 per month from the very beginning of the contract on the Unlimited Silver 25 plan, which gives a throughput of 25 Mbps. In Chicago, customers of the Unlimited Gold 30 plan pay $150 per month for 30 Mbps and only pay $100 per month for the first three months. Customers in Durham, California can only get 12 Mbps on any of three plans. The only difference between them is the quality of video that each will allow the user to steam. The top of those three plans is Unlimited Gold 12 at a price of $150 per month for the first three months and $200 per month thereafter.

Viasat Plans

The following table shows the plans that Viasat offers in Chicago.

 

Plan Download Speed Upload Speed Data Cap Contract Duration
Unlimited Bronze 12 12 Mbps 3 Mbps None 2 Years
Unlimited Silver 25 25 Mbps 3 Mbps None 2 Years
Unlimited Gold 30 30 Mbps 3 Mbps None 2 Years

None of these plans have data throughput limits. However, in some areas, most of the plans have data caps. For example, in Miami, three of the four available plans have data caps of 12, 25, and 50 GB per month. When that limit is reached, the user is still able to use the service, but at a slower speed – between 1 and 5 Mbps. Plans with data caps also benefit from a Free Zone every day. This lasts from 3 am to 6 am and none of the traffic during that time comes off the data usage count.

It is possible to avoid the minimum service period with the No Long-Term Contract Option, which costs $300.

Viasat Pricing Overview

The table below shows the prices of the three plans available in Chicago as at January 2020.

 

Plan First 3 Months Standard Price Setup Cost Equipment Fee
Unlimited Bronze 12 $50/month $70/month $99.99 $10/month
Unlimited Silver 25 $70/month $100/month $99.99 $10/month
Unlimited Gold 30 $100/month $150/month $99.99 $10/month

Customers can choose to lease the equipment for its service life at $299.99 instead of paying the monthly rental fee.

Viasat Customer Service

The Viasat website includes a Customer Portal. This gives an account page to each customer, where it is possible to change account details. The Portal also gives access to the technical support team through a web form. Customers can access the support team by phone and email as well.

Choosing Viasat Plans

Like its main rival, HughesNet, Viasat offers a home phone service add-on to the internet plan. This is offered at the same price no matter where you are in the country. That price is $29.99 per month with an introductory discount of $10 per month for the first six months.

Unlike HughesNet, Viasat offers an internet + TV bundle. This adds in the DIRECTV satellite TV service. Buyers pay the regular DIRECTV subscription price but get a $10 discount per month for the first 12 months. The DIRECTV bundle has a minimum contract period of 24 months.

Although Viasat is known for offering higher speeds that HughesNet, that top speed of 100 Mbps is rarely available. Keep in mind too that the HughesNet speed ends up being double the advertised rate. So, the 25 Mbps of HughesNet gets you better speed than that offered by a 50 Mbps plan from Viasat. While HughesNet prices its service consistently across the country, Viasat has different rates for the same service from location to location. So, in some places, HughesNet offers a better deal than Viasat.