Hughes debuts low-latency broadband that mixes satellite and cellular

Supporting both geostationary satellite and cellular links, the satellite broadband company's new 'HughesNet Fusion' option is first being introduced in parts of the southeast US.

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

September 16, 2022

4 Min Read
Hughes debuts low-latency broadband that mixes satellite and cellular

Hughes Network Systems has begun to roll out a low-latency option for its satellite broadband service that stitches in connectivity to a terrestrial cellular network.

The new option, called HughesNet Fusion, is being billed as a "multipath" offering that combines access to Hughes' existing geostationary (GEO) satellite and the supported, nearby cellular network.

"We are rapidly entering an era in which hybrid connectivity – both multi-transport and multi-orbit – will be commonplace," Hughes President Pradman Kaul said in a statement.

Figure 1: HughesNet Fusion customers will need this multipath device to support low-latency, cellular connectivity. (Source: Hughes Network Systems) HughesNet Fusion customers will need this multipath device to support low-latency, cellular connectivity.
(Source: Hughes Network Systems)

Hughes, a unit of EchoStar, declined to say whose cellular network is being tapped into for the low-latency connection, other than to say it's using commercial cell phone signals from a major US mobile provider.

Possible candidates include T-Mobile and AT&T, which both have MVNO relationships with Hughes' corporate cousin Dish Network. Dish, meanwhile, is building out its own 5G network.

Adapted from platform originally for enterprise customers

The HughesNet Fusion consumer-facing option evolved from the company's ActiveComms Ecosystem, originally developed for the enterprise side of the business, according to Hughes SVP Peter Gulla. The general idea is to utilize the multipath technology to attach cellular signals for low-latency applications and services that can be delivered in concert with the primary satellite broadband offering.

The system developed by Hughes monitors traffic and determines if an app or service can be run on the GEO satellite without any issues or if they should be fed by a cellular connection.

Gulla didn't provide specific numbers on the levels of latency supported by the cellular side of the equation, but said it's low enough to help kickstart a video stream or to make a content-rich website snappier than what can be offered via Hughes' GEO-based satellite platform, which has latencies in the neighborhood of 600 milliseconds.

Gulla stressed that HughesNet isn't being tailored for or targeted to online gamers, a part of the market that requires low latencies to be competitive. Rather, it's being viewed as an enhancement for the entire customer base.

"It's intended to [offer] a better, improved service from satellite ... and take satellite Internet to a new level," he said.

The option also gives Hughes an answer to the lower latencies delivered via Starlink, a satellite broadband competitor that relies on a large constellation of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Hughes has some investment ties to OneWeb, another LEO-based operator, but that work will focus on commercial offerings rather than direct-to-consumer services.

Initial focus on top two service tiers in southeast US

Early on, HughesNet Fusion is being supported in select US markets in the southeast. Hughes is bundling its new low-latency capability into its top two service tiers, which sell for $69.99 and $99.99 per month, respectively. The $69.99 plan delivers up to 25 Mbit/s down with 50 gigabytes of data per month, and the $99.99 plan delivers the same speeds, but with a monthly data ceiling of 100GB (when those limits are exceeded, speeds are reduced to 1 Mbit/s to 3 Mbit/s until the next billing period). In the supported low-latency areas, those plans are effectively becoming HughesNet Fusion plans.

The company expects to go nationwide with the new low-latency option later this year. For now, HughesNet is limiting the low-latency option to existing customers in the initial supported markets, and expects to provide it to new customers in those areas sometime next month.

"We are rolling it out slowly. We want to get this right," Gulla said.

HughesNet Fusion customers are required to install a small indoor antenna/multipath device to pick up the wireless signal and combine it with access to the Hughes satellite signal.

Looking further out, the company intends to integrate the low-latency option into services that take advantage of a new satellite, Jupiter 3, that will pave the way for speeds up to 100 Mbit/s sometime in 2023.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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