Thanks to projects such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and the broadband piece of President Biden's massive infrastructure bill, much of the discussion around bridging the digital divide tends to center on the US. But activity is ramping up in many other markets around the globe as governments and other parties seek ways to bring connectivity to unserved or underserved areas.
In Mexico, Hughes Network Systems is working with a group of parties, including fellow service providers, to bring satellite-based connectivity to thousands of sites. The company recently announced that its Jupiter System has been tapped by Stargroup, Apconet/Aitelecom, Eutelsat and Globalsat to deliver satellite broadband connectivity to more than 7,200 sites, including schools, health clinics and community centers, across rural and underserved portions of Mexico.
Stargroup, one of Hughes' long-established service partners for the region, has selected Ka-band capacity from Hughes' Jupiter fleet for an integrated platform. Stargroup's work ties into awards carried out under the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) Telecomunicaciones e Internet para Todos, a digital divide-focused initiative that translates to "Internet for all."
The project provides free access at each individual site and builds on a Hughes presence in the Mexican market that goes back more than two decades, initially as a supplier of broadband equipment to telcos such as Telmex or infrastructure for others to build their own services.
After the launch of the Jupiter-2 satellite in 2016, Hughes followed with the introduction of its own satellite broadband service under the HughesNet brand. Hughes also works with Stargroup to provide enterprise-class services in Mexico, as it does in Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador.
As part of the new digital divide program in Mexico, Hughes is involved in about 7,200 of the 9,000 sites awarded under the program, according to Ramesh Ramaswamy, EVP and GM of Hughes' international division. He said the contract was awarded last year, and sites started to go live within the last two to three months.
Per the performance requirements of the program, each site is supporting 12 Mbit/s downstream and about 3 Mbit/s in the upstream direction, Ramaswamy explained. That compares to a max of 25 Mbit/s down and 3 Mbit/s up delivered through the regular HughesNet retail satellite broadband service for Mexico.
More capacity on the horizon
Work on the sites is progressing as Hughes makes plans for the launch of its next-generation, high-capacity Jupiter-3 satellite. Following a recent delay, Jupiter-3 is now expected to launch in the first quarter of 2023. Jupiter-3, a geostationary orbit (GEO) satellite being developed in tandem with Maxar, will provide more than 500 Gbit/s of capacity, covering several North and South American markets, including the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.
"This delay is due in part to reallocation of critical resources at Maxar to a higher priority government-related spacecraft project," Hughes President Pradman Kaul said last month on the Q1 2022 earnings call of EchoStar, Hughes' parent company.
Kaul said that "it's a little premature" to discuss the specific plans Hughes has for Jupiter-3, which will enable Hughes' to support more than 1 Tbit/s via a Jupiter fleet that also includes the Jupiter-1 and Jupiter-2 satellites. "But clearly, we intend to give more bits to the customer. We intend to give higher speeds to the customer," he said.
Likewise, Hughes hasn't outlined how Jupiter-3 might fit into the digital divide project in Mexico. But the capacity the new satellite provides will enable Hughes "to offer differentiated, higher speed services starting next year, which will give us a runway for growth," Ramaswamy said.
That new GEO satellite will work in conjunction with a multi-faceted approach for Hughes that also includes terrestrial/cellular connectivity as well as low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites coming way of its partnership and investment in OneWeb.
"The roadmap is to continue the path of providing services across market segments using a combination of GEO, LEO and terrestrial technologies," Ramaswamy explained.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading