Review: HughesNet satellite

» Shockingly bad internet service for a high price.

Actually, this is more of a rant than a review, as you can probably tell by the subtitle. ;-)

A few months ago we moved to a different town. In spite of the phone company's earlier claims, it turned out that we could not get DSL at our new place. Which is a bit of a problem, considering I do all my work from home over an internet connection. Dialup didn't seem like an attractive alternative, so we looked around for alternatives.

It turns out that the only game in town was HughesNet satellite, which promised speeds similar to broadband. That sounded good, but the price was a bit steep. Either you have to pay a few hundreds of dollars up front for equipment (satellite dish, router and such), or you can make these costs part of your monthly payment, which puts it at $99 or more (depending on the service plan you choose).

We chose the latter, and made an appointment to get everything installed (which was almost three weeks after the call date, essentially depriving me of work and income for that many days). The installation went rather smoothly and the service guy was polite and competent, no complains about that. The internet service itself, however, is a different story.

Frankly, it's terrible. Often, it's very slow... that is, if it works at all. If I had a dollar for every time I saw the message "TCP connection with web server failed" or "Suspected satellite outage", I would not need a job at all. Getting my email, not something that should take tons of bandwidth, happens at a glacial speed. Downloads stop halfway. IM services like MSN regularly disconnect, even if I'm not doing anything else. Other things, like Skype, don't work at all.

(HughesNet has a "fair use policy"... if you download more than a certain volume of data, your download speed is restricted. For my plan, this is 175 Mb, I think (although they don't tell you how it is computed exactly). Ironically, I hardly (if ever) reach this threshold, because of the connection's lack of speed and reliability.)

When I switch to dialup, everything suddenly seems blazingly fast and reliable... that should tell you enough.

But that's not the worst, really. For my work, I need to access a VPN. This was never a problem with dialup or DSL... but with HughesNet, it does not work at all. On their help site, it suggests that, while one may experience reduced speeds, it does work to some extent, but that is not my experience. As such, I am now paying over $100 a month for something that is completely useless for my work.

I am now using dialup for work and for most of my personal internet usage as well.

So, I should get rid of the satellite then, right? I wish... but there's a catch. Not unlike cellphone plans, you're stuck with it for at least 15 months. If you want to cancel it before that, you'll have to pay a hefty fee (think hundreds of dollars), which I cannot (and don't really want to) afford.

All I can say is, think twice before you get HughesNet. Get dialup instead. Get several phone lines if you must. Get a friend to download stuff for you and put it on a CD. Almost anything is better. And if you have $100 to blow, consider going to a restaurant, or giving it to charity, or even ripping it up and throwing the pieces out the window. Same price, much less frustration.