When looking at satellite internet options, there’s really only two nowadays: Viasat and HughesNet. We’ve covered Viasat elsewhere, and compared the two internet service providers (ISPs), so in this post we’ll talk about HughesNet.
HughesNet – and satellite internet in general – is the best option for getting internet access when you live outside of the range of cable, fiber, and DSL service. So long as your home has a view of the southern sky to receive a satellite signal, you’ll be online in no time.
And since HughesNet launched their Gen5, they’ve improved the quality of their service. But how do they stack up overall in 2019? Let’s dig in and find out.
HughesNet Gen 4 vs. Gen 5
On March 16, 2017, HughesNet’s EchoStar XIX Satellite began delivering service in orbit, launching the ISP’s Gen 5 service. The company’s claim is that it improves service capacity by 50% — and at least in part, it has improved things.
HughesNet’s base data download speeds jumped up to 25Mbps from 15Mbps, which it seems you’re actually likely to get. That said, the upgrade to Gen 5 didn’t do much for data caps – yet. The future will see if that changes.
We’ll talk more about speed, performance, and data caps later on.
HughesNet Prices and Plans
Although fewer in number, among other things, HughesNet’s plans have a big advantage over Viasat’s: they’re straightforward. With HughesNet, you’re going to get the same plan and pricing options as everyone else, no matter your zip code. Viasat can’t say the same.
The 4 plans and their pricing are simple and easy to understand: the 10GB plan gives you 10GB of data, the 20 20GB, etc. All plans are up to 25MBps speeds. Plus, the price is locked in – no price jumps here.
One of the downfalls of HughesNet’s pricing, however, is that you get fewer gigabits for the money than Viasat. Viasat simply has a higher data threshold, so even after their 3-month price hike, you still end up with a better price-to-Mbps ratio. But HughesNet tends to be cheaper overall.
Which one’s right for you?
That said, how do you know which plan is right for you? To answer that, take a look at your needs – how much data do you need? We took HughesNet’s table and boiled it down into an easy-to-view reference for you here.
|What you can do with...
|Streaming SD Video
|Streaming HD video
|Browsing the web
|Using social media
Contract necessary - ETFs painful
One of the larger downsides of HughesNet’s pricing model is that they still require you to sign a 2-year contract. So you’re locked in for 2 years – but at least there are no price hikes during that time, unlike Viasat.
The painful is that if you decide you want to cancel ahead of time, you’ll be stuck paying up to $400 in early termination fees (ETF). These are usually pretty pricey, but that’s as much as $100 more than Viasat’s ETF (plus they offer a contract-free option).
The good news is that the longer you’re with HughesNet before you cancel, the cheaper that ETF will be. It goes down by $15 a month; but even so, the minimum is $85 to cancel.
But no overages
If you go over your data limit with HughesNet – no big deal. You won’t be charged any overage fees, but your speeds will get slowed down until the next month of service starts.
HughesNet Internet speeds
HughesNet can’t compete with Viasat when it comes to top-end speeds – that’s hard to do when you only offer the one (25Mbps). But where HughesNet can be great is in consistency.
In fact, BroadBandNow’s speed test – taken from more than 300,000 HughesNet users – showed an average speed of 29.5Mbps. That means the ISP’s average speeds are consistently higher than advertised – and that also means you’re more likely to actually get those speeds, which isn’t always the case with providers.
Plus, since launching their Gen 5 service, HughesNet is available across all 50 states (Alaska included!) – that extra state giving it a little bump over Viasat.
That said, while 25Mbps (or 29, whatever) is plenty to easily check your Facebook or email and surf the web, it can be a bit laggy when it comes to other things, like video chatting.
But that’s not all HughesNet’s fault — there’s the little matter of latency. Check out “Why does latency matter?” in the Q&A section below to learn more about that.
HughesNet signed a deal back in 2017 to launch another satellite (scheduled for 2021) that would provide 100Mbps internet service. So keep an eye out for that.
Since HughesNet’s plans all offer the same speed, what differentiates them from each other? In a word: data limits.
For quick reference, those limits are:
While HughesNet doesn’t shut off your internet when you reach those caps, you will find your speed slows dramatically – down to 1.3Mbps. Ouch.
Now these “soft data caps” aren’t great compared to Viasat’s – but HughesNet knows how to help make up for it.
Introducing, the Bonus Zone
Between the time of 2am and 8am every night, you get up to 50GB of completely free data per month. That’s not counting toward your regular data caps, either, which means that your 10GB plan just went up to 60GB, your 20 to 70GB, your 30 to 80GB, and your 50 to 100GB.
So it’s a great idea to setup any large file downloads to start during that time period to take advantage of it.
HughesNet also helps you save data by lowering your video quality to 480p, which is more efficient than 720p or 1080p. You can manually switch it back up to the latter two if you’d like HD quality – but remember: it’ll use more data.
Equipment and Setup
|Equipment + Charges
|Satellite dish + Modem
|Up to $400
|Up to $400
HughesNet, being a satellite ISP, requires a dish to be mounted to your home, which then has to be wired through your house into your home to a modem/Gateway – that makes installation a little more involved than cable or DSL, so you’ll need a pro.
That professional will typically be a 3rd-party contractor who will come to your home and install it for you. Because they’re contractors, that means customer service can be iffy — or at best, unknown. This can take several hours, so you’ll want to be available at home for at least half your day – maybe more.
Regarding equipment, you’ve got the satellite and the modem (“Gateway”), and leasing or buying outright to choose from. Leasing the equipment from HughesNet is about $5 more per month than doing so with Viasat ($9.99/mo.), plus a “lease setup fee;” but buying it outright initially looks about $50 cheaper than Viasat (who charges $299.99).
But – huge BUT – HughesNet also tacks on an extra installation fee when you buy their equipment: $199.99 to be exact. So buying the equipment actually runs you $450. But, unlike with Viasat, who offer only a “Lifetime lease” option, you’ll actually own your HugesNet equipment then.
When deciding between leasing or buying, if you keep your service with HughesNet for the full length of the 2-year contract, the difference is minimal: leasing only costs you $10 more than buying, and you don’t have to pay all that dough upfront. Plus, when you lease equipment, your maintenance and any upgrades will be included.
Like just about every provider in the telecommunications space, HughesNet’s customer service isn’t great. That said, there are plenty of positive reviews from customers who had issues and were treated well over the phone.
Online, HughesNet has a pretty easy-to-navigate support center, with plenty of contact options:
When it comes down to it, we would recommend you check out Viasat instead of HughesNet if satellite internet is your only option. You may have access to a wider variety of plans with faster speeds and higher data caps, plus better price-to-Mbps.
But, HughesNet definitely delivers consistent, reliable speeds across the country and have a rocksteady history in the industry – and their extra Bonus Zone data can make up for the lower data caps than their competitor.
Where is HughesNet available?
HughesNet is available across all 50 states – 1 more than Viasat, currently. Those speeds average out to about 25Mbps, although, of course “actual speeds may vary.”
Why does latency matter?
Latency is part of internet. In the simplest terms possible, it’s how long it takes from the time you click a button (“Launch pop-up”) on the web, for your computer to respond with the appropriate action (the pop-up launches).
With satellite internet, latency is higher, because there’s more distance for the data involved in every internet action to travel. So when you clicked that button to launch the pop-up, data had to travel a long way:
- Through the wires to your satellite dish; then
- Over 22,000 miles through the atmosphere up to the orbiting satellite; then
- 22,000 miles back down to the earth to a large ground dish at the Network Operating Center (NOC); and finally
- To the internet.
But that’s only the first half: once the internet has received your data, it has to send back the response – through the same pathway in reverse.
So you can see why it makes sense that latency is a big deal with satellite internet.
Is satellite internet any good for gaming?
Single-player games may work fine, but because of latency, satellite internet connections do not work well for playing real-time multiplayer games like Overwatch or PUBG.
Is Viasat better than HughesNet?
For the most part, yes. You’ll tend to get higher top-end data speeds with Viasat, and more megabits of data for your dollar. But, as with any providers, in some locations you may get a better deal with one or the other.
Does HughesNet offer any deals?
Yes. To start with, they have a money-back guarantee: if you’re unsatisfied with your service, you can return your equipment within 30 days for a full refund (minus a $100 installation fee). Beyond that, when I input my address, I received a deal for $10 off each month of the first 12 months of a contract.