1. Give us a brief history of Hughes.
Hughes was the original garage startup! The company actually started in a garage in Rockville, Maryland, close to our headquarters today. In 1973, several engineers from Comsat Labs had an idea and the vision to start a little business called Digital Communications Corporation.
That group of engineers and those who joined them over the years invented a lot of the technologies on which our industry has been built: the first SCPC/DAMA system; the first commercial high speed TDMA system, delivered to Telesat; the first maritime satellite system, sold to Marisat, which became Inmarsat; the first two-way, Ku-Band commercial VSAT, sold to Walmart; the first commercial satellite with on-board switching and routing and even satellite internet.
Today, Hughes is a nearly $2 billion company with more than 2,000 employees, the global leader in satellite internet and the market leader in VSAT technology with more than 50 percent market share worldwide.
2. What are your main lines of business today?
Our main lines of business span several markets and many regions of the world. In the consumer market, we are the largest satellite internet service provider in the world, with about 1.5 million home and small business HughesNet® customers across North and South America.
As a satellite equipment provider, our JUPITER™ System platform is the de facto global standard for satellite implementations worldwide. It currently operates on over 40 conventional and high-throughput satellites (HTS), powering services like satellite internet, community Wi-Fi, cellular backhaul, aero and maritime mobility and more. In that line of our business, we are a technology partner to major operators such as SES and Eutelsat and regional operators like PSN in Indonesia and Omantel in Oman.
We own and operate our own fleet of high-throughput Ka-Band satellites that cover the Americas, delivering consumer, enterprise, military, government and aeronautical services across the hemisphere.
And we also have a robust enterprise networking business under which we market managed services to companies like banks, restaurant chains and retailers. In that market, we’re a leading provider of managed software-defined wide-area-networks (SD-WAN) with nearly half a million enterprise sites under management and SD-WAN deployments with as many as 4,500 end points. We have operating companies in India, Europe and Brazil, in addition to our U.S. business.
3. What is the capability that underlies your business?
Hughes is unique in the industry as both a technology and a services provider. We have our own factory where we manufacture terminals and gateways, our own satellite fleet and ground system and our own network operations centers where we manage our and our customers’ networks.
All of these areas combine synergistically to bring our customers a unique value proposition: we develop technologies to meet our customers’ needs, implement them as services and continue to refine them based on real world applications. The result is continuous innovation to make our offerings faster, higher performing and more efficient — which benefits us an operator as well as our customers.
Our JUPITER System is a perfect example. We developed the ground network for our own satellite and then packaged it as a technology offering for other operators, for HTS systems, as for NCTS in Egypt, as well as VHTS (very high-throughput satellite) systems, as in the example of the Eutelsat KONNECT VHTS ground system.
4. Before Hughes Space was sold to Boeing, you were able to build your own satellites, such as Spaceway. What is your satellite sourcing strategy now?
Our last few satellites were built by SSL, now Maxar, where we are currently building our JUPITER 3 satellite. But even though the factory is not ours, the engineering is and always has been. For example, JUPITER 3 will be the first with Q- and V-Band feeder links—a Hughes innovation (which we wrote about about for Microwave Journal).
And, of course, a satellite is only as powerful as the ground system it’s on, and we design and manufacture the ground network gateways, terminals and operating systems in our own factory.
5. What are the trends in your defense markets, and how are you addressing them?
It’s interesting what is happening in the defense markets right now. There are sweeping changes at the U.S. Department of Defense and the Space Force, in terms of procurement processes. This new approach aims to break down the technological silos of the closed systems of the past that were not interoperable and build in more flexibility to meet mission needs in every theater— on the ground, on the water or in the air. We’re addressing them by customizing technologies and networks that engender flexibility, resiliency and scalability.
One example is our work with the Army Protected Tactical Enterprise System (PTES), where Hughes is developing a state-of-the-art, containerized software design for PTES data, control and management functions with scalable architecture to enable the use of advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques. Another is our work with the Air Force Research Lab, through which we’re connecting a military base in the Arctic Circle with an integrated low Earth orbit (LEO) network, using capacity from OneWeb.
Multi-orbit, multi-transport solutions are in demand across our markets. No single transport can satisfy all of the need, whether for a specific region, market or application. So it’s interesting how our work on the commercial side, with SD-WAN deployments that make use of a variety of transports and carriers, has helped inform our innovation as a systems integrator on the defense side — and vice versa.
6. Enabled by "low cost" launches, the commercial satellite market has transformed over the past decade, from CubeSats for imaging and IoT networks to LEO constellations for broadband. How is Hughes engaging in this dynamic environment?
We are very engaged in the LEO industry. In fact, we have been developing technologies for LEO constellations since 2008, when Globalstar selected Hughes to build its second-generation ground system. It was the first to use to code division multiple access, and we developed the handset and terminal chips as well as the gateway technologies that Globalstar still uses today. Iridium also chose Hughes to develop network controller box technology for that LEO network’s gateways.
So it makes perfect sense that OneWeb would select Hughes to develop their gateway and core module technologies. We’re also a leading MSS (mobile satellite system) equipment manufacturer, developing narrowband terminals for various operators and applications.
7. You are planning to launch your latest GEO HTS in 2022. Tell us about the capabilities of JUPITER 3 and how you are achieving them.
JUPITER 3 will be one of the largest commercial satellites ever launched, which is expected in the latter half of 2022. It has been designed and engineered to lay down as much bandwidth as possible where we know there are customers who need broadband. That’s what we call “capacity density,” and it’s an advantage of a GEO satellite over LEO in being able to direct the usable bits using spot beam technology. It’s a 500+ Gbps payload across two continents, so it’s a tremendous amount of bandwidth. In fact, that satellite will instantly double the size of our JUPITER fleet. It will also enable much higher speed service to our customers, with plans of 50 and 100 Mbps down.
Of course, it’s not the satellite alone that makes all this possible. It’s also the latest generation of our JUPITER ground system, which is making use for the first time of Q- and V-Band feeder links. This is one way that we are maximizing the amount of Ka-Band capacity available for our customers.
8. What is the role of a GEO in a market that soon may be dominated by LEO constellations?
This is such an important question at this point in the evolution of the satellite industry, especially with all the attention around LEO satellites. To us at Hughes, it’s clear that both LEO and GEO HTS satellites are important and have a role to play in the networks of the future. Think of it like cars and tractor trailers: both have their place in the transportation ecosystem, with cars being quite practical for transporting people, and tractor trailers a wonderful way to transport merchandise and equipment, especially over long distances.
LEOs are great for global coverage and certain low latency applications, while GEOs are ideal for laying down capacity density and streaming content. We demonstrated how they can work together in a complementary way during the SATELLITE 2021 conference, with a fast-twitch, multi-player game running over a OneWeb link and web browsing simultaneously over our JUPITER 2 satellite. We also showed how the integration of the two systems can make for a more responsive web experience: with a video stream starting quickly over the LEO link before continuing steadily over GEO.
You can imagine the possibilities for commercial applications, especially when you factor in the relative cost of the services.
9. You have invested $50 million in OneWeb and are supplying ground gateways for the system. Do you see opportunities engaging with other LEO system?
We have extensive experience with LEO systems, not only OneWeb, and are always open to new and expanding ecosystem partnerships.
10. The customer's terminal for a LEO constellation is more complex than one for a GEO: moving satellites and making before breaking connections. Are you developing ground terminals for this segment and, if so, what antenna technology is best suited for this?
We are developing and manufacturing the core module for OneWeb, which will be used in every terminal for that constellation. It’s designed to work seamlessly with any type of antenna technology.