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The Verdict: Satellite Internet or 4G LTE

By: Stephen Kota
Are you facing a difficult choice between satellite internet and 4G LTE? While both internet options support the same activities (web browsing, video streaming, and online gaming), they provide drastically different user experiences. So, which option is right for you? Let’s take a closer look at both satellite internet and 4G LTE.

Satellite Internet: Great Coverage, but Speeds Lag

From a ship afloat in the Caribbean Sea to a secluded hut in the Rocky Mountains, satellite internet works virtually everywhere. The only coverage requirement?
An unobstructed view of the sky where your providers satellites orbit. This extensive coverage area makes satellite internet an excellent option for boats, campers,
and other vehicles.
With a download speed of up to 25 Mbps and an upload speed of up to 3 Mbps, satellite internet looks like it’s just as fast as 4G LTE at first glance. Unfortunately, with an average latency of more than 600 ms, the user experience of satellite internet is much slower than 4G LTE.
The latency causes noticeable lags in real-time gaming, video conferencing, and video streaming. These lags are persistent, since satellite internet processes requests with satellites in geosynchronous orbit. It takes time to send requests to and from outer space.

Because of its persistent lags, we recommend satellite internet for web browsing, but not for real-time gaming, video conferencing, or video streaming. Satellite internet is also our pick for boats, since 4G LTE isn’t reliable off the coast.

For the best coverage and the best deals on satellite internet, compare your regional providers to national providers like HughesNet, Viasat, and DISH. A satellite subscription typically costs between $50 and $130 per month, with an up-front equipment cost of around $300 (or a rental fee of $5 to $10 per month), and an installation cost of around $200.

4G LTE: Uneven Coverage, but Fast Speeds

Mobile broadband has high data throughputs and low latency, which means the user experience is fast and seamless. Today’s 4G LTE networks reach download speeds of up to 12 Mbps, with a latency of, typically, less than 100 ms. Where coverage is excellent, 4G LTE is fast enough to support video streaming and real-time gaming in high definition.

Unfortunately, 4G LTE coverage isn’t always excellent. While 4G LTE is widely available in urban centers, it covers less ground in rural areas. Verizon’s 4G LTE network has the best coverage – 98% of Americans – followed by AT&T – 93% of Americans – followed by Sprint – 80% of Americans. There are, however, plenty of rural areas that aren’t covered by any of the three major carriers. Use our tool to check availability in your area.

We recommend 4G LTE for real-time gaming, video conferencing, and video streaming in rural areas without access to cable or DSL. We also recommend 4G LTE for rural residences, and for campers and cars that stay inside the borders of the United States.

A 4G LTE subscription typically costs between $90 and $140 per month, with an equipment cost of about $100 (for a wireless modem and router that turns 4G LTE into WiFi). Most 4G LTE systems are plug and play, so you install them yourself.