In September 2022, Hughes Network Systems, an EchoStar company, launched a new multi-transport consumer offering for U.S. customers that combines the advantages of geostationary (GEO) connectivity with the low latency of a terrestrial wireless transport for a more responsive satellite internet browsing experience. Offered under the HughesNet® brand, the new HughesNet Fusion™ plans leverage innovative enterprise software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) techniques to combine the low latency of wireless (specifically LTE) with the high capacity and throughput of GEO satellites into an offering for home and small business users (see Figure 1). Built-in, active optimizing technology balances the responsiveness of LTE and the high capacity and throughput of satellite simultaneously to send data traffic intelligently and transparently over the best transport path.
Named for the fusion of the benefits of LTE and GEO satellite transport, the offering provides excellent performance for video streaming, video conferencing, web browsing, social media, banking and home office applications. It offers a satisfactory real-time gaming experience, which has been a challenge for GEO services. However, gaming applications notoriously consume gigabits of data, which makes them costly to run on any satellite-based service.
The LTE path offers lower latency and better response time for interactive internet applications than both GEO satellites and low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. While wireless transport can be expensive when used to stream high-definition video, satellite transport is more cost-effective than fixed LTE, especially for users who watch a lot of video. However, satellite incurs higher latency, as data must travel up to a satellite orbiting approximately 37,000 km away and come back down, introducing a noticeable delay in some applications. The new hybrid offering uses both LTE and satellite transports simultaneously on an application and flow-aware, packet-by-packet basis to get the best of each method without the relative cost or latency drawbacks. A HughesNet Fusion service plan includes a volume of LTE service as a cost-effective complement to the GEO satellite service. This specific transport is transparent to the end user, is compatible with smartphones, TVs and computers and preserves the privacy of user traffic.
INTELLIGENT INTERNET TRAFFIC MANAGEMENT
The Hughes ActiveTechnologies™ software forms the core of the Fusion plan (see Figure 2). This proprietary and intelligent software classifies data traffic based on quality of service (QoS) requirements and routes each type of data over the optimal transport path. The software recognizes when the QoS requirements for an active traffic flow change and automatically changes the routing when appropriate.
To make the transition from HughesNet to HughesNet Fusion plans simple for end users, Hughes built ActiveTechnologies software, the LTE device and the wireless antenna into a new self-contained multipath terminal designated as the Hughes WL3000 terminal. Hughes also built its ActiveTechnologies software into multipath gateways connected to internet points-of-presence, as illustrated in Figure 3. Turning on the Fusion offering is as simple as plugging in the new terminal and connecting it to the LAN port in the standard HughesNet router; no parameter entry or expertise is required. The new terminal works seamlessly with the existing router’s Wi-Fi access point to serve all the smartphones, computers, smart televisions and other devices within the home. User device traffic travels seamlessly over Wi-Fi into the satellite router and is relayed to the multipath terminal. In the terminal, the ActiveTechnologies software forwards the traffic to the LTE modem or back to the satellite router for transport.
AUTOMATIC TRAFFIC CLASSIFICATION AND OPTIMIZED ROUTING
When a customer accesses the internet using the HughesNet Fusion plan, the traffic classifier function examines the traffic flow to make an initial determination based on the values of fields in packet headers, if available. However, many internet applications like video streaming, web browsing and banking are conveyed using the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and cannot be distinguished by examining packet header fields. As the flow of traffic proceeds, the classifier monitors a set of criteria, such as packet rates and sizes, to determine if a QoS change is indicated.
As an example, video streaming starts with low latency protocol handshakes, security exchanges and a few packets to request the desired video from the internet host, then transitions into a high-throughput video stream download where transport latency is not perceptible by the user. The ActiveTechnologies software classifier detects that change in the traffic pattern and adjusts the flow classification to video streaming so that the appropriate packets in the flow are directed to the satellite path. The use of traffic patterns, rather than traffic content, enables the classification of encrypted flows without compromising user security and privacy. This constant traffic pattern monitoring and reassessment continues for the duration of a traffic flow, accommodating those applications that reuse the same protocol connection to an internet host server for different traffic types. The detection and monitoring function is also useful when an established connection changes during operation. An example of this scenario is when traffic flow changes from fast bidirectional exchanges to extended one-way download or upload. The routing function directs the packets of a given flow to the transport path designated for the classified QoS, routing to either LTE or satellite. This routing is performed independently for traffic in both directions between the user device and the internet host.
Web browsing provides another interesting example of how the HughesNet Fusion offering improves user experience. A typical web page contains dozens to hundreds of objects, like text, GIFs, ads and video clips, that are served by many different internet hosts. Regardless of transport method, the web browser on the end user device requests separate connections to each internet host and sometimes multiple connections to the same host. With HughesNet Fusion, ActiveTechnologies classifies each connection separately, assesses the QoS requirement continuously and routes the data accordingly. Objects such as text and GIFs can travel over LTE, while embedded video clips can transmit over satellite. This optimizes performance and cost, serving the web page over both transport methods and providing a seamless experience to the end user.
ADAPTING ROUTING TO TRANSPORT PATH CONDITIONS AND CAPACITIES
HughesNet Fusion service plans also use ActiveTechnologies to optimize service availability automatically. By constantly monitoring each transport path, the software automatically adjusts traffic for network availability; if one path becomes momentarily unavailable, the system sends traffic flows over the other path. In this scenario, the software prioritizes availability over performance and cost to ensure users can still use the internet for business or entertainment. As soon as the ActiveTechnologies software determines that both transport paths are again available, the system reverts to traffic routing patterns that optimize service performance and cost. The software also adapts traffic routing to conserve the low latency transport for use throughout the month. This adaptation is automatic and gradual, resulting in no disruption to the service user. With the potential for multiple routing adjustments over the course of the month, users reap the maximum benefit of their low latency LTE transport.
RULES OF THE ROAD FOR TRAFFIC CLASSIFICATION
Hughes engineers pre-set the performance, cost and availability parameters that guide the ActiveTechnologies software. The parameter values can be configured from the operations center, enabling real-time tuning of the performance and efficiency of the active service and allowing tailoring of operation for different service plans or transport characteristics. Configuration rules determine how traffic flows are classified for QoS requirements based on initial packet header values and monitored traffic characteristics including packet size, rate and volume. Additional configuration rules determine how transport paths are assessed for real-time characteristics including availability, throughput, latency and packet loss rate. This suite of controls enables ActiveTechnologies to maintain service availability and optimize quality automatically in the presence of changing performance of the underlying transport networks.
A NEW MULTI-PATH FORWARD FOR SATELLITE INTERNET
HughesNet Fusion plans meet the needs of rural consumers who live beyond the reach of wireline services, yet within the footprint of wireless networks. In these cases, the wireless service may not be strong enough for single-path service but it is likely sufficient to augment GEO satellite service. This offering leverages the capacity density, rural availability and high-throughput of GEO satellite connectivity along with the low latency of wireless transport to deliver low latency satellite internet. HughesNet Fusion represents the latest of a series of satellite internet innovations from Hughes, the company that innovated the first satellite internet access system, the first high-throughput spot beam satellite for internet access and the first applications of DVBS2 and DVBS2X standards for satellite internet service. Each of these innovations has enhanced HughesNet service, the satellite internet service on which millions of people depend, while enabling the Hughes JUPITER™ System ground platform that the company sells to other operators around the world.
In September 2022, Hughes introduced HughesNet Fusion to customers in the southeast region of the U.S. Soon after, the company made the offering available to new customers in that region and then quickly expanded the service nationwide. The WL3000 modem/router for this service is shown in Figure 4, while the indoor wireless antenna assembly is shown in Figure 5.