How does Starlink satellite internet compare with a traditional satellite internet service like HughesNet?
Starlink internet is much faster than HughesNet internet. Starlink also has a much higher data cap compared to HughesNet. HughesNet becomes almost unusable after the data cap is reached, unlike Starlink. HughesNet is cheaper compared to Starlink. Starlink has an upfront hardware fee while HughesNet has none.
Here is a quick comparison chart.
|Speeds and Data Caps
|Faster, larger data cap.
|Slower, with smaller data caps
|Installation and Setup
|Can be set up very easily by the user
|Requires a professional installation team
|Costs and Expense
|Higher subscription fees, but lower misc expenses
|Lower subscription costs, but higher misc expenses
|Internet from multiple smaller satellites below the orbit
|Internet from a huge satellite in the geostationary orbit
Speeds and Data Caps: Starlink vs HughesNet
The upload and download speeds are one of the most important aspects, if not the most important aspect when it comes to any internet connection.
The data you can use per month is also a prime factor to consider, and it is somewhat reliant on the speeds the service offers too.
Of course, your mileage may vary if you are looking for a satellite connection just as a secondary or tertiary internet connection for your home.
But still, nobody would say no to better speeds and unlimited data.
Unfortunately, most satellite internet options in general offer paltry upload and download speeds due to their mode of operation.
This also forces them to introduce very limited data packages, making the whole experience not suited for a primary internet connection at the moment.
HughesNet: Speeds and Data Cap
HughesNet is infamous for poor upload and download speeds at least compared to other internet options.
Take a look at the speeds and data offered by HughesNet depending on the plans and packages you choose:
|Data Offered with each plan
From the table, it is clear that HughesNet offers the same 25 Mbps download speeds and the 3 Mbps upload speeds for all plans.
But these are advertised speeds and the speeds you actually get may vary drastically depending on your location.
Personally, I have been averaging about 18 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds in my area, but your speeds may vary.
In order to get a more in-depth idea of how your speeds might be depending on your location, you can refer speed test graphs by broadbandnow.
But in general, there is a whole lot of variation in speeds from the advertised speeds, at least compared to other satellite internet connection services.
This can be partially due to the mode of operation, thanks to the unhinged line of path to the geostationary satellite.
As for the data packages offered by HughesNet, even the top-end package offers data that frankly seems a bit low for daily use.
In this current day and age where everyone is reliant on the internet, even 100GB/month is too low let alone the 15GB data package.
HughesNet does offer an additional 50 GB per month in the form of a Bonus Zone, from 2 AM to 8 AM, but even then it seems inadequate.
But then again, if you intend to get Hughesnet as a backup connection it can be managed.
As for data caps, HughesNet clearly mentions there is no hard data cap for their services, but speeds do throttle considerably after the package data gets exhausted.
For most users, HughesNet is practically unusable after the data pack is exhausted.
Starlink: Speeds and Data Cap
Starlink, as expected takes a completely different approach when it comes to their internet plans on the whole.
Instead of categorizing the plans based on the expendable data per month, Starlink focuses on 4 main categories based on usage scenarios:
|Download Speeds (Peak)
|Upload Speeds (Peak)
Unlike HughesNet, Starlink does advertise varying speeds depending on the usage scenarios it is meant to be used in.
But the fact that Starlink satellites operate closer to the earth compared to HughesNet, their download speeds are exponentially better.
The download speeds are at least 10 times that is advertised by HughesNet, and even the upload speeds albeit not great, are more than 6 times that of HughesNet.
Of the plans mentioned in the chart, the Starlink Premium plan does stand out as a sole entry, as it is a more expensive plan touting better speeds and prioritization.
Starlink has a 1 TB data cap for their residential plan with other plans getting a prioritized service during peak hours in the US.
But just like HughesNet, the real-world speeds you can expect from Starlink can vary drastically depending on the time of the day, network congestion, and location.
Personally, I get insane speeds in my area from Starlink during my usage, with speeds dropping to a usable 50-100 Mbps during peak hours.
Starlink is the clear winner here, offering better speeds overall and unlimited data compared to HughesNet.
Installation and Setup: Which is Easier?
Installation and setup of satellite internet connections can be radically different based on your chosen service.
This is due to the fact that different services use different modes of operation in order to relay internet to your home or setup.
HughesNet follows the traditional system of requiring professional installation personnel in order to set up the HughesNet satellite dish.
Setting up HughesNet is also a huge initial hassle, as the setup can take multiple days, with some users reporting up to 5 days for the setup.
This means that you will have to pay extra for the installation and in some cases an extra charge each month to lease the mounting equipment from HughesNet.
But this process ensures that you get the best connection possible, and if you don't have plans to switch services it makes a decent initial investment.
Starlink is by far the easiest to install out of the two thanks to its very simple design of the installation.
The Starlink Kit is designed to be set up by anyone and therefore does not need any professional to get it up and running.
All you need as requirements are clear skies and a place to set up your Starlink mount and dish.
You can also make use of the plethora of mounting accessories available for Starlink to set up the dish as you please.
But this also means that you will need to do the whole setup yourself, which might not be an ideal task for everyone.
If you live in Pennysylvania or Maryland, Frankton is an installation service that I can recommend.
Starlink by default does not provide an option for hiring an installation expert for your DIY needs, so this can prove to be a hassle for some users.
But what Starlink does provide with their Starlink mounting kit is a default tripod mount with which you can mount your Starlink dish and place it under clear skies.
Starlink comes out on top as a clear winner here, thanks to their simple and quick setup process.
HughesNet can be tempting for folks who would rather pay extra for a professional setup, but Starlink leaves this decision open to the user.
Costs Comparison: Starlink vs HughesNet
Cost and overall expense are drastically different between the two services, again due to the drastic difference in their mode of operation.
The overall expense you can expect can not be determined just from Starlink's or HughesNet's website based on the plans they offer.
In fact, there are a lot of other expenses involved that can make or break the deal, just like any internet service out there.
Starlink splits its subscription plans based on the usage scenarios it is meant to serve, and is divided as follows:
- Starlink Residential
Starlink Residential is the most common and popular tier for personal use and the one that I have personally taken.
- Starlink Business
Starlink Business exclusively caters to businesses in need of higher bandwidth and uses a high-performance terminal that is even more resilient to weather conditions.
Starlink RV is for the road warriors that require internet on the go and operates on a pay-as-you-go basis for maximum flexibility.
Starlink Maritime is for users who require access to the internet on boats and has equipment that is made to survive the harshest of weather while at sea.
Just like Starlink RV, this is also a pay-as-you-go subscription plan.
Starlink also has a Premium tier plan for Starlink Residential users who require more speed and data prioritization but at a steep cost.
Here is a brief rundown on the fees Starlink charges for their various plans:
|Initial Cost For Equipment
|Monthly Subscription Fee
|$90 (high traffic regions) or $120
A refundable deposit of $99 is to be paid for booking the Starlink and will be fully refunded once you successfully enroll in their service.
The equipment costs, as expected varies depending on your usage scenarios. Each plan provides you with a different arsenal that is perfect for your needs.
Mounting gear expenses add up to the expenses, depending on how you plan on mounting the Starlink dish.
The Starlink Mounting Kit that comes default already has a basic tripod mount, but there are plenty of mounting options available for your Starlink dish.
The portability fee is a feature that lets you move your Starlink dish to a temporary location other than your residential address.
Shipping, handling, and taxes add up the rest of the miscellaneous costs and vary depending on your location and region.
Judging by all this, it is fair to say that all these charges do add up to become a very expensive affair.
The silver lining for these plans is that the monthly subscription fee is all you need to pay each month, and there are no leasing charges for the equipment.
The other charges, such as the equipment fee are all one-time payments and you don't have to return the equipment if you cancel your Starlink subscription.
Speaking of cancellation, Starlink does not tie you in with a contract and therefore you can cancel anytime you wish.
HughesNet follows the traditional way of charging based on the data package you choose.
Since the speeds across all plans are the same at 25 Mbps, users can simply select their plans based on their data requirements.
Here is a brief rundown on the fees HughesNet charges for their various plans:
|Monthly Subscription fee
Judging from this subscription price alone, it might seem like HughesNet is undercutting its asking price by a lot compared to Starlink.
But it is to be noted that the monthly subscription plans alone do not paint the full picture.
Here is a brief rundown on all other expenses associated with getting a HughesNet satellite internet connection:
|$499.98 for a one-time purchase
$14.99 per month if you lease
|Free if you purchase equipment
$99 if you lease equipment
|$400, minus $15 every following month after installation
|$9 for 3 GB of extra data
$15 for 5 GB of extra data
$30 for 10 GB of extra data
$75 for 25 GB of extra data
|Taxes and misc
|Varies depending on region, usually charged yearly by HughesNet
You have the choice to either buy the equipment for setting up the connection directly from HughesNet or to lease the equipment.
Leasing it might seem like a better deal at first, as $14.99 a month is quite nominal compared to $499.98 upfront.
Also, a few steps of math will tell you that $14.99 for 2 years/24 months will tally to just $359.76.
But what you might miss easily is that there is an activation fee of $99 if you lease the equipment, taking the total to $458.76, almost the same as buying it upfront.
So if you plan on sticking to HughesNet for more than 2 years, then it is best to just buy the equipment upfront.
Speaking of more than 2 years, once you apply for a HughesNet connection you are bound to a contract for 2 whole years.
This contract can be terminated early, but with a termination fee of 400 bucks if it is within the first month, and is reduced by 15 bucks each month till the contract expires.
Depending on your state or region, you might even have to pay a few bucks as tax. This is usually processed on a yearly basis.
The fact that you will have to pay extra in the form of data tokens if you want high-speed internet after your main data package gets exhausted also adds to the expense.
But all things aside, even though there are hidden charges sprinkled in, it is still nothing compared to what other competing options add to the table.
This is tough choice to make, as Starlink and HughesNet seemingly cater to a different target demographic, albeit under the same niche.
HughesNet offers decent plans for users who just want to use the connection as a secondary internet connection.
On the other hand, Starlink caters to the audience who prefer a higher speed connection that can replace even their primary internet connection with a much larger data cap.
For that, Starlink does justify its higher asking price compared to HughesNet.
Difference in Underlying Technology
Satellite internet connections rely on satellites in orbit to relay the internet connection to the end users.
The mode of operation of satellite internet has been quite stagnant since its inception almost two decades ago.
Satellite internet technology has for sure evolved quite a lot since the older days. But the primary building blocks have not aged as well as you would think.
But surprisingly, Starlink does bring forward an innovative solution to change up the satellite internet game.
In fact, the modes of operation are drastically different between Starlink and HughesNet it is something that you as an end user should know about.
HughesNet is the wonderchild of using satellite technologies that have been tried and tested for generations.
The satellites that they use to relay internet are in geostationary orbit, at about 22,000 miles from the surface of the earth.
This means that every request for a web page needs to travel the whole 22,000 miles to the satellite and then back, making speeds quite spotty.
This makes speed and latency such an obvious drawback to the whole system.
The benefit of such a design is that each satellite will cover such a wide area and therefore you don't need a lot of satellites up for operation.
In fact, HughesNet uses just one satellite: the EchoStar XIX to relay satellite connectivity to the whole of America.
The satellite being in geostationary orbit also means that the satellite will move along with the earth's rotation and therefore remain in the same spot always.
This ensures that the line of path is always the same, and therefore the internet is bound to be more stable despite its long distance.
Starlink operates on a quantity over quality basis when it comes to satellites and internet connectivity.
Starlink's primary objective was to treat the speed issues that come with using a traditional satellite in the geostationary orbit.
For this, they need to put the satellite much closer to the earth's surface.
They rectify this by using their Starlink Constellation, which is a series of small satellites that orbit at a paltry altitude of about 340 miles from the surface of the earth.
In fact, Starlink has over 3000 satellites orbiting the earth, which is more than half the satellites active outside Earth on the whole.
The main drawback of such an implementation is that the range of each satellite is severely hindered, but Starlink intends to make up for it by sheer numbers.
This is the primary reason why Starlink doesn't provide a wider coverage map than HughesNet at the moment.
Since there is no permanent line of path for the dish to connect to the satellite, the connectivity depends on whether a satellite is in range of your dish at the current moment.
Also, since the satellites are not in the geostationary orbit, they steer into the earth's atmosphere almost every five years and burn to space dust.
But this also provides leeway into introducing newer technology in their future satellite launches.
But the benefits that Starlink provides are huge: much faster speeds and latency, and the freedom to mount your Starlink dish as you wish as long as it is under clear skies.
Both Starlink and Hughesnet rely on satellite internet and in some areas, it might make more sense to opt for 5G home internet instead of either.
This is a tough match-up to comment on, as I am an end user myself and the utility is what I prefer over what technology the company uses to provide it.
Talking about the utility, at least at the moment it depends on where you want to implement the satellite connectivity and whether the area is covered by the service.
If Starlink is available in your area and the area has access to clear skies all the time then it makes sense to go with Starlink.
But HughesNet covers a much bigger map thanks to its EchoStar XIX geostationary satellite.
So for now, I would call this match-up a tie. But with Starlink focusing on quantity, it is only a matter of time till Starlink conquers the Americas.
Starlink is newer, faster, and more appealing on almost every metric.
Hughesnest is older and set it in its ways. It's also much slower and shows little signs of improvement.
I hope my article on the key differences between Starlink and HughesNet has been a great read and has aided you in your decision-making process.
Have a good day!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Can you stream Netflix using HughesNet?
HughesNet maxes out at 25 Mbps, which ideally should be enough to stream 4K on Netflix. But considering real-world fluctuations in internet speeds, Netflix should work fine with medium settings.
Is Starlink better than normal internet?
Despite Starlink boasting great speeds, it still has miles to go to even compete with the speeds you would get if you use a normal internet connection, especially fiber internet.
What Starlink excels at compared to a normal internet connection is the coverage it offers. Starlink can reach places where traditional wired internet can't reach.