Recently, I was in a dire need for a backup internet solution. Given that Puerto Rico has an unreliable power grid, I needed a solution that could guarantee service uptime in the event of a power outage, assuming I could keep the modem powered up. Unfortunately, none of the island’s wired (such as Liberty, or Claro) or wireless (such as VPNet or AeroNet) internet service providers could guarantee this. Some companies are able to sustain a power outage for a few minutes/hours in a few select areas, some just die immediately. Regarding mobile connectivity (such as AT&T, T-Mobile, and others), it has been unreliable after the events of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Much of the cells are no longer protected by UPS or backup generators, and just go down immediately. Given this unreliability on ground services, the only other option is satellite internet.
As far as I could check, the only satellite internet provider available for Puerto Rico is HughesNet. They provide internet access by installing a satellite dish in your residence which sends, and receives, data to, and from, their medium earth orbit satellites at over 22,000 miles of distance. They only offer a single bandwidth tier at 25 Mbps of downstream and 3 Mbps of upstream. The speeds will vary depending on the signal quality from your satellite but generally, those are the average speeds you will get. Regarding latency, this can vary from 550 ms to 750 ms.
Regarding pricing, being a single bandwidth tier provider, their pricing is based on data allocation, similar to how some mobile providers sell their data services. Their lowest data allocation is 10 GB per month, which should be plenty enough, provided you use it for backup purposes (as in only for whenever your main provider is down) but you will probably run it down fast if you use it for heavy video streaming. If you do run out of the data allocation, your downstream speeds will be reduced to ~1 Mbps for the rest of the monthly cycle, unless you purchase their data tokens which gives you extra data allocation at full speeds. If you decide not to purchase their data tokens, you can continue to use the service as much as you want, at their throttled speeds, and you won’t get charged for overages. Their 10 GB plan is $39.99/m, plus applicable taxes, and if you opt for renting the dish hardware, that will set you back an additional $9.99/m as well.
Protip: Included with your monthly service plan, HughesNet has a separate data allocation, called Bonus Zone, with 50 GB usable from 2 AM to 8 AM (local time). This data allocation is not counted against your regular data allocation so, you can use this for operating system updates, file downloads, or late night streaming.
Regarding bandwidth and latency, the advertised speeds have been very good, and can be higher than 25/3 at times. Video streaming works generally well without buffering on 720p streams. At lesser peak hours, even 1080p works just fine. General web browsing is as snappy as it can be, given the high latency. However, gaming is horrible, as expected, and they acknowledge this in their FAQs. Hosting live streams is also pretty bad due to the combination of low upstream bandwidth and high latency so, not recommended either. Stability is very good, considering how far you’re sending data packets to, so packet loss is very, very minimal.
Regarding bandwidth and latency after you run out of your data allocation, the only thing that changes is the downstream, which gets throttled to 1 Mbps. The upstream and latency stays the same. It’s completely usable but video streaming will be severely impacted due to the extremely low downstream bandwidth.
Regarding network access, you will receive a dynamic Carrier-Grade NAT IPv4 address, which is a private IP and you will not be able to open incoming ports. However, you will also receive a dynamic public IPv6 address space, and you can open incoming ports. The modem included with the service is a HT2000W, which allows you to see all the important bits of data regarding your service, and it allows you to open incoming ports and configure its internal wireless radios as you wish, and you also have the option to turn them off if you have your own access point.
Regarding climate conditions, the satellite link is established using the Ka-band, which operates at a very high frequency spectrum, making it susceptible to rain fade. In layman terms, the service will get affected under moderate to heavy rain, thunderstorms, and the satellite will need to be removed in more intense conditions such as tropical storms and hurricanes. Fortunately, removing the satellite dish is VERY easy, so it can be easily reinstalled after the intense weather conditions subside, and you won’t need to repoint/align the dish. Cloudy and light rain conditions will lower the signal quality a little bit, but generally it will continue to work just fine.
In summary, HughesNet satellite internet service works extremely well. Provides decent speeds, considering the technical limitations of how it works. Pricing is affordable. Keeps you online in the worst case scenarios. Yes, it sucks under heavy rain, it has to be removed during tropical storms and hurricanes, but after those go away, HughesNet allows you to go online immediately afterwards. And we’re in Puerto Rico, the island in which a light breeze can cause an island-wide power outage so, this solution keeps us online when we’re on backup power.