Starlink vs. HughesNet: Which One Wins?

starlink vs spectrum

Starlink vs. HughesNet: Which One Wins?

Key Points:
  • HughesNet offers plans that include free installation and monthly payments as low as $45. Starlink has an initial fee for its starter kit of $599 and monthly payments of $110.
  • Starlink employs LEO satellites that are much closer to the Earth. HughesNet, on the other hand, uses HEO geosynchronous satellites.
  • The number of customer who have access to HughesNet is much larger than for Starlink. Starlink is still in the growth phase, so the number of people who have access is limited.

Experiencing the evolution of satellite internet capabilities for the last 20+ years has been an amazing journey as humanity continues to reach for the stars. Comparing Starlink and HughesNet is a great way to observe the metamorphosis from geosynchronous technology to LEO satellite constellation concepts.

With the imagination of Elon Musk and other modern visionaries with a backdrop of the pioneers of the 1990s and before, we will lay out a vision of where we are now and what to expect in the near or distant future.

Let’s dive in!

TechnologyLEO satellites constellationGeostationary HEO satellites
FounderElon Musk (SpaceX)John Puente, Burton Edelson
HeadquartersRedmond, WashingtonGermantown, Maryland
Year Service Began20211996
Parent CompanySpaceXEchostar
PriceOne-time $599 for standard hardware kit, then $110 per monthStarting at $45.99 per month
InstallationSelf-installationPro technician
  • HughesNet is the highest-rated satellite internet provider in the U.S. by consumers.
  • Starlink employs low Earth orbit satellites for lower latency than HughesNet’s geosynchronous satellites.
  • Starlink‘s satellite constellation’s closer proximity to Earth also increases speeds compared to HughesNet from 25 Mbps to 50 Mbps and more.
  • HughesNet was founded in 1971 as Digital Communications Corp.
  • Starlink was officially announced in 2015 with the opening of SpaceX’s satellite facility in Redmond, WA.
  • Satellite constellation technology is not new as it was first being conceptualized in the mid-1980s, by — you guessed it — the military.
  • HughesNet has revenue of $1.9 billion, while Starlink is projected to hit $1.19 billion in 2022.
  • In 2022, a plan was published by Chinese military researchers to destroy Starlink if they detect threats from the satellite constellation.
  • The early version of HughesNet (DDC) operated out of a garage in Rockville, Maryland, designing circuit boards and telecom technologies.
  • Elon Musk is now the wealthiest person in the world, with a net worth of $250 billion.

Now, let’s break it down even further to see how these two satellite biggies compare in the areas that the average consumer is most concerned with.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) vs. High Earth Orbit (HEO) Satellites

This is where the rubber meets the road or, should we say, the signal hits the user, when comparing these two satellite ISPs.

Starlink employs LEO satellites that are much closer to the Earth. HughesNet, on the other hand, uses HEO geosynchronous satellites. But, what does that have to do with the end user? Well, a lot really. To put it in simple terms, the farther away something is (a satellite in this case), the longer it takes for information to be transmitted back and forth.

This technology is a long way from the soft-landing vehicles created by Hughes Aircraft and NASA in the 1960s. Just imagine what another 50 years will bring!

Let’s get away from the technical side for a bit and get down to what the end user is looking at when purchasing satellite internet service.

  • Is it available to me?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How fast is it?
  • How reliable is it going to be?

Starlink vs. HughesNet: Availability

At the time of writing, HughesNet wins, hands down, when it comes to the number of consumers that have access to the two services, at least in the U.S.

Because Starlink is still in the growth phases, the number of people who have access is limited. This will certainly change as the company continues to follow through on its plans.

Recent announcements from Musk have indicated that, as of September 2022, Starlink is available on all 7 continents. HughesNet continues to grow as well, opening up developing nations to its services, including South and Central America.

Hughesnet satellite
HughesNet is much more available in the U.S. than Starlink.

Price is another winner for HughesNet, as they offer plans that include free installation. Starlink, on the other hand, has an initial fee for its starter kit of $599. After you have your connection ready, HughesNet has monthly payments starting as low as $45, whereas Starlink’s monthly payment is $110.

So, when it comes to price, we’re putting a check in the HughesNet column. The one deciding factor that Starlink can use to justify their higher prices is addressed in the next section and is still under scrutiny to see if they can provide the speeds they are promoting.

When it comes to speed and lag, we can look at two metrics: what do the companies promise? What do their customers have to say?

As far as the first source of information, it looks like this:

  • HughesNet’s plan touts download speeds of 25Mbps, but this can vary in different locations when tested. Starlink offers 50 to 200Mbps and up as your price increases.
  • Tests done by Ookla have raised concerns that Starlink is slowing down as they acquire more users.
  • It’s also important to keep in mind that Starlink is now launching the v2.0 laser-communicating satellites to the constellation. This could have a dramatic effect on how well they can live up to the speeds promised.

What do actual users have to say? We researched a cross-section of customer reviews on Trustpilot and ProductReview.com.au to get a feel for what real users are saying.

  • Overall, the consensus is positive on Starlink’s delivering on its speeds as advertised. The one area where there was noticeably negative feedback was Starlink’s customer service.
  • HughesNet gets a better grade for customer service but loses in customer reviews for the speeds they advertise.
  • In the category of our next section, Starlink gets a slight edge when it comes to reliability according to customer opinions.
Watch Elon discuss space-based internet
Starlink satellites are highly reliable and fast.

With both companies providing internet through satellite technology and the issues that accompany it, we have to make this one a tie.

Any satellite signal is going to have issues with Mother Nature. It’s just hard to overcome the changes in the atmosphere caused by the weather when your information is being passed through this environment. It will be interesting to see if any internet entrepreneurs can come up with a way to beat this. It just doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future.

This takes us back to the better-than-nothing philosophy that some internet consumers have to factor into the mix. In remote, rugged, and desolate places around the world, you may just have to do the best you can — and that’s going to be a satellite.

So, speaking of the future, what do these two satellite companies have upcoming that could change who wins the battle to bring you quality internet?

Starlink is going to continue launching its v2.0 satellites which could change how its service performs dramatically. If they can deliver the speeds promised, HughesNet could have a difficult time keeping up.

As for HughesNet, their Gen 5 edition continues to grow and expand to countries like Brazil and India and has opened to other U.S. markets, like Alaska and Puerto Rico.

Summing it Up

So, which one wins? This is really a tough call in this case.

If we look at all the metrics above, this is going to come down to a tie and end up being very subjective. If price is your main concern, then HughesNet wins for now. If speed and latency are major concerns based on the type of user you are, then Starlink will be the best bet. And, if you’re in a place where there will never be fiber, then you’ll just have to live with outages of a satellite if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

One last thing to keep in mind when it comes to all satellite internet providers is the fact that they are all competing to solve these problems through technology. So, don’t get discouraged and stuck where we’re at right now. The entire satellite internet landscape will change in the next few years.

Up Next

Starlink vs Hughesnet: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to get the Starlink setup kit?

It depends on where you’re at. In some areas, it can be as fast as two weeks, while in other locations, it can take up to 4 to 8 months.

How much does Starlink cost?

It depends on your plan, but the standard residential is $599 for the kit and $110 per month thereafter.

Starlink vs. HughesNet: which one costs more?

Starlink is by far more expensive than HughesNet.

Does Starlink have data caps?

No. At this time, there are no data limits from Starlink.

What speed can I expect with HughesNet?

HughesNet advertises speeds of 25Mbps. Like all internet services, this can vary with location.

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