Hughes Network Systems (HNS), which successfully launched their latest GEO satellite, Jupiter 3, in July 2023, has been a pioneer in the satellite connectivity business for a number of years. Born as Digital Communication Corporation (DCC), then named Hughes Communications, the company is now part of the Echostar Corporation.
Hughes has been one of the early innovators of the sector, bringing VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) technology to the market. Today, through HughesNet, the company provides Internet service to over 1 million customers, primarily in the Western Hemisphere, in North and South America, with partnerships with a number of other companies to provide service also in Canada and a couple of other regions around the world.
The company also offers services to commercial partners in the form of managed services, primarily in the United States, as well as gateways and connectivity equipment and consulting for operators that run their own networks worldwide.
Space Voyaging had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Fisher, Senior Vice President and CTO of the company.
Launched atop a Falcon Heavy on July 28, 2023, Jupiter 3 (EchoStar XXIV) became the largest commercial communications satellite operating in the GEO region. Built around the Maxar 1300 satellite bus, it features two payloads: a series of narrow spot beams and a series of reflectors providing larger beams. About this technology, Patrick Fisher stated:
“We have very small beams that are super high density in the areas with the most customers and then we have larger beams designed to provide broad coverage in the areas that may have less demand.”
He added: “By putting down super tightly focused beams in the areas that have more density, we can reuse that same amount of spectrum and provide a lot of capacity to a small area here and a lot of capacity to a small area right next to it. But in order to provide coverage to a wider area, we can spread that capacity out but still put down additional power so that the signal is still nice and strong.”
Fisher, on the testing phase of Jupiter 3 and the full-scale operational deployment of the satellite:
“The best that I can share today is we will have services live before the end of the year. […] Everything is proceeding as planned. We’re right on schedule. It’s a steady process and it does take some time, so patience is required.”
As with Jupiter 1 and 2, the satellite construction was entrusted to Maxar Technologies, which previously operated under another name. Fisher, again:
“We have a long history with Maxar. This was certainly a very strategic decision to work with, we think, one of the best partners in the industry that we have a rich and successful history with.”
Bigger capacity for a better service
Today, a lot of rural areas in the USA are not yet reached by traditional terrestrial connectivity such as cable and fiber. Hughes is heavily focusing on this market segment, and Jupiter 3 will provide the capabilities to reach those more isolated areas with quality connectivity.
“The low density of major portions of the USA make it very challenging to serve with traditional terrestrial-based connections and so we’ve seen steady demand for connectivity in these rural areas. The need for bandwidth has just never been greater” said Fisher about today’s customer needs.
“It’s a very dynamic and capable satellite, the largest ever launched at the time and we’re really excited to get it in the service and to continue to grow our offerings for consumers. The overall capacity of Jupiter 3 is over 500 GBps.”
In addition to satellite internet connectivity, Jupiter 3 will support in-flight Wi-Fi, maritime connections, enterprise networks, backhaul for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), and Community Wi-Fi solutions.
“Each market has unique demands. For example, the in-flight connectivity has a certain pattern. It’s relatively predictable in terms of the flight paths and where the bandwidth needs will be.”
In 2022 Hughes rolled out the HughesNet Fusion plans which combine satellite and wireless technologies, offering a high-speed, low-latency internet experience to the final US customers.
“We believe Fusion provides an excellent customer experience. It’s almost indistinguishable from a terrestrial cable or fiber connection in terms of responsiveness and availability of speed. And we think it provides a little bit better sweet spot than the traditional LEO network, which is very expensive to get off the ground, in terms of the number of satellites that have to launch and then the resulting capacity density.”
Fisher added: “Strategically, our Fusion technology allows us to dynamically take advantage of multiple paths with different characteristics. So we see this Fusion technology as something that’s applicable to a combination of Leo and Geo satellites for example. So in certain markets where it makes sense, we can use a Leo network as the low latency path instead of wireless.”