Hughes’ new satellite-based broadband service posited as alternative to slow DSL

satellite tower (Pixabay)
HughesNet Gen5 will deliver download speeds of 25 Mbps and upload speeds of 3 Mbps.

When Hughes Network Systems goes live with its HughesNet Gen5 satellite-based broadband service on March 16, it will be targeting the 18 million or so households across the United States that are either unserved or experiencing painfully slow wireline internet services.

Many of them are currently using copper-based DSL that suffers from a lot of packet loss and general unreliability, and Hughes sees an opportunity to swoop in and service those customers with plans that offer 25 Mbps download speeds and upload speeds of 3 Mbps—speeds that meet the FCC’s definition for broadband in the U.S.

And don’t expect to hear anything about “unlimited” plans from the satellite pioneer. “We don’t like using the unlimited word, frankly,” said Mike Cook, EVP, North America, at Hughes Network Systems. While many wireless carriers are jumping on or returning to the unlimited bandwagon, it’s not always clear what consumers are getting. “We think the unlimited word could be misleading,” Cook told FierceWirelessTech.

Hughes is not just targeting rural areas, either; it sees its service as being valuable in suburban settings as well. Cook says he lives just an hour outside Washington, D.C., yet he’s unserved by existing terrestrial technologies, which is the same case for a lot of Hughes' customer base in the suburbs and exurbs around towns and cities across the United States.

Currently, Hughes has just over 1 million subscribers served by its current-generation satellite service, while its nearest competitor, ViaSat, has just over 600,000 subscribers for its Exede service.  

Asked about the prospects of more competition from wireless operators if they launch 5G fixed wireless services using millimeter-wave spectrum, Cook said fixed wireless operators are already offering services around the country today, and generally speaking, their services are localized and relatively expensive.

“If you look forward and the advent of 5G, we think we’re going to see the same phenomenon that we’ve seen with 4G and even 3G before that, and that is, there’s obviously a rush to build out using the new technologies in the metropolitan areas and the urban areas, but the cost effectiveness of building out, the return on investment, of building out into the less densely populated areas, is very hard for the telcos to justify,” he said. Just like with 4G, “it will take a very, very long time, if ever, for the network to be truly built out into these … areas.”

In the meantime, Hughes will offer its service in the form of Gen5, and “we continue to develop and enhance the technology, so as that as we go forward, we still believe that we will be very competitive in the marketplace,” which is the unserved and underserved areas of the country.

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Hughes is also an investor in OneWeb, the Richard Branson/Paul Jacobs-backed satellite venture that aims to serve the unserved and underserved around the world. Hughes is developing gateway equipment and infrastructure for that endeavor, in addition to working on some aspects of the user terminal. But Cook said that instead of there being an “either/or” scenario, Hughes sees a place for different technologies, including GEOs and LEOs, to co-exist. “We think the future is a combination of all of these systems,” he said.

Hughes’ new service uses two satellites, including the newly launched EchoStar XIX satellite, billed as the world’s highest capacity broadband satellite, and the EchoStar XVII satellite currently in orbit. HughesNet Gen5 will be powered by the Hughes Jupiter satellite networking platform.

For residential customers, the HughesNet Gen5 service offers a range of plans with up to 50 GB of data per month and pricing that starts at $49.99. Business plans range up to 250 GB with starting prices of $69.99. All plans come with the same speed of 25 Mbps.

Hughes’ modem includes a Wi-Fi router using the 802.11ac standard for both the 2.4 and 5 GHz frequency bands. There’s also a Video Data Saver for watching more video while using less data.