With nearly 2 million customers around the world, Starlink is the largest satellite internet provider. The huge demand for rural broadband in the US and other areas of the world has fueled Starlink’s incredible growth in the last several years.
Starlink’s success hasn’t come without problems. Although Starlink has changed the world by providing high speed, low latency internet to virtually anywhere on Earth, many customers are disappointed with the long waitlist, customer service, and cost. Those issues, as well as other Starlink problems, has some people looking for alternatives.
In this article, I’m going to cover several alternatives to Starlink. I will explore Starlink’s satellite internet competition, as well as their competitors in other broadband categories, like 5G wireless. Understanding the pros and cons of each alternative will help you decide which provider is right for you.
Note: The alternatives listed in this article are based on availability in the United States, for consumer-grade home internet services.
Table of Contents
Satellite Internet Competitors
Satellite internet has been around for decades. Since it doesn’t rely on local ground infrastructure like DSL, fiber, or 5G wireless, satellite internet has been one of the only options for rural areas. Let’s take a look at who else is offering satellite internet, and how their services match up to Starlink.
HughesNet has over a million subscribers in the US. Before Starlink’s recent growth, it was the leading satellite internet provider. Like other traditional satellite ISP’s, HughesNet technology is based on a handful of satellites operating in geosynchronous orbit, vs Starlink’s constellation of thousands of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO).
- Better availability – Unlike Starlink, there is no waitlist for residential service. Customers can sign up right away, without having to wait months or even years for service.
- Cheaper – Most of the HughesNet service plans are cheaper than the Starlink plans. Even if you add in the HughesNet installation and equipment costs, Starlink is more expensive overall.
- Faster customer support – One of the biggest complaints about Starlink is the lack of customer support through the online ticket system. HughesNet has a more traditional support system, where customers can call or email with any issues.
- Professional installation – HughesNet requires their equipment to be professionally installed, so you don’t have to worry about anything. Starlink doesn’t offer any installation services, so DIY skills or outside contractors are required.
- Slow speeds – HughesNet advertises a max speed of 50 mbps. Starlink is capable of 150+ mbps.
- High latency – Because HughesNet satellites orbit much higher, ping/latency is higher. Average latency for HughesNet customers is above 600 ms, compared with < 50 ms for Starlink subscribers. Low latency is required for many internet activities like online gaming and video calls.
- Data cap/limit – HughesNet limits the amount of data you can use each month, and your speeds will slow down if you exceed the cap. Starlink offers unlimited data.
Overall, I think Starlink is better due to the low latency and faster speeds. In 2024, low latency is a must for things like online gaming and video conferencing. In the age of remote work, Starlink will provide a much better home internet experience, with better performance and unlimited data.
On the other hand, HughesNet is Starlink’s biggest competitor at the moment, and offers availability where Starlink service is waitlisted. Customers who can’t get Starlink might find the immediate availability and lower prices to be worth the tradeoffs. For more detail, check out our full comparison of Starlink vs HughesNet.
Like HughesNet, Viasat is a satellite internet competitor that has been operating for years. Viasat satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, providing coverage for most of the US. Since the technology powering Viasat and HughesNet is similar, they share many of the same pros and cons compared with Starlink.
- Cost – Viasat monthly plans and the equipment is cheaper compared to Starlink. Viasat is definitely a budget friendly alternative.
- No waitlist – Like HughesNet, Viasat is available immediately for much of the US. Starlink Residential remains at capacity in many areas, especially in the eastern US.
- Better support – Starlink only provides support through an online ticket system. With Viasat, you can pick up the phone and talk to a human right away for any technical issues.
- Installation – Viasat will have your equipment professionally installed. Starlink requires a DIY installation, or you can hire your own contractor.
- Latency – Viasat and HughesNet satellites orbit much higher than LEO constellations like Starlink, so latency will be much higher. Expect over 600 ms for Viasat, compared with < 50 ms for Starlink.
- Slower speeds – Viasat offers up to 100 mbps, which is slower than what Starlink is capable of.
- Data cap – Viasat has a data cap/limit, and will slow your speeds if it is exceeded. Starlink offers unlimited data on the Residential plan.
- Contract – Most Viasat customers will need to sign a multi-year contract to get service. Starlink doesn’t require any contract or commitments.
Viasat is a good Starlink alternative if you don’t mind the high latency or contract. Thanks to recent technology upgrades, Viasat is starting to compete more in terms of performance, but high latency will always be a downside for geosynchronous satellite systems.
Read our article comparing Starlink and Viasat for a full breakdown of what each provider offers.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper
Another Starlink competitor worth mentioning is Amazon’s upcoming Project Kuiper. Right now, Project Kuiper is still in the early phases of development. They haven’t launched any of their planned 3,236 satellites, although the first two prototypes are scheduled for deployment in late 2023.
What makes Project Kuiper interesting as a Starlink competitor is that it uses a LEO satellite constellation to provide high speed, low latency internet globally. At least on a paper, it will be the closest alternative to Starlink in terms of performance.
Also like Starlink, Project Kuiper will feature several types of antenna’s (or dish’s) depending on the application. For home internet, customers will get a small, easy to install antenna that is also portable. Businesses can take advantage of larger antennas for better performance.
I’m keeping a close eye on Project Kuiper, as it will be the closest thing to Starlink when it finally offers service towards late 2024 or early 2025.
5G wireless home internet isn’t as widely available as Starlink or other satellite internet options, but it is a good Starlink alternative to consider. If you live closer to a city, 5G might be available. 5G has been expanding rapidly in densely populated areas, helping to connect suburbs and rural areas outside of cities. Many of these areas, despite being so close to urban centers, have poor broadband infrastructure, just like most of the rural US.
The two biggest 5G home internet providers are T-Mobile and Verizon. Both companies offer a specialized home internet plan, featuring unlimited 5G data. You get a SIM card and 5G modem/router that connects to nearby cell phone towers wirelessly.
- Cheaper – Both T-Mobile and Verizon 5G home internet plans start at $50/month or less. That’s less than half the price of Starlink.
- Faster – Most of the time, a 5G connection will be faster than Starlink. 5G home internet is capable of 300+ mbps. Like Starlink, speeds will vary based on your area.
- Easy installation – 5G home internet doesn’t require any external equipment or antennas. Just plug in the modem/Wifi router and you are connected.
- No weather impact – Starlink and other satellite internet options don’t work well through heavy rain or snow. 5G isn’t affected by weather.
- Low availability – In order to get 5G, you must live close to compatible cell phone towers. That excludes a lot of rural areas. Even with the Residential waitlist, Starlink has much better availability.
- Data prioritization – Both T-Mobile and Verizon deprioritize 5G home internet customers on their networks. You share bandwidth with cell phone users, so sometimes that means slower speeds in densely populated areas.
Fiber And Other Broadband Alternatives
Let’s face it, if fiber or cable internet was available at your address, you probably wouldn’t even consider Starlink. But I’m including this section in the article so you have a complete understanding of all the major Starlink alternatives.
Hardwired connections like fiber are the ideal internet option for a variety of reasons. Performance is unrivaled, because data can travel quickly and efficiently through ground based wires, and not hundreds of miles up to satellites. Speeds, latency, and virtually every other performance metric is better through a fiber or cable internet connection vs Starlink.
Availability is really the only area where Starlink shines against fiber and other terrestrial broadband options. Since satellite coverage is global, you can get Starlink at virtually any address in the US. Fiber, on the other hand, has been slow to roll out. Recent FCC grants have promised to speed things up, but wiring up every address in the US is an extremely difficult and expensive proposition.
In my opinion, that’s why companies like SpaceX and Amazon are investing so heavily in LEO satellite internet service. At the end of the day, all you need for fast internet through satellite is a clear view of the sky. Fiber, 5G, and other internet options all require local ground based infrastructure that is slow and difficult to deploy.
Starlink’s biggest competitors are HughesNet and Viasat. If you go with HughesNet or Viasat, you are making some big tradeoffs when it comes to performance. But in return, you get lower costs and immediate availability.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper looks to be a great alternative when it finally launches. But for now, HughesNet and Viasat are the only options that can rival Starlink’s availability in the US. Other internet options, like fiber and 5G wireless, are less available in rural areas where Starlink really shines.
Do you have any experience with the providers listed in the article? I would love to hear your feedback or questions in the comments!