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.