Satellite or Cellular Internet?
October 8, 2014 1:23 PM   Subscribe

I am building a new house and do not currently have access to cable or DSL. It looks like my only two options for high-speed Internet access are to use a satellite provider like Hughes Net or to use Internet data from a cell provider. I do not have any experience with either option so I am looking for suggestions.

Some other facts that may help. I am not super concerned about price. The local cable provider (Suddenlink) has told me that my neighborhood is in their building plan and they may start building out service in the next six months or so. DSL is not an option because the local DSL provider (Verizon) is maxed out. I also do not have a contract with any of the major carriers because I use Ting and so I could switch to any carrier like T-Mobile, if that was the best option.

I am really just looking for the best option for home Internet usage. I would like to do regular modern things like stream movies and TV shows if possible. I will probably end up with a satellite provider for television coverage. I am located in Texas.
posted by bove to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Satellite is a decent option if you aren't concerned about latency. Anything that requires real time interaction with the internet like gaming or voip/video chat is terrible over satellite, though.
posted by empath at 1:31 PM on October 8, 2014

Depends on the reception you get. Ask your neighbours. If cell towers are better, go with it. If Satellite is better, go with it.

It's all dependent on interference and line of sight.
posted by GiveUpNed at 1:34 PM on October 8, 2014

I've found cellphone access to be highly undependable. No experience with satellite dishes, however.

That being said, I've been with Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile; T-Mobile wins by a landslide in my books.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:39 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

For streaming video, you can't use the cell network because they all cap the data fairly low (even when they claim unlimited), unless you /really/ don't mind spending money (like hundreds a month...). I don't know if satellite can.
posted by flimflam at 1:50 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've heard nothing but bad things about satellite internet. Apart from latency I think most of the providers have traffic limits that aren't good for much of anything but surfing the (non-YouTube/non-Netflix) web and checking email, on top of which they throttle bandwidth during peak hours, and have generally shitty customer service because hey, they have you locked into a contract and where else are you going to go for your internet connection anyway?

We used to live in the sticks and spent about a year sharing a jerry-rigged cellular modem connection (this was when 3G was state of the art and shortly before dedicated hotspots became a thing.) Our reception was marginal so we were usually limited to basic e-mail/surfing, but it was still noticeably better than dialup.
posted by usonian at 1:54 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My neighbors have DSL and have maxed it out. I have clear line of sight to a Southern sky. When I check coverage maps for my area, AT&T shows up as 4G LTE, Verizon as 4G LTE, T-Mobile as Very Strong, and Sprint as Best.
posted by bove at 1:55 PM on October 8, 2014

I just finished 10+ years of satellite/cell internet, while working from home most of the time. Satellite was terrible for me, the latency was unbearable with my company's VPN, the company (Hughes) had terrible support. I couldn't get rid of it fast enough. Cellular (4G) was better, and better still once I got an amplifier and external antenna (Wilson Electronics DB Pro), but still sketchy. I had an unlimited plan but streaming video was untenable. Streaming audio was fine, but anything longer than a short YouTube video had too many buffering hiccups to be watchable. YMMV, though, depending on coverage.

They rolled out DSL in the area about 6 months ago (thanks Connect America!) and it is a whole different experience.

On preview: Coverage maps are misleading in my area. The only way to get a picture of various carriers' coverage was to see it in action.
posted by farmerd at 2:01 PM on October 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Call your friends and find the ones who have cell service with different carriers from you.

Invite them over and see who has the most bars/best coverage.

Use that provider for your internet hotspot.

Satellite isn't worth it.

I noticed at a party one evening when we were all showing each other Drunk History episodes on our phones that the folks with Verizon had really good coverage at our rural farmhouse, so when I couldn't get DSL or cable, I opted for a Verizon hotspot.

I still can't get DSL or cable, I actually rent a house three miles away in the town limits so I can have crappy DSL there for work. I'm looking into radio wireless and am about to Google "Connect America" because farmerd's comment is intriguing, but my only complaint about my hotspot is the expensive data package. The service is actually quite nice.
posted by annathea at 2:08 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are a lot of wireless providers in rural parts of the us, too. It's not the same thing as cellular.
posted by empath at 2:29 PM on October 8, 2014

Call your friends and find the ones who have cell service with different carriers from you.

This is KEY. Do not trust coverage maps, and especially do not trust anyone who says "Carrier X is the best" unless they are literally your next door neighbor (and maybe not even then). Cellular coverage quality differs drastically by location. It can differ drastically even a block away. There is no reliable way to know which will work best for you unless you actually try it at the location you want to use it in.
posted by primethyme at 2:31 PM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Empath, I had looked for those types of providers and had not found any in my direct area. So far, the consensus seems to be that satellite is not the way to go. Plus they require a 2 year agreement.
posted by bove at 2:33 PM on October 8, 2014

Is this by any chance an option for you? It's unclear to me if it's available to just anyone in the area, or what...
posted by primethyme at 2:35 PM on October 8, 2014

Satellite has always been a last-ditch option.

If it's available in your area, I'd look into Clear or a similar cellular data service. It's not as fast as a landline, but latency is much better than you'd get with a satellite.
posted by neckro23 at 3:10 PM on October 8, 2014

We live in the country and have a Verizon 3G cellular USB modem, with 4 bar reception. The only drawback is the 5 GB data cap. It is just as fast as the average coffee shop wireless.
posted by rfs at 6:32 PM on October 8, 2014

I use my AT&T 4G phone out in the boonies. I am shocked at how fast and reliable it is. I use a Wilson Sleek signal booster inside an aluminum trailer with the antenna outside on the trailer hitch. The only tower I can hit is about 8-10 miles away across some small hills and a river.

I can watch Netflix at pretty high quality. I can work via Citrix and other remote desktop tools while talking on the phone. It's great, almost too great.

Plus my company pays for cell service and I have grandfathered unlimited data.

My coworker lives in a valley near me so her only option was satellite with HughestNet. She started with the cheap option but ended up having to get the $250/month option because she wasn't getting good enough speed to get work done.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:11 PM on October 8, 2014

Best answer: You may also consider long range wifi, such as Brazos WiFi. They're generally cheaper, faster, and have higher data caps than cellular data.
posted by bradf at 9:34 AM on October 9, 2014

Response by poster: bradf, I think these are the same types of services that empath mentioned above. So far, I haven't been able to find one that covers where I live. The one you linked doesn't cover me.

I have also tried contacting the service that primethyme linked to, but have not received a response.

What is frustrating is that the neighborhood next to mine has cable service, but we don't. I contacted them and I was just told by that our neighborhood is too small to make installing cable pay off easily and so we are on the list for installation, but there is no real timeline.
posted by bove at 9:49 AM on October 9, 2014

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