Satellite vs. Cable

Confused about your TV or internet options? Here’s what you need to know about satellite and cable technology.

Satellite and cable are two of the most old-school ways to get TV and home internet service, but there’s a reason why they’re still popular today.

Satellite internet and TV requires a home satellite dish, while cable TV and internet uses an actual cable that’s run into your house. Whether you’re shopping for internet or TV plans, let’s break down the biggest strengths and weaknesses of cable and satellite service.

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Satellite vs cable: price

When you’re subscribing to any service, the first question is pretty simple: how much are you going to pay each month?

Satellite internet vs. cable internet prices

Although cable internet service providers (ISP) are far from perfect, one of their biggest upsides over satellite ISPs is competitive pricing. Thanks to the number of mid-major and major cable ISPs on the market today, you can get a decent cable internet plan for less than $40.00 per month.

Comparing cable and satellite internet costs

Plan Starting price Max download speeds Connection type Sign up
Xfinity Connect (West) $19.99/mo.* 50 Mbps Cable View plans
Optimum 100 $29.99/mo.• 100 Mbps Cable View plans
HughesNet 15 GB Data Plan $64.99/mo.** 25 Mbps Satellite View plans
Viasat Unlimited Bronze 12 $84.99/mo.*** 25 Mbps Satellite View plans

Data as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

* for the first 12 mos. w/ 1-yr. agreement

˚ For the first 12 months. Plus taxes, equip. charges and fees.

** Requires 2-yr. contract. Data effective as of post date. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

*** for the first 3 months.

By comparison, satellite ISP plans typically cost between $60.00 and $170.00 monthly. Part of this price difference comes from the tech behind satellite internet—satellite ISPs deliver internet service via low-orbit satellites, and satellites aren’t exactly cheap to maintain.

But at the same time, would you rather pay $20.00 or $120.00 for internet service? We’re going to go ahead and say most customers prefer cable internet’s smaller monthly bills.

Winner on cost: cable internet

Satellite TV vs. cable TV prices

Satellite TV providers generally offer more channels compared to cable TV plans, and they’ll also cost less. Even though DISH and DIRECTV lock customers into long two-year agreements—most cable TV providers have contract-free or one-year plans—both providers guarantee your price for the entire contract.

Comparing cable and satellite tv prices

Plan Starting price Channel count Connection type Sign up
DISH America’s Top 120 $69.99/mo. 190 Satellite View plans
DIRECTV CHOICE™ All Included $69.99/mo. 185+ Satellite View plans
Xfinity Popular TV $80.00/mo. 185+ Cable View plans
Spectrum TV Select $49.99/mo. 125+ Cable View plans

Data as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

With cable TV plans, your price will typically increase after your first year of service, and you’ll also have to pay more to get the same number of channels as a satellite TV provider offers. By comparison, satellite TV providers guarantee your price for two years and you’ll get a much larger channel selection for less per month.

Winner on cost: satellite TV

Satellite vs. cable: performance

Performance can mean a lot of things for cable and satellite providers. Does your service plan have the picture quality or download speeds to meet your family’s needs?

Satellite internet vs. cable internet performance

Let’s not sugarcoat it—cable internet’s speeds are miles better than satellite internet. Satellite internet’s lower download speeds are a baked-in downside of satellite internet technology, as it’s simply harder for satellite ISPs to hit cable-like download speeds.

A satellite internet signal has to travel between in-orbit satellites and your home, which means that it’s traveling much farther than a cable internet signal that goes from a telephone pole to your home. For your home internet, satellite internet’s extra distance means that you’ll have higher latency and slower download speeds.

For example, satellite ISP Starlink touts speeds of up to 200 Mbps, which is spectacular for satellite internet and equal to a basic cable internet plan. At $99.00 monthly, it’s also comparably priced to a high-end cable internet plan.

Comparing cable and satellite internet speeds

Plan Starting price Max download speeds Connection type Sign up
Xfinity Connect (Central) $25.00/mo.* 50 Mbps Cable View plans
Xfinity Gigabit Extra (Central) $70.00/mo.• 1,200 Mbps Cable View plans
HughesNet 15 GB Data Plan $64.99/mo.** 25 Mbps Satellite View plans
Viasat Unlimited Platinum 100 $169.99/mo.*** 100 Mbps Satellite View plans

Data as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

* for the first 12 mos. w/ 1-yr. agreement

˚ For the first 12 months. Plus taxes, equip. charges and fees.

** Requires 2-yr. contract. Data effective as of post date. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.

*** for the first 3 months.

Cable ISPs like Xfinity or Spectrum offer faster internet plans for far less than satellite ISPs. For example, a premium cable internet plan like Xfinity’s Gigabit Extra costs less than half of Viasat’s fastest internet plan.

Satellite ISPs are best suited for rural customers who live in areas without any cable or DSL ISPs. So if you’re in an area with cable ISPs, get cable internet service.

Winner on performance: cable internet

Satellite TV vs. cable TV performance

On paper, satellite TV provides better picture quality than cable TV. TV signals are typically compressed (reduced video quality) before they reach viewers, and cable TV providers generally apply more compression compared to satellite TV providers.

But in practice, the quality differences between satellite and cable TV are a little shakier.

Pro tip: If picture quality is your biggest priority, consider getting an over-the-air antenna for your TV. Although you won’t get cable channels, you’ll have the best picture quality on channels like NBC and ABC. Check out our best TV antenna guide for our top antenna picks.

Cable and satellite TV providers increasingly prioritize 4K support, and live TV picture quality varies widely by channel. We’d ultimately give satellite TV the picture quality win, but unless you’re watching TV on a calibrated 85-inch TV and track pixel density for fun, we suspect you’ll consider either cable or satellite picture quality fine enough and move on.

Although satellite TV can be affected by large storms, it’s generally pretty reliable in tough weather conditions. Cable TV is less affected by bad weather, but if your neighborhood is experiencing heavy storms or snowfall, that can bring down your cable TV signal.

Winner on performance: satellite TV

Satellite vs. cable: installation

If you’re in a relatively new home, you’ll likely have a cable TV and internet line installed in your wall. Cable ISPs have networks throughout virtually every major city, and if your house doesn’t already have cable access, a technician can discreetly run a line into your home.

By comparison, you can’t really discreetly install a satellite at your home. To get satellite TV or internet service, you’ll need to install a beach-ball-sized satellite dish on your home, and it needs a clear view of the sky. If you’re renting or in an apartment, your landlord might not even allow you to mount a satellite dish.

Winner on installation: cable

Satellite vs. cable: availability

If you have a clear view of the southern sky, you’ll be able to get satellite TV and internet service. Since satellite TV and internet use satellites to deliver service, satellite providers can offer virtually nationwide coverage, which is a plus for city and rural shoppers alike.

The downside is that satellite service runs into problems whenever its southern view is obstructed. If your area has a lot of trees or experiences heavy storms, your satellite TV and internet service might temporarily go out.

Cable service is also widely available, but because it relies on providers installing physical coaxial lines, it’s not as widely available as satellite service. Most cable providers build their networks around major cities and suburbs, so if you’re in a rural area or live in an RV, your best internet option will be satellite internet.

Winner on availability: satellite

Satellite vs. cable: recommendations

If you’re split between satellite or cable service for your home, here’s what you need to know:

  • Cable internet: Get cable internet if it’s available at your address. Cable internet offers fast download speeds, and it’s widely available.
  • Satellite internet: Get satellite internet if you’re in a rural area and can’t get cable or DSL internet service. Although satellite internet is expensive, it’s available anywhere you can get a clear view of the southern sky.
  • Cable TV: Get cable TV if you’re interested in bundle savings and you’re already getting cable internet. Cable TV providers typically have middling channel counts, but with a cable TV and internet bundle, you’ll usually save on your monthly bill.
  • Satellite TV: Get satellite TV if you want the largest channel counts and two-year price guarantees.

Top cable and satellite providers

Plan Price Download speeds Channel county Connection type Sign up
Xfinity $25.00/mo.* 50–3,000 Mbps n/a Cable internet View plans
Spectrum $49.99/mo. n/a 125+ Cable TV View plans
Viasat $84.99–$249.99/mo. 12 Mbps–100 Mbps n/a Satellite internet View plans
DISH $69.99–$104.99/mo. n/a 190–290+ Satellite TV View plans

Data as of publish date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

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