Amazon’s Kuiper vs. HughesNet: Which One Wins?

starlink vs earthlink

Amazon’s Kuiper vs. HughesNet: Which One Wins?

It’s amazing to think that 19 million Americans, roughly 6% of the entire U.S. population, do not have access to the Internet. The vast majority of affected people (>14.5 million) find themselves disconnected from the world wide web because of simple geography. In fact, the inaccessibility and remoteness of many rural areas have proven to be almost insurmountable hurdles for fixed wired broadband internet technologies. The costs of extending existing telecommunications infrastructure into rural areas run into billions of dollars that private companies are unlikely to recoup from the more sparsely populated communities that would be served. Therefore, some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, including Amazon (Project Kuiper) and HughesNet, are looking into new broadband internet solutions.

In particular, Amazon is in the advanced stages of developing a satellite broadband internet service called Project Kuiper, which aims to provide internet coverage in some of the most remote regions on Earth. But how does Amazon’s satellite internet compare to existing satellite ISPs? In this article, we compare Amazon’s Kuiper and HughesNet to find out which is the best option.

Amazon’s Kuiper vs. HughesNet: Side-by-Side Comparison

Amazon KuiperHughesNet
What it isStartup satellite broadband internet service provider (ISP)Established satellite broadband internet service provider (ISP)
Primary useBroadband internet accessBroadband internet access
Initial releaseUnder development2005
Influential developersRajeev Badyal (President of Project Kuiper), Dave Limp (Senior Vice President Amazon Devices and Services), United Launch Alliance, Arianespace, Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos, Jarrett Jones (Blue Origin)Pradman Kaul (CEO), Digital Communication, Corporation (DCC), Dr. Burton Edelson, John Puente, Comsat Laboratories
Number of satellites3,2362
Max uplink speedunknown3Mbps
Max downlink speed1Gbps (proposed)25Mbps
Latency〜40 milliseconds (potential)714ms
Data limitsunknownYes 
Monthly subscription unknown$54.99
Additional feesunknownNone
Equipment provided $400+ for terminal (proposed)Satellite dish, Modems, Routers
Locations available:Worldwide (proposed)Across the United States, Puerto Rico, Brazil, India, Europe
Number of subscribers01.4 million 
Hughesnet satellite
HughesNet provides a high-speed satellite Internet service in several areas of America.

Amazon’s Kuiper vs. HughesNet: How Do They Compare?

These two satellite internet companies will become direct competitors once Amazon launches Kuiper. But there are important differences in how Kuiper and HughesNet achieve their broadband satellite connectivity and the type of deal they offer their customers. Let’s compare the two.

Satellite Networking Technology

Though both Kuiper and HughesNet use satellites to deliver high-speed internet connectivity, there are major differences in how they do this. 


HughesNet can serve over 1.4 million customers with just two satellites, JUPITER 1 and JUPITER 2. Its JUPITER high-throughput satellite system was completely novel when it was first launched. Aside from the two satellites, HughesNet uses: 

  • gateway stations 
  • ground processing equipment
  • User terminals (antennas)
  • Network and system control infrastructure 

The two satellites broadcast a narrowband signal with hundreds of spot beams that connect them to the users. These satellites occupy a High Earth Orbit (HEO),  35,786km (22,236 miles) from the Earth. 

User data is broadcast to the satellite via gateway beams transmitted via a network of ground stations. The JUPITER satellites use the following frequency bands:

  • Ka-Band (frequency range: 26.5 to 40GHz)
  • Q-Band (frequency range: 33 to 50GHz) 
  • V-Band (frequency range: 40 to 75GHz)

Project Kuiper

Project Kuiper has not yet shared the full details of its satellite internet technology, but so far we know that they want to install a constellation of 3,236 small satellites orbiting in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO), with an altitude of 2,000km (1,200 miles). This completely transforms the type of internet connectivity Amazon would be able to achieve.

With so many individual satellites orbiting close to the Earth, Amazon will provide high-speed, low-latency internet connectivity with massive bandwidth to its customers. Project Kuiper satellites will only use the Ka-band to exchange internet data. The quality of service is likely to eclipse the simpler technology that is currently being used by HughesNet. 

Satellite Internet Coverage

HughesNet covers the entire United States, including Alaska and Puerto Rico. It performs best in regions that have a clear view of the southern sky. The company began expanding internationally in 2016 and is now also available in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. 

In contrast, Project Kuiper has the ambition of providing a service with global coverage. It certainly would have enough satellites to do this and the business expertise for competent multinational operations. 

Latency and Speed 

The different orbits occupied by Kuiper and HughesNet satellites make a massive difference to the latency and speed of internet connectivity. HughesNet HEO satellites are much farther from the Earth, increasing the latency to a massive 714ms, which affects the quality of service. For comparison, Starlink’s satellites that occupy the Low Earth Orbit have a latency of 20 to 40ms. 

HughesNet internet speeds are therefore much slower, with a maximum speed of 25Mbps. Project Kuiper proposes that it will be able to deliver speeds of up to 1Gbps, but it will have to deploy its satellites to see what the connectivity will be like in real life.   

Satellite Internet Equipment

HughesNet customers receive a satellite dish and modem router for receiving and using its satellite internet service. Note that you can hire or purchase this outright. The location and orientation of the satellite dish have to be carefully planned to optimize exposure to the JUPITER satellites. They typically install the dish at a height of at least four feet off the ground and facing the southern sky with a view that is free from obstructions. 

The Project Kuiper terminals similarly are intended to face the open sky. The standard terminal is essentially a satellite antenna that is mounted on a roof or other tall location. So far, we know little about the modem or router that will be used with the terminal to access the internet in homes and businesses. 

Upfront Costs

HughesNet has upfront installation and equipment costs:

  • A $99 installation fee that is essential for correctly orienting the satellite dish for optimal performance. 
  • $20 per month to rent the satellite dish, modem, and router from HughesNet.
  • Alternatively, customers can purchase their equipment outright for $499. 
  • In addition, there is an early termination fee of up to $400!

In contrast, we know little about the business model that Amazon intends to use. So far, all we know is that it costs $400 for Amazon to manufacture its standard terminal. 

Ongoing Costs

Satellite internet usually comes at a monthly cost. However, Amazon’s Kuiper and HughesNet each have different approaches to leveraging this cost.

HughesNet isn’t cheap. Expect to pay at least $54.99 for 15GB of data. A further 50GB of data is added as a bonus for off-peak use. The company also uses throttling. In addition, HughesNet customers are on a contract and can pay heavy termination fees if they leave early. 

Amazon’s ambition is to provide a great value, low-cost service. However, the company will have to recoup the $10 billion sunk costs of Project Kuiper, plus ongoing costs associated with maintaining such a vast constellation of satellites. 

What is Project Kuiper?

Starlink vs Amazon's Project Kuiper
Project Kuiper’s satellite internet is optimal for people in rural areas and the developing world.

Project Kuiper satellite broadband service is a startup that Amazon has developed to provide a satellite-based solution for broadband internet connectivity. Because Kuiper uses satellites, it will be completely wireless and able to be accessed anywhere on Earth. 

Amazon has invested more than $10 billion so far in developing its satellite internet solution, which features proprietary satellites and networking hardware. The fledgling subsidiary, led by president Rajeev Badyal, is prioritizing making its solution low-cost and easily accessible to as many people as possible.

Project Kuiper Satellite Broadband Terminals

In early 2023, Amazon released images of the customer terminals for the Kuiper Internet service at the Sat Shoe Satellite 2023 conference in Washington. The terminals are satellite antennas that send and receive the broadband internet signal. Right now, they are being prototyped in 3 sizes, depending on the speed of internet connectivity provided:

  1. A portable 7 by 7-inch terminal: this low-cost terminal can be set up anywhere and provides a 100Mbps data link.
  2. A standard fixed 11-inch square terminal: this is Kuiper’s mainstream solution, a fixed antenna of 5 pounds in weight that is mounted at a height, facing the open sky. Maximum download speed provided by this terminal is up to 400Mbps.
  3. An enterprise-caliber 19 by 30-inch terminal: this larger terminal has been designed for use by businesses, governments, and local amenities and can deliver essential broadband connectivity with speeds exceeding 1Gbps. 

Amazon has stated that the standard satellite terminal currently costs under $400 to manufacture, though it’s unclear what the actual costs and wider business model of the service will be.

Advanced Networking Technologies

Amazon is leveraging experience in technological innovation to make Project Kuiper a success. For example, the Kuiper receivers and satellites are going to use the Prometheus processor chip that Amazon has developed in-house for maximum speed and connectivity between satellites and terminals. 

The satellites are designed to minimize their environmental impact, particularly through light pollution that can affect astronomy and the generation of space debris when they are decommissioned. 

Progress Toward the First Satellite Launches

So far, Project Kuiper has no satellites in orbit. It has received a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and has partnered with space companies that include United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin to undertake the launches. We can expect the prototype satellites to launch later this year.

Project Kuiper’s Timeline

Right now, all eyes are on the first launches of Project Kuiper’s satellites. Amazon aims to have deployed at least half of its satellites by 2024, making it possible to deliver customer connectivity from then. 

What is HughesNet?

Hughes Network Systems, LLC, also known as HughesNet, is a satellite internet company that is a subsidiary of EchoStar. It is one of America’s oldest satellite internet companies and pioneered the development and commercialization of this technology. 

Right now HughesNet is a market leader for satellite internet in the US and around the world, with at least 1.4 million subscribers in North and South America. It has an outstanding reputation as one of the few ISPs that consistently exceeds their published maximum upload and download speeds.

The entire HughesNet network is run off just two satellites, EchoStar XVII (also called JUPITER 1) and EchoStar XIX (also known as JUPITER 2). HughesNet’s two satellites orbit much further away from the earth than newer satellite internet companies like Starlink. Unfortunately, this massively increases latency and affects its performance in applications like streaming or gaming.

The History of HughesNet

John Puente and Dr. Burton Edelson, alongside a team of seven engineers, founded HughesNet as Digital Communication Corporation (DCC) in 1970. They had met and previously worked at the telecommunications company Comsat Laboratories and funded the startup with $40,000 capital while operating out of a garage in Rockville, Maryland.

The company initially fabricated circuit boards for the telecommunications sector and, after being acquired by Microwave Associates, focused on satellite communications products. MA/COM-DCC invented a two-way satellite ground station known as the VSAT, which was used by Walmart to connect its stores in remote areas. Following this success, MA/COM-DCC was acquired by Hughes Aircraft Corporation in a $105 million deal and became Hughes Communications.

The company has gone through subsequent acquisitions, including a $6.5 billion sale to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp (2004) and its most recent sale to EchoStar in 2011.

HughesNet Satellite Internet Service

The HughesNet satellite internet service was launched in 1996 under the name DirecPC and later Direcway in May 2002. In 2017, the company became the first satellite internet company to achieve the FCC’s definition of broadband internet. They achieved this by launching two high-throughput satellites, the EchoStar XVII, and EchoStar XIX. Once Hughes Communications was able to deliver broadband connectivity, it was named HughesNet.

HughesNet homepage
HughesNet currently offers several satellite internet packages to customers.

Amazon’s Kuiper vs. HughesNet: Must-Know Facts

  • The FCC has set project Kuiper a deadline of July 30, 2026, for launching at least half of its full satellite constellation.
  • Amazon intends to leverage its formidable Amazon Web Services (AWS) networking infrastructure to support and scale the Kuiper network. AWS has a significant competitive advantage over companies like HughesNet and Starlink. 
  • Amazon will launch the first two prototype satellites of Project Kuiper on the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket’s first flight.
  • Paul Gask, the CEO of HughesNet’s parent company, EchoStar, has recently stated that his company’s priority is to increase network capacity and lower the latency that is hampering its service. 
  • HughesNet intends to launch further satellites with new specifications and capabilities later this year. They have started to target Low and Medium Earth Orbit.
  • HughesNet is simply not fast enough for consistent unbuffered streaming. Streaming will also rapidly use up the monthly data limit from HughesNet, leading to throttling.

Amazon’s Kuiper vs. HughesNet: Final Thoughts

HughesNet has been a pioneer in broadband satellite internet and has continued to maintain a strong customer base despite the emergence of competitor satellite companies and cellular home internet, which is also wireless. 

Note that the JUPITER system has just two satellites versus the thousands that Amazon, Starlink, and other companies want to launch, which have an increased risk of collision and other environmental issues. 

Project Kuiper goes live by 2026, but what happens to over 3,000 satellites if Amazon cannot recoup $10 billion in sunk costs? This is likely to be a “watch-this-space” scenario, while HughesNet has a proven track record and willingness to innovate more sustainably. Therefore, in the debate between Project Kuiper and HughesNet, we can only select HughesNet.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many satellites are currently orbiting the Earth?

There are approximately 6,905 satellites that are currently orbiting the Earth. Since 2017, the number of launched satellites has increased by 1000 to 2000 satellites per year, primarily in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

When will the HugesNet's JUPITER 3 satellite launch?

Space X will launch the JUPITER 3 satellite from Cape Canaveral in early 2023. It will enter a geostationary orbit that is higher than the LEO used by Amazon’s Kuiper.

Who built HughesNet's JUPITER 3 satellite?

The new HughesNet satellite was built by Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California. The 28-foot JUPITER 3 is the largest satellite the company has ever built. HughesNet believes that it is better to have one big satellite rather than thousands of smaller satellites that increase the risk of collision and space debris.

What will HughesNet's internet speed be once the JUPITER 3 satellite is operational?

HughesNet hopes to offer its customers increased internet speeds of between 50 and 100Mbps once JUPITER 3 is operational. This is a significant service improvement that will allow customers to stream freely and use video calling.

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