Hughes/EchoStar: Broadband Satellite Prepared for Launch

EchoStar says their new internet spotbeam satellite, EchoStarXVII (Jupiter), has arrived at the launch facility in French Guiana (pdf). Built by SpaceSystems/Loral, it’s scheduled to launch next month.

The HughesNet Gen4 satellite service, starting in summer 2012, will deliver better performance, faster speeds and superior download capacity to customers throughout the United States. It could help Hughes — now an EchoStar subsidiary– to provide competition to the ViaSat bird for delivering broadband to rural areas. The huge KA-band (20/30 GHz) spotbeam satellite will let Hughes deliver improved internet capacity to over 1.5 million of its consumer- and small-business subscribers.

Employing a multi-spot beam, bent-pipe architecture, the new geostationary satellite will expand the total capacity for HughesNet service to over 2 million in North America, which today at over 620,000 subscribers represents both the world’s largest consumer satellite Internet service and the largest Ka-band technology network.

HughesNet sells three high-speed tiers to rural subscribers. Its $40 monthly tier offers download speeds of just 1 Mbps. For $80 monthly, subscribers can get download speeds of 1.5 Mbps, and for $110 monthly, rural broadband users can surf the Web at speeds of 2 Mbps. Hughes hasn’t said how much it will charge for its Gen4 service or how big the monthly data caps may be.

Hughes Network Systems, the world’s leading provider of broadband satellite solutions and services, was bought by Charlie Ergen. The new broadband satellite will largely replace the earlier Spaceway 3 spotbeam satellite and compliment EchoStar’s DBS television satellites and EchoStar’s new Blockbuser streaming service. Charlie Ergen has also amassed 40 MHz of MSS spectrum at 2.1 GHz, from the remains of the bankrupt ICO and TerraStar satellite platforms. Whether that will result in 40 MHz of terrestrial LTE is mostly up to the FCC.

The main competitor to Hughes is the new Exede service from ViaSat, which provides satellite broadband at a fast 12 Mbps with a 7.5 GB monthly usage cap (up & down combined) for $50, a 15 GB cap for $80, and a 25 GB of monthly usage cap for $130. The new Excede satellite service replaces the older WildBlue service, using the earlier WildBlue-1 satellite that topped out at 5 Mbps. The older Wild Blue service is used to cover the dark blue areas on the map while the Excede service covers the green areas.

A one-time set-up fee of $149.99 and $9.99/month equipment lease fee are required for the Excede broadband service, plus the monthly service fees and taxes.

Both Excede (ViaSat-1) and HughesNet (Jupiter-1), can deliver satellite internet access that will dwarf their predecessors in space. The ViaSat-1 satellite, for example, has 10 times the capacity of its three current satellites combined.

Verizon’s HomeFusion Broadband service has gone nationwide, with terrestrial LTE service targeting rural users. HomeFusion, which launched in six markets this March, uses Verizon’s LTE network for the backhaul and an internal WiFi to connect devices in the home.

Verizon’s HomeFusion LTE dome is installed outside the house (for $199.99). Using Wi-Fi, customers can connect up to 20 devices. Verizon says customers should expect downlink speeds of between 5Mbps and 12Mbps and uplink speeds ranging from 2Mbps to 5Mbps.

Verizon says HomeFusion is an alternative to traditional residential broadband, especially for those without DSL or cable modem options.

Plans include rates of $60 per month for 10GB of data, $90 per month for 20GB, or $120 per month for 30GB, with a $10 per GB penalty for each plan after reaching the cap.

If the household exceeds 10 GB, 20 GB or 30 GB of data per month, subscribers are charged an extra $10 per GB of data per month. AT&T says its average U-Verse user gobbles up about 21GB per month. That may indicate that a typical Verizon HomeFusion user may pay about $90/month for 20 GB.

Verizon’s HomeFusion serves a niche and the pricing is in line with their cellular service. Verizon’s chief terrestrial competitor may be the CLEAR Modem with Wi-Fi ($99), which delivers truly unlimited WiMAX at 2.6 GHz for $49/month for homes or offices. The integrated wi-fi router provides broadband connectivity and local networking.

Clear isn’t likely to be a contender for rural users – it has limited coverage.

By comparison Verizon charges $40 per month for a 3 Mbps DSL service, notes C/Net. And it charges $55 a month for its 15 Mbps Fios broadband service, which also comes with a free Wi-Fi router.

But if you plan on using 25 GB/month, Clear would be cheaper at $50/month. ViaSat would cost more, about $130/mo., while Verizon HomeFusion costs about $120/mo (for 30 GB). Presumably, the new Hughes Jupiter satellite internet service will be priced competitively.

Posted by Sam Churchill on .

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