Can ViaSat Make Satellite Broadband Worthwhile?

Since the days of dial-up, the few companies that have offered internet access via satellite connection have delivered slug-like download speeds for a king’s ransom, especially to people for whom cable internet or DSL was not a viable option. But ViaSat, the company Dish Network has just partnered with to offer broadband access, says it’s trying to bring high-speed access for reasonable prices.

Inside the ViaSat outpost at the Consumer Electronics Show, I was able to get a first-hand look at the company’s latest service, called Exede. Like the Dish bundle, this service promises up to 12 Mbps download speeds and around 3 Mbps for uploads. When I saw the service in action, we were actually getting close to 20 Mbps downstream.

ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg explained that the company’s most likely customer is the rural customer who has very few options for internet access.

“Just because you don’t have options doesn’t mean you should be exploited,” he told me.

But before you go cutting your cable and committing to satellite broadband, be aware that all three pricing tiers for ViaSat come with data caps that could turn off moderate-to-heavy internet users.

All three tiers promise the same up/down speeds but the $50/month tier caps at 7.5 GB total data usage. For $80/month, that doubles to 15 GB, while $130/month will get you 25 GB.

“We’re not trying to be everything for everybody,” said Dankberg. “But we’re trying to give people who need internet access a reasonable option.”

Exede is set to officially launch next week. It will take a few months before the company is able to roll it out nationwide.

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  1. QrazyQat says:

    They need to be a bit cheaper for the increased data cap, like a lot cheaper (we’ve seen that costs to provide additional bandwidth to the customer are way out of line with what it costs to provide — I’d be surprised if that were not also true here). And they need a parttime option; this would rope in a lot of RVers. For that matter they need to market to RVers, which sat internet companies have been reluctant to do in the past. Pretty big market and already shown (by their having an RV) to be willing to part with a fair amount of money to pursue their interests.

    • MrEvil says:

      It’d still be a difficult market to penetrate. My aunt and uncle are RVers and they get free Wi-Fi at the parks they frequent. Not to mention most RVers stick to major interstates that by now mostly have 3G coverage and in some instances 3.5G and 4G going forward. Most RVers don’t like going off the beaten path because their rigs get single digit fuel economy (and service stations on the backroads have pretty well dried up in many parts of the country.).

      • QrazyQat says:

        Not really. While many RVers stick to commercial RV parks, many more go to state parks, forest service campgrounds, and BLM land. Many also boondock, parking away from established campgrounds. The numbers are rather large, in the hundreds of thousands or millions, especially swelling in the winter in the SW USA. They’re also an easily targeted group, as they tend to be in certain places (which often have RV shows and product vendors BTW) and areas and also tend to belong to one of two or three organizations.

  2. ancientone567 says:

    “$50/month tier caps at 7.5 GB total data usage”

    That is 1 1080p movie a month for 50-? What a rip off! My cable is unlimited downloads for 30- month at much higher speeds.

    • Yankees368 says:

      This isn’t cable internet you twit. Its SATELLITE. You can’t possibly compare satellite to cable.

      • Andrew says:

        and for less money you can get a wireless data plan with an even higher data cap.

        • Yankees368 says:

          ugh. this is designed for people who have NO other option. yeesh.

          • Rachacha says:

            Exactly. Just looking at the Verizon Wireless Data coverage map, about 25% (geographically) of the US does not have reliable cellular data coverage. If you happen to live in such an area, and your ONLY access to the internet is Dial-up, paying $50-$80 for high speed is worth it.

        • HappyPig says:

          Yeah, unless you live in the large chunk of the US that isn’t covered by 3G. Bleh.

        • NeverLetMeDown says:

          No, you can’t. Verizon’s LTE plans are 5GB for $50.

    • Ogroat says:

      When I was in Iraq, a number of my buddies and I got together to get satellite internet hooked up. We paid a local about $700 a month for what amounted to very low-end DSL speeds with extremely high latency. Even at that price, it was absolutely worth the price we paid to stay connected. (It worked out to about $35 a person per month.)

      Though it’s not an ideal solution for most people, I’m sure there is somebody out there itching to get this.

    • duncanblackthorne says:

      1. Your cable company has a monthly bandwidth cap, whether they’re telling you up front about it or not.
      2. This is a service marketed to people who have NO other options for internet access.

      • ablestmage says:

        A 7.5GB cap is still NO OPTION. Completely unrealistic, unless they’re some grandma who only uses email with the occasional large photo attachments of grandkids.

        • kc2idf says:

          I can see you’ve never lived anywhere isolated. In the data desert that one finds in the middle of nowhere, this is an oasis, and nothing currently out there competes with this offer.

          • dolemite says:

            I’ve lived somewhere that only had dialup, and I’d have a really hard time paying for a 7.5 GB cap. $80 for 15 GB cap? That’s like a few movies or 1 game. I think they quoted him incorrectly: “Just because you don’t have options doesn’t mean you should*n’t* be exploited,” is what he meant.

    • Darrone says:

      But it’s clear their priorities are WHACK. Why are you promising 12mbps down, if you have a 7.5 GB cap? That speed is useless with that cap, you could hit the cap in less than hour. Shouldn’t you be prioritizing increasing infrastructure to handle a large cap, rather fan focusing on speed?

      It’s the internet equivalent of a drag race. Sure they are going crazy fast, but only for 1/4 mile, and then they burn out.

  3. ShreeThunderbird says:

    I currently 10 GB from Verizon for $80.00 using a MiFi 2200. If I go over 10 GB an additional GB is $10.00.

  4. bsh0544 says:

    Why bother with 12 Mbps with such low caps? You can burn through 25 GB in less than 6 hours.

    • dognose says:

      4.7 to be exact… and you only get 1.32 hours on the $50 plan. .
      (7 gigabytes) / (12 Mbps) = 1.32740741 hours

  5. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I think this is a good idea. Many people in my rural county are limited to just dial up because Verizon and Comcast internet services are extremely limited. A lot of people use satellite TV because cable stops just a few miles from town and due to the mountains and distance from the TV stations, antennas aren’t an option. I am very fortunate as I’m one of the last people on my road to have Comcast service.

    I know people who have Dish Network satellite TV who would love to be able to have high speed internet for $50 per month. One of my coworkers has dial up, and it takes 20 minutes or so just to pay one bill online. She just does dishes while she waits for the pages to load. Very sad. It’s her Verizon landline bill, as cell service doesn’t work at her house, either.

    As an aside, I just checked my Comcast usage, and I use my Roku box for some streaming, but nothing in HD since I have an old analog TV. October was 11 GB, November 2 GB, and December less than 1 GB. The limit is 250 GB with my Comcast acct.

  6. PSUSkier says:

    Ugh. Download speeds are great for downloading large files, but that ~3 second latency is the real killer.

    • Rachacha says:

      So is waiting 20 minutes for a web page to load on dial up. If you have no other option, you can live with a latency. Sure, you will not be playing online games, but checking e-mail, downloading photos of your grandchildren, paying your bills online, or searching Amazon.com, the latency will not be a significant problem.

    • Actionable Mango says:

      Click, wait, wait, wait, woosh!

  7. 44 in a Row says:

    I’m curious as to how they fixed the upload problem, because that was always the killer. With the early satellite internet systems, there was literally no way for the end user to communicate directly with the satellite, so it also required a phone connection; basically, you would transmit your request (i.e., the URL) over a phone line, and it would then be downloaded to you via satellite.

    And, as has been noted earlier, this is for people with literally no other option. I have family members in rural parts of the state that still have dial-up, because there are no cable/internet companies servicing their area and the cellular coverage they have is basic GSM with an *occasional* EDGE signal.

    • comatose says:

      There are many TCP “spoofing” technologies at work that basically fake out the TCP handshake and accelerate it so you don’t have the TCP window backup problem anymore. These are often referred to as performance enhancing proxies (PEP), WAN optimization, or TCP accelerators. There are quite a few competing protocols but SCPS-TP is one. I’m not sure if these are lower orbiting satellites but if they are the standard GEOs, you’re talking about a minimum of a round trip delay (there and back ping) of at least 550ms if not ~700ms with the TDMA, IP, and/or DVB-S2 framing delays added in.

      Yes, I do this type of stuff for a living.

  8. Virga says:

    “Just because you don’t have options doesn’t mean you should be exploited,” he told me before producing a brochure outlining the $50.00, 7.5gb/month plan…..

  9. Nighthawke says:

    We’re back to the old HughesNet issues. Low speeds and draconian caps for a kingly ransom, and sky-high ping times, which are murder for games or events that require low latency and high sustained data rates. The dishes are HUGE, 1-2 meters in size, weighing over 50lbs, making it difficult at best to mount them properly and keeping them aligned without the need to call in a qualified tech to fix or relocate it, a nightmare. Weather fade kicks in as well, you get a storm system over your dish, might as well unplug and play cards or read a book.

    There are small ISP’s operating that offer rural broadband service, they just need to be discovered and researched.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      “Low speeds and draconian caps for a kingly ransom, and sky-high ping times, which are murder for games or events that require low latency and high sustained data rates.”

      Speeds are better than most DSL connections, and the cap is 50% higher than Verizon’s LTE cap, for the same price.

      “The dishes are HUGE, 1-2 meters in size, weighing over 50lbs, making it difficult at best to mount them properly and keeping them aligned without the need to call in a qualified tech to fix or relocate it, a nightmare. Weather fade kicks in as well, you get a storm system over your dish, might as well unplug and play cards or read a book.”

      Simply not true. The dish is about the size of a DirecTV or Dish Network dish. Also, raid fade hasn’t been a significant issue in years.

      “There are small ISP’s operating that offer rural broadband service, they just need to be discovered and researched.”

      Sometimes yes, and often for much higher prices.

  10. georgi55 says:

    I am just APPALLED by the number of CLUELESS people who think they can comment BS….

    Just look at the biggest name in satellite internet, HughesNet and you will see what ViaSat offers is a very great deal depending on your usage.

    http://www.hughesnet.com/residential-satellite-internet/plans.cfm

    $60 for 250MB per 24 hours or 7.5 GB per month
    $80 for 350MB per 24 hours or 10.5 GB per month
    $110 for 450MB per 24 hours or 13.5 GB per month
    (prices above are regular prices after “promotional” or “introductory” offers are over)

    Please do search before posting useless BS!

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      As a Wildblue and Viasat customer for 5+ years… kiss my ass. These packages are BS, especially knowing all they hype this company has put out there about VIASAT-1. You are comparing apples to apples here. What Viasat-1 and Wildblue should be doing is getting their service and price plans more up to par with what Verizon and other terrestrial broadband providers offer.

      Putting a brand new satellite in the sky that’s capable of such speeds and telling you the data caps are remaining the same is bullshit.

    • dolemite says:

      That’s like saying “all you guys bashing this scummy loan place for charging 500% interest are totally clueless. THIS scummy loan place charges 1500% interest!”

    • Actionable Mango says:

      That’s your definition of “a very great deal”?

  11. FrugalFreak says:

    caps, throttles, equipment charges. If I got unlimited broadband, I’d get dish or direct in a heartbeat. THAT is what keeps me on cable and cable ISP.

  12. J-Purchase says:
  13. OldSchool says:

    Pretty much useless for a number of reasons:

    Data Cap – Even at $130/mo a cap of 25 GB woudl be rediculously easy to exceed
    You could easily burn through your entire cap in a matter of hours at 12 MB,
    not thaqt you will actually be able to maintain that speed…

    Throttling – As soon as you try to make use of that wonderful 12 MB data rate you are throttled
    to a lower speed after just a few minutes.

    Over Booking – From what I can tell their satalite can support all of 1000 peopel at full speed,
    not nearly enough for it to be a profitable venture so once there are a decent
    number of subscribers you will Never received 12 MB except perhaps in the
    wee hours. During peak times you may pine for 56K dialup.

    Latency – Even the very best case (due to physics) is 500+ ms latency which will pretty much
    rule out online games, VPNs, VOIP, etc…….

    Availability – Weather conditions including rain, sleet,snow,high winds,hevay cloud cover,etc
    will conspire to make you connection intermitent or completely unavailable.

    Only useful at all if all that you ever do is browse a few web pages and use gmail, but then why do you even need broadband, may as well stick with dialup. For anyone else you would
    be far better off getting a bulk data plan for a cheap cellphone that you use for tethering from
    someone like TMobile.

  14. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    This had better not be what I’ve been waiting a year for out of Viasat… The new satellite was supposed to be up and running by now. I’ve been paying $75 a month for this bullshit internet, patiently waiting for them to fulfill their end of the bargain- faster speeds, larger data caps. My current service gives me 1mbps download, 12 gig cap on a rolling 30 day useage. Almost every month I get throttled and a FAP message…

    **big middle finger and fuck you to my computer screen**

  15. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    “Satelite of Love”

    Consumerist’s Best. Hashtag. Ever.

  16. Lucky225 says:

    $130/mo for 25GB vs $25/mo for LTE for 25GB cap, wow the choice is so hard *rolls eyes*

    • jeb says:

      And if you don’t have LTE service, or even 3G service…

      This is a niche product for a select market (those who have no other option.)

  17. Slave For Turtles says:

    Satellite internet just plain sucks. I had DirectWay (now called HughesNet).

    1) The caps are horrible. It seems nothing has changed. There was a teensy window in the dead of night when you could get away with downloading a bit more, such as patches.
    2) The tech support was horrible (things kept failing/changing on their end without warning or apology). Dunno if this company will get it right.
    3) LATENCY LATENCY LATENCY — It’s inescapable with satellite internet, and it’ll make you scream.

    All in all, if you work from home, it’s a no-go. I’m so thankful we now have DSL. We’re at the tail end of the line, but it’s still worlds better than DirectWay (er, HughesNet).

    And no, the dish isn’t gigantic. The one we got is just a slightly larger, oblong dish which works also for TV. Paying for it hurt though. I think it was ~$750 (7 years ago).

  18. shepd says:

    No. Satellite broadband can never be worthwhile with the data capabilities of satellites. Usual satellites have around 480 Mbits maximum throughput, some have more, many have less.

    So, considering a satellite costs millions of dollars to put up there, millions of dollars to build, and millions to keep the uplink running, and that millions of people want to access it, you’re talking about mere kilobits of bandwidth slices per user, each costing a lot of money. If you were to rent the entire satellite, take all those millions, add them up and divide them up over the typical lifetime of a satellite (IIRC, around 20 years). Yeah, it’s a LOT of money.

    Unless someone figures out a way to make satellites push TBits of data instead of MBits, I don’t think we’re going to see “worthwhile” satellite broadband.

    • Slave For Turtles says:

      I have a very dumb but sincere question:

      Those of us with DirecTV or Dish or whatever are obviously receiving video content via our dishes. How is all that so different than internet content, which may also include video-type things? (Forget for a moment about uploading and concentrate on downloads only.)

      • StarKillerX says:

        Well first you need to remember that direct TV sends the same signal to everyone and your recieved simply selects the parts of it that you want to watch. So be it one customer or one million, their transmitting the same amount of data.

        Now providing internet service is a totally different animal as the stream to each customer will be completely different then the stream going to anyone else.

  19. dolemite says:

    The speeds are great, but…7.5 GB? Just one game download on Steam is easily 10 GB. That’s like a handful of HD Netflix movies. Who cares if you have 20 MB download speed if you are limited to reading emails or watching some low res youtube videos? I am not a “power user” , but I regularly can hit 50 GB a month in usage. Even their 25 GB isn’t enough for a single user, much less a household.

    Never mind the fact their service is completely useless for online gaming due to latency.

  20. maruawe says:

    And this is supposed to be affordable to the masses Think again dumbo

  21. Velifer says:

    I would rather try to finance a computer at CountryWide, buy it at Best Buy and have Sears schedule delivery by a box-throwing UPS brute–THEN have Dell tech support help me…

    …than deal with Hughes.net again.

  22. ray4jc says:

    hmmmm yeah oh well it sounded good until…..’data cap’…..thats so 2010

  23. jeni1122 says:

    The picture above of the apartment building with all the satellite dishes attached cracks me up. I have two Direct TV dishes currently on my house, one for domestic and one for international and they are not exactly inconspicuous.

    I still think the above caps are too small for the price, but then again I am not sure exactly how this technology works. If ViaSat is just piggy backing off of a satellite signal that is already installed and they do not have to add any additional hardware or if they have to add minimum hardware, then they would be pocketing quite a bit of money.