Our HughesNet Review
HughesNet is your best bet for speed and reliability if you live in the country or on the far end of town with limited internet options. With plans ranging from $59.99-$149.99, it’s much more budget-friendly than the competition. HughesNet also delivers on its promises, consistently meeting or exceeding advertised speeds of up to 25Mbps and ensuring customers get what they’re paying for.
That said, satellite internet plans are measured by the data you use, a lot like a cellphone — go over your monthly allotment and your speeds will crank down to a piddly 1-3Mbps. And it’s worth noting HughesNet ranks pretty low in an industry notorious for poor customer service. However, its innovation in the satellite internet industry, Gen5 speeds, and reasonable pricing still inch it out in front of its closest competitor, making it the choice for rural customers.
HughesNet claims it’s America’s number one choice for satellite internet, and for the past two years, the FCC has ranked HughesNet’s Gen4 internet service as “first among all major internet providers” in delivering advertised speeds.
With the launch of a new satellite, HughesNet has upgraded to Gen5 — an internet service that promises broadband speeds and no hard data caps. Though it’s still relatively new, Gen5 plans to improve and build upon Gen4’s already solid foundation.
Is it True?
Available in 51 states and territories to over 308.7 million people, HughesNet is the largest provider of satellite broadband in the US by coverage area. Viasat (formerly Exede), HughesNet’s closest competitor, falls just a hair short of this with 308.4 million people covered.
According to the FCC’s report on consumer broadband services, “Measuring Broadband America — 2016” (issued December 1, 2016), HughesNet surpasses competitors in providing speeds matching or exceeding those advertised on its website. The report states that it ranks among Optimum, Charter, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon-Fiber as the best performing providers when measuring consumers whose median download speed met or exceeded what was advertised. Considering many internet service providers fall short on their promises, it’s pretty impressive that HughesNet keeps its word when it comes to advertised speeds.
What’s more, all of this was accomplished with HughesNet’s Gen4 internet speeds, which maxed out at 15Mbps. HughesNet launched its latest satellite in 2017, offering Gen5 internet with speeds up to 25Mbps across all plans. This boost in speed catapults HughesNet into broadband territory and, according to PC Mag, makes HughesNet’s internet experience more comparable with traditional options. For reference, 25Mbps is sufficient speed for light-to-regular internet users; Reading articles, checking email, browsing social media, and streaming standard-def video or music from a few devices is possible without any dramatic lag. Plus, the addition of no hard data caps means you won’t lose internet if you exceed your monthly data allowance.
Hughes Net Pros
✓ Ideal for those without access to cable
✓ Great for areas not serviced by fiber optics
✓ Can switch plans at no extra cost
✓ Optional 24/7 tech support
Hughes Net Cons
✗ Not for people who live in cities or suburbs who have access to faster internet options
✗ Not ideal for online gamers
✗ Data throttling
Hands down, HughesNet is the best satellite internet you can get. Still, there are some considerations to keep in mind before you buy. HughesNet’s less-than-stellar customer service rating is a major setback for the company, with customers citing unhelpful support and early termination fees, However, these issues are typical across internet service providers. For some perspective, HughesNet’s rating is on par with Viasat’s — its main competitor — and other companies like Verizon and AT&T. If the rating still makes you wary, HughesNet does offer Express Repair, a repair service customers can opt into for an additional monthly fee. This service offers 24/7 technical phone support, guaranteed on-site repairs in one to two business days, and more.
Data plans range from 10GB to 50GB per month, catering both to single users who stick to social media and larger households with bigger data needs. However, it can’t be stressed enough that speeds will slow if customers use up their monthly data allowance, dipping from 25Mbps to 1-3Mbps until the next billing cycle. Snail-like speeds don’t mean binge-watching is a thing of the past, though. You can stream standard def from Hulu’s library with a download speed of 1.5Mbps, and Netflix recommends 3Mbps for streaming standard def. Even with HughesNet’s data throttling, you should still be able to watch your favorite shows and movies.
Worried about choosing the wrong data plan? HughesNet lets customers switch plans at no additional cost if their needs change. The company will simply prorate your bill if you up your monthly data allowance.
HughesNet isn’t a great option for people in areas where cable, DSL or fiber optic internet are available. Satellite internet is slower than terrestrial internet types, partly due to latency. The FCC defines latency as “the time it takes for a data packet to travel from one point to another in a network.” For satellite internet, this means that data must travel between your computer and the satellite orbiting in outer space. This lag might not be noticeable when browsing the web, but it is a major factor for online gamers; Playing multiplayer games on Xbox or Playstation simply isn’t an option with HughesNet. There also might be a few hiccups Skyping your kid who’s studying abroad, but generally lag should be next to unnoticeable.
A Closer Look at Features
|25Mbps across all four plans|
|People living in rural areas who don’t have access to cable or fiber optic internet|
|People in cities and suburbs who have access to faster internet types and speeds|
|25.3% (from a customer sample size of 7,613)|
|Minimum service commitment of 24 months|
|51 (Top five states served: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois)|
|Customers are allotted a monthly data allowance based on their service plan. Data allowances range from 10GB to 50GB.|
Our Deep Dive
- Reasonable Pricing: Compared to its closest competitor, Viasat, HughesNet’s internet prices are easier on the wallet. Plans start at $59.99, with each plan reaching speeds up to 25Mbps. In some areas, Viasat offers an unlimited data plan with up to 30Mbps speeds, but it’ll cost you $150 ($100 for the first three months). And its unlimited plans aren’t available in all areas. Its more common plans start at $50 ($30 for the first three months) for speeds up to 12Mbps. At this time, HughesNet is still more cost-effective, and more reliable, than Viasat.
- Two-Year Contract: Currently, HughesNet requires a 24-month contract across all plans. If you wish to cancel your service before your contract is up, then you must pay an early termination fee. This fee is $400 if you cancel within the first three months. After that, it decreases by $15 for each month of service. So, cancelling six months into your contract will incur a $355 fee. If you don’t return your equipment, an additional $300 is charged on top of your cancellation fee.
- Plan Flexibility: Unlike other internet service providers, HughesNet lets customers upgrade or downgrade their plans at no additional cost. When upgrading to a higher data plan, HughesNet will prorate the customer’s bill. This flexibility is great if you’re a first time satellite internet user and aren’t sure which plan works for you. It gives you the chance to choose one plan, see just how much data you’re using on a monthly basis, and make adjustments from there.
- Data Throttling: HughesNet doesn’t have hard data caps, but customers will experience throttling if they go over their data allotment. Reduced data speeds range from 1-3Mbps and remains at these levels until the next billing cycle begins. 25Mbps typically lets you browse the web while streaming standard-def video or music simultaneously (from a moderate number of users and devices) without a noticeable dip in speed. When your internet crawls to 1-3Mbps, chances are you’ll only be able to use your connection to do one thing at a time (from only one device).
- Free Off-Peak Data: HughesNet’s Bonus Zone gives customers access to 50GB “Bonus Bytes” of free data per month between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. Free off-peak data is particularly useful for those concerned with data throttling. Though the window for free data isn’t exactly ideal, it encourages more customers to access the internet during less congested times. Rather than waste plan data on downloading movies and music, customers can download large files or schedule software updates during the Bonus Zone timeframe.
- Usage Meter: Surpassing your monthly data allowance should never come as a surprise, so HughesNet offers customers a Usage Meter to keep track of both their monthly data allowance and Bonus Bytes. This feature helps customers calculate how much data they use on average and will alert them if they’re running low. Customers can view usage history over periods of one week, two weeks, 30 days, and 60 days. The meter is available for desktop and smartphone.
- Data Tokens: For customers who exceed their monthly data limit and want to revive internet speeds pronto, HughesNet offers Data Tokens, which bring speeds back up to 25Mbps. Data Tokens come in four sizes and cost $9 for 3GB, $15 for 5GB, $30 for 10GB, and $75 for 25GB. These are a handy option for customers who work from home or simply can’t bear to see their connection plummet to single digits.
- Customer Rating: HughesNet’s customer rating leaves much to be desired. According to Broadband Now, it has a 25.3% ranking from a customer sample size of 7,681. The reviews on the Better Business Bureau’s website are worse, with a 98% negative customer review rating. However, when looking at ratings for other internet service providers, HughesNet’s isn’t all that shocking. Viasat has a 96% negative customer review rating on BBB’s website, and Verizon’s isn’t much better at 94%. Across reviews for most internet service providers, you’ll find complaints about poor customer service, lack of or bad support, and an array of billing issues. Most people don’t have a choice in provider, which makes frustrations about these companies even more common.
- Express Repair: For an additional monthly fee, HughesNet customers can get some extra peace of mind knowing their connection and equipment will always be taken care of. Express Repair includes 24/7 technical phone support, instant restoration of HughesNet service, guaranteed repairs in one to two business days, and more. There are two Express Repair plans. The basic plan costs an extra $7.95 a month and guarantees repairs in two business days, with a $29.95 co-pay for onsite service. The platinum plan is an additional $11.95 a month and ensures repairs are done next day, with the same $29.95 co-pay.
- Consistent Speeds: Data from the FCC’s sixth annual broadband consumer report positions HughesNet’s Gen4 among the top internet service providers for delivering on promised speeds. Now that Gen5 has launched and the company is boasting speeds of up to 25Mbps across all plans, it’s likely they’ll close the gap even further on the 2017 report.
- Improving Service: HughesNet remains a leader in the satellite internet industry because it seeks to innovate on its past services. With the launch of its latest satellite in 2017, HughesNet nearly doubled internet speeds for its customers, bringing them up to 25Mbps. And they’re looking even further into the future, with proposals to launch a 100 Mbps satellite in 2021.
What Others Are Saying
- Yahoo Finance agrees that HughesNet offers more bang for your buck than Viasat, and its expansive coverage makes it a strong contender in the satellite internet space: “Some of the positive selling points in favor of HughesNet include lower cost, more diverse plans to choose from, 24/7 customer support, and a greater coverage area.” Considering satellite internet is already more expensive than most terrestrial internet providers, HughesNet’s competitive pricing is a huge leg up over Viasat.
- The Wall Street Journal believes the company’s eagerness to innovate is an asset in the ultra-competitive satellite internet space, but has concerns about HughesNet’s lead over competitors: “The outlook for satellite internet options is changing quickly, with rival Viasat Inc. making a major play to offer less expensive plans to customers using next-generation satellites with greater capacity.” Viasat’s looking to up its game, with its new satellite in place and active by early 2018. The company already offers speeds of up to 30Mbps in some areas, but it hasn’t been able to consistently deliver. It’s yet to be seen if this extra satellite will give Viasat more nationwide coverage. With HughesNet already offering 25Mbps nationwide, it’s still a better choice in the satellite internet space.
- Arstechnica agrees that HughesNet’s plans for the coming years will help it remain a competitive option for rural residential internet but maintains that the company’s endeavours still won’t put it in league with cable, fiber optic, or DSL internet: “While these services will offer a boatload of download bandwidth for customers who currently can’t get anything resembling fiber or cable internet speeds, they won’t break the laws of physics.” HughesNet’s push for 100Mbps by 2021 is innovative for the satellite industry, but compared to Verizon’s Fios Gigabit Connection, which currently delivers up to 980Mbps in some areas, getting 100Mbps years from now feels sluggish.
- Satellite Internet: As the only other satellite internet provider in the US, Viasat (formerly Exede) is HughesNet’s closest competition. Viasat offers both unlimited data (with data throttling coming into effect at 150GB) and speeds up to 30Mbps in some areas, making it seem like a no-brainer. However, these unlimited plans and speeds aren’t available everywhere, and they top the charts at $150 per month. Its most common plans offer speeds up to 12Mbps, with the option of boosting to 25Mbps for an additional $10 per month, making it pricier than HughesNet for comparable speeds and data allowances. While HughesNet’s plans and pricing stay constant no matter where you’re from, Viasat’s vary widely by location — we’d recommend plugging in your zip code for a more detailed comparison. HughesNet is more realistic for customers wanting broadband speeds that won’t break the bank. HughesNet also has Viasat beat in reliability. HughesNet also won out over Viasat in the 2016 FCC broadband consumer report in delivering advertised speeds. In other words, even though Viasat advertises higher speeds in certain areas, it hasn’t been proven to deliver on them just yet.
- 4G LTE Wireless: Surprisingly, your cell carrier is a major competitor for satellite internet. Verizon is one of the nation’s largest 4G LTE providers and, like satellite internet, its 4G LTE service covers most of the country. The company gives customers two ways to harness 4G LTE to power your non-mobile devices. You can either set up your mobile device as a hotspot and tether your other devices (like laptops and tablets), or you can purchase a mobile hotspot through Verizon to connect. Another benefit of Verizon’s 4G LTE service is that it doesn’t come saddled with tons of lag, so playing multiplayer games on your Playstation or Skyping is a reality. However, 4G LTE does have drawbacks. Its speeds, for example, aren’t exactly comparable with HughesNet. Verizon promises between 5 and 12Mbps on its 4G LTE plan. And even though it advertises an Unlimited plan with an Unlimited Mobile Hotspot for $75, there’s a catch: Its Unlimited Mobile Hotspot only gives you 15GB each month. After that, speeds dip down to around 600Kbps until the next billing cycle. In the long run, HughesNet’s consistency and pricing edge it out over Verizon — especially if you’re not a big gamer or worried about latency.
- Fixed Wireless: Growing more popular in rural areas, fixed wireless transmits internet via radio waves rather than through cable or phone lines. All it needs is a small dish or antenna installed on your home to get up and running. Fixed wireless is an attractive option because data caps are much higher than satellite internet, or nonexistent. It also has lower latency than satellite internet, which makes it possible to Skype with your kid or play Call of Duty with friends on a smooth connection. However, fixed wireless lacks coverage and comes at a premium for minimum speeds. HughesNet’s Gen5 has greater reach, consistent speeds and better prices than those offered by fixed wireless providers. Rise Broadband, the nation’s largest fixed wireless provider, only offers service in 19 states. Although speeds can reach up to 50Mbps in some areas, a typical speed for most locations is 25Mbps. With a two-year contract, pricing is $19.95 a month for up to 5Mbps during the first year ($29.95 a month for the second year), or $29.95 a month for between 10Mbps and 25Mbps during the first year ($39.95 for the second year).
The Bottom Line
HughesNet surpasses competing rural internet service providers, thanks to expansive satellite coverage, consistent broadband speeds, and wallet-friendly prices. The company also keeps its promises, ranking among some the biggest internet service providers as making good on advertised speeds. While its customer service rating is lackluster, when viewed alongside other internet service provider’s ratings, HughesNet’s is comparable. Speeds will slow if customers go over their monthly data allowance, but this doesn’t mean that movie night is cancelled. Even with speeds dropping from 25Mbps down to 1-3Mbps, streaming standard def video from Netflix and Hulu is possible. If this still isn’t enough speed for you, HughesNet also gives customers 50GB of free data each month to use during off-peak hours and the option to buy Data Tokens to boost connections back to normal. Even with fierce competition from Viasat, HughesNet’s future as the go-to for satellite internet remains bright. With a new satellite scheduled for launch in 2021 offering blazing speeds of up to 100Mbps, it promises an even zippier internet connection in rural areas nationwide.