You can get satellite internet in even the most rural areas, but there are plenty of good reasons to avoid it. Satellite internet is expensive and, because of its high latency, you’ll experience lag with even the highest speed plans. Plus, the major providers have long contracts, data caps, and speed throttling, which make satellite an impractical choice for many.
Whether you have satellite internet already and you want to switch, or you’re moving somewhere without cable or fiber and you don’t want to be stuck with satellite, this article is for you. We explain everything you need to know about the best alternatives to satellite internet: DSL, fixed wireless, and mobile internet.
The best alternatives to satellite internet
- Available to 88% of the population
- More reliable than satellite since it’s a wired connection
- Usually more affordable than satellite internet
- Download speeds can typically reach only 100 Mbps
- Actual speeds often don’t reach advertised plan speeds
- Only 43% of the population can get broadband speed with DSL
DSL, which stands for digital subscriber line, is an older internet connection type. Because it uses existing phone lines to send and receive data, it’s available to almost every household in the country. According to FCC data, 88% of the population has access to one or more DSL providers. (1)
When it comes to performance, DSL isn’t particularly fast. Download speeds with DSL can be even slower than satellite internet, ranging anywhere from 1 Mbps (too slow for even one person to use) up to 100 Mbps (comparable to the lower tiers of cable internet and good enough for multiple users).
To get enough speed for basic surfing and streaming, you’ll need a plan with at least broadband speed, defined as 25 Mbps of download speed and 3 Mbps of upload speed. Just 43% of the population is able to get broadband speed with DSL, and that number drops to 32% in rural areas. (2)
Since DSL uses a wired connection, it is more reliable than satellite internet, which is prone to disruptions caused by the weather. With DSL, you also won’t experience the annoying lag caused by satellite internet’s high latency.
If you can get enough speed with the DSL service offered in your area, it is a good alternative to satellite internet and often a much better value. DSL plans tend to be cheaper than satellite internet, and it’s possible to find plans with unlimited data and no contracts. Equipment leasing costs with DSL are minimal—usually around $10–$15 per month—or you can purchase your own router.
- Doesn’t rely on cables or phone lines
- Available to 75% of the population
- Download speeds can reach 1 Gbps
- Lower latency than satellite internet
- Unlimited data or high data cap plans are common
- Less reliable than a wired connection
- Antenna requires a clear line of sight to the signal tower
Fixed wireless is a type of wireless internet connection that doesn’t rely on existing cables or phone lines, making it a great option for remote areas. It uses a stationary antenna mounted on or near your home to transmit data to and from your service provider’s transmitter. About 75% of the population has access to a fixed wireless provider. (3)
Fixed wireless speeds vary by provider, but they can rival cable internet speeds, up to 1 Gbps download speed and 500 Mbps upload speed. If there’s a fixed wireless provider in your area, you will probably be able to get a plan with broadband speed or higher that can accommodate a household with multiple users. In rural areas, about 63% of people can get broadband speed with fixed wireless, which is double the amount of people that can get broadband with DSL. Compared to DSL and satellite, fixed wireless tends to have better download and upload speeds, making it a better choice for those concerned with having enough speed for surfing, streaming, or video calls.
Like satellite internet, fixed wireless requires a clear line of sight to work, so your antenna won’t be able to deliver a reliable internet connection if it’s blocked by trees or stormy weather. It isn’t as reliable as a wired connection. But, since data doesn’t have to travel as far with fixed wireless, there’s much lower latency, which means you’ll experience less lag when using the internet.
Fixed wireless is a better value than satellite internet and often a better value than DSL, depending on the speeds available at your location. Plans usually don’t come with contracts and data caps—if any—are much higher than those you get with plans from satellite providers like HughesNet and Viasat.
Read our reviews for the top fixed wireless internet providers:
- Available anywhere you can get a 4G or 5G phone signal
- Conveniently mobile
- Hotspot devices can be expensive to buy or lease
- Plans with unlimited data or high data caps can be costly
- Speed and reliability depend on signal strength
If you’re in a remote location but you can still get a good enough cell phone signal to use the internet on your phone, you can use that very same 4G or 5G mobile internet connection for your home internet network.
To use a cellular network for your home internet, all you need is a hotspot device and a data plan with enough gigabytes of data to accommodate your needs. You can get both of those things from your cell phone provider. Just like a regular Wi-Fi router, the hotspot device creates a Wi-Fi network that shares its internet connection with devices in your home, like laptops and tablets.
In a pinch, you can even use the mobile hotspot feature on your smartphone, though that will wear down your phone’s battery and your phone plan’s monthly data allowance quickly.
Similar to fixed wireless, mobile internet is completely wireless and uses 4G LTE or 5G networks. Performance will depend on the strength of the cellular signal, which can be affected by the weather, and by where you place the hotspot device in your home.
The speed of the connection also depends on whether you have access to 4G LTE or 5G in your area. 5G is the faster of the two, but 4G is the most widely available.
Pricing varies by provider for hotspot devices and standalone data plans, and whether its a good value depends on your other available options. Major cell phone service providers like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T all offer fixed wireless home internet plans that could cost you less than using mobile internet with a hotspot device.
You can purchase a hotspot and data plan from your current cell phone service provider if you’re happy with the speed, or you can shop around to see which provider’s network has the best coverage in your area.
Finding an internet provider
Brittany is a Contributing Writer for Switchful with over five years of experience writing about technology in the US and Europe. Her primary focus is on mobile and internet topics. She is passionate about helping people choose the right tech for their needs at the right price.
Bri Field has a background in academia, research writing, and brand marketing. She has edited scientific publications, conference papers, digital content, and technical communications. As Assigning Editor, she enjoys ensuring all content is accurate, clear, and helpful. In her free time, you can find her in the kitchen trying a new recipe, out on a hike, or working through her massive TBR list.
Endnotes and sources
- “Fixed Broadband Deployment Data – DSL,” FCC. Accessed 11 January 2023.
- “Fixed Broadband Deployment Data – DSL at Broadband Speed,” FCC. Accessed 11 January 2023.
- “Fixed Broadband Deployment Data – Fixed Wireless,” FCC. Accessed 11 January 2023.
- “Fixed Broadband Deployment Data – Fixed Wireless at Broadband Speed,” FCC. Accessed 11 January 2023.