Credit: Hughes Network Systems

SINGAPORE — Satellite broadband hardware and service provider Hughes Network Systems is targeting maritime, cellular-backhaul and rural-WiFi markets in Asia as immediate growth sectors as it waits for opportunities in high-throughput Ka-band broadband.

The company’s recent contract win in Indonesia and its maritime-connectivity license in India are examples of Hughes positioning itself for business beyond its established consumer and enterprise broadband markets.

In India in particular, Hughes is making do with extended C-band and Ku-band connectivity available on Indian satellites for the maritime service in the absence of a license to build its own Ka-band satellite for India.

Hughes officials gave updates of their Asia strategy and their approach to the arrival of 5G here June 19 during the ConnecTech Asia conference.

What appeared to be a step toward licensing a Hughes-ordered Ka-band HTS satellite for an India-based Hughes affiliate — an April  2018 ruling by India’s Committee for the Authorization and Establishment of Indian Satellite System (CAISS) — has gone nowhere since.

“The next frontier is obviously Asia” for Hughes, said Dan Losada, Hughes vice president for international sales. “We started with the Middle East, with a joint venture with [Abu Dhabi-based satellite fleet operator] Yahsat, with a joint venture for Africa, the Middle East and some parts of Europe. We added [Yahsat] capacity in Brazil, now managed by us.”

In Indonesia, Hughes was selected by five service providers who won bidding as part of the government’s Bakti Universal Service Obligation connectivity project.

Vaibhav Magow, Hughes associated vice president for Asia-Pacific, said the five Indonesian suppliers — Lintasarta, Pasifik Satellite Nusantara (PSN), Teleglobal and Telkom/TelkomSat — would use more than 7.2 GHz of capacity from several satellites to serve 5,000 LTE/4G celluar-backhaul sites and 3,000 broadband internet-access points.

The 4G/LTE piece will be for regions off the electrical grid. Magow said deployment would occur through the rest of 2019.

Magow said an RFP in the Philippines for dedicated satellite networks is an example of Asian nations’ gradual acknowledgement of satellite’s role in near-term connectivity projects. In the past, he said, this kind of contract would stipulate that a majority of the service should be from terrestrial networks.

Hughes recently won an award from Myanmar’s KBZ Gateway Co. Ltd. to provide cellular-backhaul service for an unnamed mobile network operator.

Hughes’s rural-WiFi service, which has teamed with Facebook in Brazil — — is now a high priority for the company. “Putting VSATs on every house and on every roof is not going to be feasible.”

Credit: Hughes Network Systems

Hughes’s Indian operation has been a story of both success and frustration. The Indian government’s willingness to move aggressively on broadband deployment has been repeatedly promised, only to come to very little.

In December, India opened the market for maritime and aeronautical broadband service. Hughes got an early license, which obliged the creation of an Indian gateway and the use of an Indian government-approved satellite.

Shivaji Chatterjee, senior vice president for enterprise solutions, said the maritime license opens a market of more than 1,000 commercial vessels under Indian registration, half of which operate internationally.

Up to now, Chatterjee said, Indian vessels had been using Inmarsat’s Fleet Broadband service, which operates in L-band.

Credit: Hughes Network Systems

Hughes will be rolling out a Ku-band service which is not high-throughput, but which Chatterjee said matches up well against Fleet Broadband on price and performance.

Hughes is continuing to deploy its 4G/LTE cellular backhaul service for Reliance Jio, now the second-largest mobile network operator with more than 300 million customer. Chatterjee said Reliance integrated satellite connectivity into its planning early on. The satellite service is using extended C-band, not normally considered ideal, but that’s what is available to Reliance Jio.

Chatterjee said Hughes continues to press for its Ka-band HTS satellite over India, to be owned by an India-based company. Hughes, he said, thinks a satellite network designed as a complete system gets to a lower cost per bit than systems that design the satellites and the ground network independently.

Credit: Hughes Network Systems

Like any satellite broadband provider — Hughes has 1.3 million consumer subscribers in the Americas — Hughes is concerned about the global attempt by terrestrial 5G operators to force satellite operators to share the 28-GHz spectrum. It’s a fight that is under way in the United States particularly.

The company is also eyeing which portion of mid-band spectrum will be allocated to terrestrial 5G, and how a satellite service can best operate as a consequence.

Dave Rehbehn, Hughes vice president of international sales, made clear that Hughes thinks the coming 5G installations around the world is good news.“5G is going to be wonderful for satellite, frankly,” Rehbehn said. “There is a threat related to 5G, with the MNOs around the world hoping to get as much spectrum as possible. Putting aside that, whether it’s C-band or some of the Ka-band, our view on 5G is that as it is implemented around the world, it’s going to drive the need for broadband.”

In this view, 5G installations in the metropolitan areas will drive demand for similar service outside the urban areas, where neither fiber nor 5G links will be available.

The mid-band spectrum to be opened up for 5G terrestrial will be unable to provide sufficient capacity to satisfy the rural demand, making satellite connectivity the necessary partner to MNOs in these regions.

Hughes is a small equity shareholder in the OneWeb constellation of low-orbiting broadband satellites, and in return won the contract for OneWeb’s gateway infrastructure.

Perhaps because of that, Hughes has diluted its GEO-HTS DNA and now thinks LEO broadband has a role in serving whatever latency-sensitive markets may be out there. The size of these markets is a subject of debate.

“But for the lowest cost per bit, that’s where GEO satellites line up very well,” Rehbehn said. “There’s lots of talk about electronically steered antennas [ESAs, for LEO broadband ground terminals]. The fact is we are probably never going to see an ESA cheaper than a piece of metal.

Hughes and other ground infrastructure manufacturers are working on dual antennas that can toggle seamlessly between GEO and LEO satellite links. But here too, the ESA will make these antennas too expensive for consumer applications, Rehbehn said.