Satellite internet has been the best source of broadband internet services for rural customers for many years now. In the US, this has meant either Viasat or HughesNet for a long time, but now SpaceX’s Starlink has made its debut with its “better than nothing beta” version, and it’s looking quite promising.
Starlink’s beta version is offering service to limited latitudes in the northern US, southern Canada, and a few other countries, but plans to increase to near global coverage before the end of 2021.
If you’re a HughesNet satellite internet customer, or someone who is considering satellite internet for the first time, it’s important to know how the services compare. Let’s take a look at the various features of HughesNet and Starlink and see which comes out on top.
For HughesNet, you have two options when it comes to the equipment, purchasing or leasing. Purchasing is the cheaper option in the long run, especially if you plan to use the service for longer than the 24-month contract. Purchasing the equipment costs $449 upfront and includes installation. If you choose to lease the equipment, you will pay a $99 lease activation fee and then $14.99 per month.
With Starlink, there is no option to lease the equipment. Purchasing the Starlink equipment costs $499, so a little more than HughesNet. With both companies, you get everything you need for internet service, including a wifi router to set up your home network.
HughesNet plans all come with the same download speed, but have different prices based on data allowance. These are not hard caps, but your speeds will be significantly throttled if you pass them. These prices range from $59.99 for 10 GB per month (holy cow, that’s not a lot), up to $149.99 for 50 GB per month (holy cow, still not a lot!). If you plan on using the internet like a normal human being, you’ll find these data allowances to be way too little.
Starlink is currently much better than this, offering unlimited data with no throttling for $99 per month. Because Starlink is only in beta, we can’t be sure that the price and unlimited data is permanent, but it’s unlikely to be worse than what HughesNet is offering.
Cancellation fees are also important to consider. Every HughesNet plan comes with a 24-month contract, and cancelling before the end of that contract can be very costly. If you’ve already had the equipment installed, you’ll be liable for a $400 installation fee (which is already covered if you’ve purchased the equipment, but will be extra if you chose to lease).
If you cancel within 30 days of activation, there are no additional charges beyond this. If you cancel after 30 days but before the contract is up, you will have to pay another $400 as a Service Termination Fee. With both situations, you can get $200 back by returning the equipment on time.
Starlink, on the other hand, has no contract. This means no cancellation fees. You can stop and start the service anytime with no penalty.
Download speeds are the number people want to know first. It’s the number that most directly affects your internet experience. HughesNet’s offering on this front is pretty simple: 25 Mbps across the board. This is the max speed offered, but these speeds aren’t guaranteed, especially during peak network hours.
Starlink on the other hand has shown a range of speeds from 50 Mbps up to 150 Mbps, but often over 100 Mbps. These are actual speeds, not just expected speeds, so they are offering a much better performance than HughesNet. How these speeds will evolve in the future is hard to say since Starlink is constantly adding both new satellites and new customers.
Upload speeds are also important as they determine the speed at which you can send data. The story here is similar to that of download speeds. HughesNet offers a max of 3 Mbps with every plan and Starlink is showing actual upload speeds of 30 to 40 Mbps.
Another aspect of internet performance is latency, the time it takes a signal to reach its destination and return to the user. This aspect is going to be Starlink’s advantage in a huge way. Starlink employs low-earth orbit satellites, meaning they’re closer, and the signal can get to them and back much faster. Starlink boasts the lowest latencies among satellite internet services, usually between 20 and 40 ms.
HughesNet’s satellites are tens of thousands of miles above the earth, meaning the signal must travel for a very long time before getting back to the user. HughesNet latencies are usually around 600 ms, often higher. This won’t make a huge difference in most online activities, but will strongly affect video chatting, gaming, and VPNs.
This latency may not matter, or it may be a huge factor, depending on the types of games you play. Slower-paced games and turn-based games will work fine with a 600 ms latency (or ping rate). But if you want to play fast-paced games like online first-person shooters, a lower latency will be required. The 20 to 40 ms ping rates offered by Starlink would be necessary if you wanted to play such games online.
It’s the same story for VPN use. VPNs require constant encrypting and decrypting, and any kind of large latency makes the process impossible. It would be difficult to get a VPN to work with HughesNet, but should be easy with Starlink.
HughesNet advertises unlimited data, and this is technically true, but not what you think of when you hear those words. Every plan comes with a data allowance within which you get normal download speeds, but when it’s used up, your download speed is limited to 1-3 Mbps. HughesNet plans come with 10, 20, 30, or 50 GB per month.
Starlink currently doesn’t have any data limits, allowances, or caps. No matter how much data you use, you can keep on using Starlink at normal speeds. It can’t be said for sure that unlimited data will continue past Starlink’s beta stage, but even if it doesn’t, it’s unlikely to be as bad as HughesNet.
Because HughesNet has only two satellites in the sky, your satellite dish must be installed so it is pointing directly at one of these two satellites. This requires a professional technician to be scheduled to come to your location and perform the installation. This can take up to 5 business days.
Starlink uses a completely different system that proves to be very beneficial to customers. The first difference is that Starlink has a few more than just two satellites. It has over 1,600 actually (and more launched regularly). Starlink satellites form an always adjusting web of interactive satellites that make satellite internet something different than it’s ever been before. This makes pointing your satellite into the right part of the sky much easier.
The other factor that makes it easier is that the satellite has a built in sensor and motor so that it self-adjusts to make a better connection. Because of this, professional installation isn’t needed. They mail you the equipment with some simple instructions and you can set it up yourself.
Since both HughesNet and Starlink rely on internet signals being sent through the atmosphere, both are able to be affected by weather. With HughesNet, internet outages due to weather are pretty rare, but can occasionally occur with snow build-up or heavy storms. Starlink can similarly be affected, but has employed some newer technologies, like snow detecting and melting systems, that reduce the frequency of weather interferences.
Starlink comes with faster speeds, unlimited data, lower latency, easier installation, lower weather interference and all for a comparable price. How do they do it? Starlink is run by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is bringing innovation to many areas of technology. They are finding ways to improve both performance and costs.
When it comes to satellite internet, they have redesigned the traditional satellite internet model, which has been one big satellite way up in space. Instead, their plan is to install a constellation of over 42,000 satellites much closer to the earth. This changes both the performance and cost of services. Starlink’s “better than nothing beta” is truly “better than HughesNet”.
Because Starlink is only in beta right now, we can’t know for sure how much everything will change in the future. While Starlink will continue to add to it’s satellite constellation, it currently has less than 100,000 users. This number will surely go into the many millions in the future. Data might not be unlimited anymore, and speeds might decrease. Or they could go up. It’s hard to say for sure right now.
What is almost certain, though, is that it will be better than what HughesNet is offering. In this article, we’ve focused on just two providers, but it is also worth looking into Viasat, which is also much better than HughesNet.
If you’re interested in Starlink and live in an area where it’s currently offered, you can sign up on the Starlink website today. Otherwise, you can use the website to see when Starlink will be available in your area and pre-order your Starlink services.
We are here 24/7 to answer all your Internet Service Questions:1-855-690-9884