For the longest time, HughesNet has been one of the dominant players in the satellite internet space. However, the deck has now been reshuffled with the arrival of Starlink.
Many of HughesNet’s current subscribers are now on the fence, wondering whether switching to Starlink is truly worth it – and this article aims to clear up some of those concerns.
Is Starlink Better Than HughesNet?
Let’s get the most important question out of the way first: Yes, Starlink is better than HughesNet in almost every regard.
That said, even Starlink isn’t perfect. Growing pains, such as limited coverage areas, are still plaguing the relatively new service.
Here’s an overview of all the different topics I’ll cover – so if anything is of particular interest, then simply click on the respective topic:
- How HughesNet & Starlink work technologically
- The internet plans they sell
- Where they’re available
- The hardware that’s being provided (and whether you’d need help with installation)
- Performance (i.e., download and upload speeds + latency) you can expect
- Data caps (and other limitations)
- How much everything costs
So, without further ado, let’s break down those details in the sections below.
The Basics: How HughesNet & Starlink Work
HughesNet utilizes geosynchronous satellites to provide internet connectivity. These satellites are stationed approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth in the geostationary orbit (GEO).
At this altitude, they rotate synchronously with the Earth, meaning they remain fixed above a specific point on the planet’s surface.
In contrast, Starlink, a project by SpaceX, operates using a constellation of thousands of satellites situated in low Earth orbit (LEO).
Those satellites roam Earth at a distance of about 342 miles (550 kilometers). As a result, the signal from your antenna to the satellites and back to Earth takes substantially less time to be transmitted.
And due to the vastness of Starlink’s constellation, there’s always at least one satellite that your antenna can connect to, thus allowing Starlink to provide worldwide coverage (barring agreements with local governments).
HughesNet offers two options, namely Residential and Business. In the Residential space, it offers four different plans, namely 15 GB, 50 GB, Fusion 100 GB, and Fusion 200 GB (more on what those terms mean in the sections below).
Within its Business segment, enterprise customers can opt into three different plans, including Business 50 GB, Fusion Business 100 GB, and Fusion Business 200 GB.
Starlink offers a total of seven different internet plans. These are called Residential, Portability, Roam, Best Effort, Business, Aviation, and Maritime.
While Residential, Portability, Roam, and Best Effort are aimed at consumers, Aviation, Business, and Maritime cater to different types of enterprise customers.
HughesNet is currently available in seven countries, namely the United States (including Puerto Rico) as well as in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru.
The usage of geosynchronous satellites is the reason why HughesNet is solely available in the Western parts of our globe (since they rotate alongside Earth and thus won’t be able to transmit the radio frequency signals to the opposite parts of our planet).
Starlink, on the other hand, is now licensed to operate in more than 65 countries across the globe. This is a particularly impressive feat considering that Starlink was launched in the US back in November 2020.
And since early October 2023, Starlink’s Residential tier has essentially been whitelisted across the entire US, thus lifting previous restrictions.
Hardware & Installation
HughesNet equipment is comprised of two essential pieces, namely your modem (also commonly referred to as a Wi-Fi router) and the satellite dish.
HughesNet employs a conventional satellite dish design, akin to those used for satellite TV and related services.
The system consists of the main dish, also known as an antenna reflector. Additionally, there’s a more compact unit, positioned on an extension arm in front of the main dish, referred to as a low-noise block downconverter (LNB). This unit handles the task of receiving and sending radio signals.
The entire setup translates the radio signal into functional internet, which subsequently links to your home router, allowing your home network access to the internet.
Given that HughesNet satellites operate in a geosynchronous orbit, they maintain a fixed spot in the sky. Therefore, it’s essential for the dish to be precisely aligned during the initial setup to communicate effectively with the satellite.
As a result, you will need professional help to get everything installed. Here’s a video, brought to you by the kind folks of HughesNet, on what you can expect during the installation process:
A certified HughesNet technician will then also help you to link two of your existing devices, such as a mobile phone or laptop, to the newly established Wi-Fi connection.
The beauty of Starlink, among many other factors, lies in its simplicity of installation. Most of the time, you can get started without needing to hire professional help.
Related: How to set up your Starlink kit
Those subscribed to Starlink’s Residential plan will normally receive the Standard rectangular hardware kit.
It contains the antenna, which is your gateway to connecting with the satellites, as well as an accompanying mounting base, a Wi-Fi router, and various power cables.
Should you be subscribed to the Business plan, then you’ll receive the costlier High Performance antenna kit.
Starlink’s High Performance antenna offers a few improvements, including a greater field of view of about 35 percent (thus being able to connect to satellites faster, which effectively minimizes downtime), improved weather resistance, better snow melting capabilities, and more.
Lastly, and much like HughesNet, you can also use your own Wi-Fi router together with the Starlink antenna.
To do that, you need to bypass the existing Starlink router, which I detailed how to accomplish in this article.
Moreover, Starlink is constantly updating its hardware stack as evidenced by the Gen 3 router and antenna it recently unveiled.
The two most important aspects when comparing GEO and LEO satellite internet services are the download and upload speeds as well as expected latency.
This is also where you’ll find the biggest difference between Starlink and HughesNet – more on that in the coming chapters. 👇
Download & Upload Speeds
HughesNet speeds are dependent on the plan that you’ve opted into. Here’s what download speeds users can expect for each Residential plan:
- 15 GB: 15 Mbps
- 50 GB: 25 Mbps
- Fusion 100 GB: 25 Mbps
- Fusion 200 GB: 50 Mbps
That said, HughesNet themselves point out that those speeds are not guaranteed and are ultimately dependent on many factors, including “the configuration of your computer, number of concurrent users, network or Internet congestion, capabilities and content of the websites you are accessing,” and much more.
Should you be a business subscriber, then you can expect download speeds ranging from 25 Mbps (Business 50 GB) to 50 Mbps (Fusion Business 200 GB).
Starlink, on the other hand, is able to provide substantially greater speeds. At worst, you’ll get around 30 Mbps down for Residential service.
Most Residential subscribers will hover around 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps, depending on their location of residence.
In case you want to check what download and upload speed you’d experience, simply follow this link and hover across the map.
You can adjust the filter setting on the top left corner to switch from download to upload speed as well as expected latency.
Lastly, subscribers of the Business/Priority plan can expect even higher performance due to network prioritization and the usage of better hardware (= High Performance dish).
Starlink, in its FAQ section, states that download speed in the United States ranges anywhere from 40 Mbps to 220 Mbps. Meanwhile, upload speeds are around 8 Mbps to 25 Mbps.
The ping that HughesNet subscribers encounter can be as high as 750 ms, with averages centering around 600 ms to 650 ms.
As a result, real-time activities such as online gaming or video conferencing are cumbersome at best and outright impossible to engage in at worst.
HughesNet tries to tackle the high-latency issue via its Fusion plans, which combine satellite and wireless technologies.
Whenever the satellite dish sends a latency-sensitive request, that signal is forwarded to a terrestrial cell tower from which it is then transmitted back to the user.
That’s why Fusion customers will receive additional equipment that automatically connects to nearby wireless networks when engaging in those latency-sensitive activities. However, Fusion plans are only available to those who are located in proximity to a cell tower.
Users on Reddit have reported that latency for those subscribed to a Fusion plan will be between 170 ms to 200 ms, which is still too high for most online games.
Starlink also performs substantially better when it comes to latency. In the United States, you can expect anywhere from 25 ms to 60 ms, depending on location.
Generally speaking, those located in the remotest of areas, such as Alaska, will likely experience higher pings.
That’s because of a) fewer nearby ground stations and b) fewer satellites roaming Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres.
Data Caps & Other Limitations
HughesNet applies soft data caps to each of its plans. This means that your download and upload speeds will be severely reduced once you exceed the said cap.
The gigabyte numbers that I mentioned above are effectively the soft cap limit that HughesNet imposes.
For example, the 15 GB option provides you with download speeds of 15 Mbps. Once the cap is exceeded, your speed will hover around 1 Mbps to 3 Mbps.
Another huge limitation of HughesNet is the contract length. All service plans, both for Residential and Business subscribers, require a 24-month commitment.
Should you cancel the contract before the end of the contract, then you will have to pay a Termination Fee of up to $400 – granted you cancel after the equipment is installed.
However, the $400 penalty is only to be paid within the first 90 days after activation. With each passing month thereafter, the fee will decrease by $15.
For example, if you cancel after 12 months of activating HughesNet, then your termination fee is equal to $265 (= $400 – (9 months x $15)).
Moreover, if you rented the equipment, then you must return the modem, power supply, and radio in good condition within 45 days of the cancellation date or be charged a $300 Unreturned Equipment Fee ($100 for the modem and power supply and $200 for the radio transmitter).
The data cap that Starlink imposes is only applicable to those subscribed to its Priority plans. If you are a Residential user, then you will receive unlimited Standard data allotment.
As stated above, this means that you should see anywhere between 30 Mbps to 200 Mbps in download speed, depending on the business of your local cell.
And those subscribed to the Business plan (also dubbed Priority) will experience even higher download speeds. However, the party won’t last forever.
Business/Priority subs can opt into 1 TB, 2 TB, or 6 TB of Priority data allotment. Once they exceed that threshold, they’re downgraded to Standard prioritization, meaning they will experience the same performance as Residential subscribers.
Other than that, there are no contract obligations imposed by Starlink. Users can cancel at any time and only have to pay any outstanding balance.
Plus, you will get a refund (minus shipping and handling fees) if you cancel within 30 days of receiving the hardware.
Those who cancel outside of the 30-day limit can sell their hardware kit to another person and consequently transfer ownership.
HughesNet pricing varies depending on where you live. That said, I’ll focus on the US since that’s where the majority of HughesNet subscribers are based.
HughesNet’s pricing is divided by the plan you opt into – both on the Residential and Business side. Here’s what Residential subscribers have to pay (prices denoted per month and in USD):
- 15 GB: $49.99
- 50 GB: $74.99
- Fusion 100 GB: $99.99
- Fusion 200 GB: $174.99
HughesNet does offer substantial discounts and other incentives to customers willing to opt for its 24-month-long contracts.
All the above-mentioned plans, except the 15 GB option, are discounted by $25 per month for those willing to commit to a longer contract.
Additionally, customers can save an extra $50 when ordering online instead of a licensed reseller. Other incentives, such as a one-month free access to antivirus software Norton 360 Deluxe, are also provided.
Meanwhile, prices for HughesNet’s Business tier look as follows (again denoted on a per-month basis):
- Business 50 GB: $84.99
- Fusion Business 100 GB: $114.99
- Fusion Business 200 GB: $189.99
Business customers can also take advantage of various discounts and other incentives, especially when ordering directly from HughesNet’s website.
Users, on top of the monthly subscription fee, will also have to pay for the hardware. Hereby, you can either decide to purchase the hardware outright for $450 or rent it for $15 per month.
Furthermore, a $99 activation fee has to be paid by those who decide to rent the hardware. Said activation fee covers the price of installation. Users who purchase the equipment won’t be charged for installation.
Starlink prices are naturally dependent on your country of residence as well. In the United States, Starlink is charging different prices for its Residential package, which is based on where you live.
Those situated in areas with excess capacity pay $90 per month while folks located in limited capacity areas pay $120.
If you want to know what area you are assigned to, simply go to Starlink’s website (using the Residential section) and type in your address in the order form below.
An order page will automatically appear, showing you the price you’ll be charged. Moreover, Residential subscribers pay a one-time fee of $599, plus $50 for shipping, for the hardware.
Subscribers of Starlink’s Business plan are charged based on the amount of Priority data they opt into. Here’s what they will pay per month:
- 1 TB: $250
- 2 TB: $500
- 6 TB: $1,500
Additionally, Business users are prompted to order the High Performance antenna, which costs a whopping $2,500 (plus $50 for shipping and handling).
Starlink won’t charge you for installation since its hardware is designed to allow for individual setups. Should you still need help in setting up the hardware, then feel free to check out our Starlink installer directory.
While HughesNet has made some strides in improving its service, it’s still nowhere near as good as Starlink.
Starlink wins across almost any domain, whether that’s download and upload speeds, latency, data caps, or imposed contractual limitations.
And since Starlink continues to expand its constellation as well as ground station infrastructure, it’s only getting better with each passing day.