Hughes Communications believes that the time for the satellite broadband industry is now and that the industry is poised at the cusp of a broadband

Hughes is a major enabler of India’s rural satellite broadband connectivity service: Shivaji Chatterjee

As digital capabilities improve and connectivity becomes omnipresent, technology is poised to quickly and radically change nearly every sector of India’s economy. In India, today, satellite is an important layer in the enterprise networks across all kinds of industries – from retail to petroleum to banking to military. With the explosive growth in cloud and rich-media applications deployed at branches, distributed enterprises are seeking Next-Generation WAN architectures that deliver high performance, non-stop application availability, and industry-leading security.

Leveraging over 20 years of experience in delivering innovative solutions for enterprise business, Hughes Communications India (HCIL), one of the largest satellite service operators in India, is rapidly building on its enterprise offerings providing Managed Network Services to Indian Enterprises and global customers, including system Integration & Network Management. Hughes is also the leading Wide Area Network (WAN) service provider using Satellite and LTE MPLS technology.

Hughes satellite broadband connectivity

Shivaji Chatterjee, Sr. Vice President – Enterprise at Hughes Communications India Limited believes that the time for the satellite broadband industry is now and that the industry is poised at the cusp of a broadband revolution where organizations such as Hughes Communications can play a significant role. Few excerpts from an interaction with Voice&Data: 

Voice&Data: To begin with, can you detail how Hughes performed in India over the last few years and how the company intends to progress this decade?

Shivaji Chatterjee: Hughes has performed consistently over the years and has established new benchmarks in the network services. Early last year, Hughes received the prestigious BharatNet HTS project – India’s first deployment of true end-to-end HTS technology and service providing speeds of over 30 Mbps broadband per site. This is the first project where Jupiter VSAT has proven to give the performance and the speed comparable to a fiber link.

We have a very unique growth model and our solutions and services have been appreciated across sectors and that is what has kept us going all this while. And, as regulations in India open up, we will exceed these growth charts and break our records of the past ten years. In many ways, we have been constrained by certain regulations that have been limiting our growth in market segments. But the good part is that things are going to change.

Generally, Satellite is preferred and also performs well in regions where terrestrial or wireless broadband doesn’t reach.

Voice&Data: You are a great believer of this time of the century witnessing a major broadband revolution and the time is just ripe for the satellite broadband industry. Why do you believe so? Do justify?

Shivaji Chatterjee: In today’s world, connectivity is a necessity and it needs to be accessible at any time, anywhere and to everyone. And, satellite plays a key role in realizing this. There are two key reasons that really put satellite at the centerstage.

Generally, Satellite is preferred and also performs well in regions where terrestrial or wireless broadband doesn’t reach. In the past, the regions were identified largely as rural or remote areas. And, the demand for connectivity was never there in rural areas. But things have now changed. Thanks to the mobile revolution, the demand for data in extremely rural and remote areas, the areas where you see scope for satellite broadband services is now there. Today, every individual irrespective of where he is based needs voice, video and some form of data connectivity. So that’s the macro point of it.

The other thing from the Satellite technology side is technological evolution. The Satellite which was used a few years back were Satellite that was built for video broadcasting. There used to be a broadcast beam like for DTH or TV, the same signal goes across India. So, those kinds of bandwidths were used. There was a common bandwidth going across India. But, as you know with broadband, each subscriber has a unique requirement. Therefore, the satellite industry built a technology called High Throughput Satellite (HTS), which basically became like a cellular technology in the sky.

Cellular technology breaks the geography into small cells and it reuses the frequency and creates multiple cells. Using the same technology, we built Satellites around it where the Satellite keeps the frequency and instead of giving one frequency like a broadcast across the country it started breaking it into smaller cells (beams) and re-using the frequency. As a result, the amount of bandwidth went 20-100 times more and the cost remained unchanged because you are still using the same amount of frequency. With this HTS technology, the Satellite broadband supply side has also become very cost-effective and with enough capacity to now service the growing demands from rural and remote regions.

Voice&Data: WAN/SD-WAN is known to have significant advantages. How is Hughes a leader in providing WAN services to telecom players and how are they benefiting from your company’s products/solutions/services?

Shivaji Chatterjee: Hughes has for long been a preferred choice for leading service providers in providing them with required solutions to enable services requirements. With cellular service providers, we have two different types of engagement. Where the cellular service providers are not able to provide 4G services in remote areas (like Reliance or Vodafone), they take satellite technology from us and connect the node B or base transceiver station (BTS), that’s one thing we do to help cellular companies go and connect the remote areas. The other part is where we have built solutions that take capacity from cellular service providers or telecom companies and we provide service in the enterprise market.

Last year, we started the SD-WAN services, and our idea of SD-WAN is not just to apply technology but to provide it as a service.

There are two types of non-satellite-based services that we kind of work and specialize in. One is on the 4G networking – we are able to work with all the 4G service providers where they offer enterprise sim cards and we are able to combine them and provide integrated managed services – a popular service among enterprise customers. We have deployed over 15,000 links up in the last two years to various enterprise companies who like this because today in India there used to be only MPLS and VSAT. But, with this option, they have also been able to use the wireless network which is getting better and better in the country. They use 3G & 4G as an enterprise solution, we call that solution HughesON.

Last year, we started the SD-WAN services, and our idea of SD-WAN is not just to apply technology but to provide it as a service. We host it on a cloud – it has all the advantages to a customer of SD-WAN which is mainly about having a centrally managed system, virtualized devices, easy zero-touch provisioning. That’s the hosted model we provide. We feel the way we have structured it the right way around both technology and service and in a vendor-neutral approach because we are not only looking at selling the bandwidth.

In the SD-WAN arrangement, many companies don’t want to manage but just run the network. Now various enterprises and their IT departments feel they have become service providers themselves and large offices are always calling them for managing the network. Since so many applications are on the cloud, now each branch takes its own bandwidth (part of internal bandwidth) and with SD-WAN they are able to apply the management layer, control layer, and security layer. This trend is increasingly making way into India.

Voice&Data: Can you elaborate on the partnerships you have with India’s leading communication service providers? How do you see India’s LTE Network undergo a change towards betterment?

Shivaji Chatterjee: We have a kind of give and take kind of relationship with telecom providers – they are our customers, partners, or even vendors. To our customers, we provide Satellite-based cellular backhaul. And Hughes has some big customers that handle SIM solution (HughesON). Today, our biggest customers of managed SIM services include Tata Communications, Bharti Airtel, Tata Teleservices, etc. These enterprise telecom providers use our wireless service and integrate it into their MPLS portfolio and in turn provide service to their customers.

One of the good things is that Hughes as an entity is everybody’s friend. Our mindset is that we are not a threat to them in the cellular or MPLS space.

On the other hand, we also buy a lot of capacity from these providers to run our network. So, somewhere we also act as their customers. One of the good things is that Hughes as an entity is everybody’s friend. Our mindset is that we are not a threat to them in the cellular or MPLS space as we don’t operate in those spaces and at the same time, we are big enough to be able to provide a well-integrated service that they can sell. So, this way we enjoy a very good positioning that we don’t compete with them but we work with them in all these different manners to basically provide solutions in the market.

Second, as far as the LTE network transformation is concerned, as all the spectrum is getting reframed from 3G to 4G, there’s more spectrum available. In India, the ever-increasing problem of service congestion has always been that you have a limited spectrum. So, when there is less spectrum availability, the spectrum is expensive, the ARPU was very low and people were just in a customer acquisition mode without bothering about the service.

But, thanks to what has happened in the last few years with Reliance Jio’s entry, a lot of spectrum has got released from smaller players and got distributed between the bigger three companies.

But, thanks to what has happened in the last few years with Reliance Jio’s entry, a lot of spectrum has got released from smaller players and got distributed between the bigger three companies. Secondly, the auction prices have also come down if you look at the 4G auction prices are much lower compared to 2010 3G auction prices. As a result, there is more spectrum, it’s more affordable and even people are shutting down 3G networks to make way for 4G.

At the end of the day, it’s all about bandwidth – if you have to provide high-speed services and if you don’t have enough MHz, you cannot provide enough capacity for the users. With each generation, the MHz to Mbps conversion keeps getting better and that’s the technology revolution we are seeing in the LTE space.

We are currently doing a project with Bharat Broadband where there are more than 5000 locations, gram panchayats, border control areas of the army across about 12 states. This project is to enable voice and data services at a speed of 3200 Mbps.

Voice&Data: Powering rural communities of India with data and voice networks is a big vision for the current government. How do you see Hughes a critical service provider to accomplish this vision?

Shivaji Chatterjee: Yes, Hughes has always been committed to supporting the government’s vision to use digital technologies to power rural communities. We have been working closely on creating a solution to address the digital connectivity gaps. One of the keys or the big vehicles doing this is Bharat Broadband Network.

We are currently doing a project with Bharat Broadband where there are more than 5000 locations, gram panchayats, border control areas of the army across about 12 states. This project is to enable voice and data services at a speed of 3200 Mbps. The project is already live. We were awarded this project in March last years and we started rolling this project about four months back. Out of the 5000 sites identified, we have so far covered around 500-600 sites and the plan is to complete this project by June. It’s working so well that people are amazed by how there is such a high speed available on Satellite. This is because of ISRO’s new satellite GSAT-11 which is an HTS satellite and secondly, it doesn’t have all the other complications which BharatNet has.

Voice&Data: Hughes has also made a mark in providing maritime and flight connectivity. What is your take on this?

Shivaji Chatterjee: In March, Hughes became the first operator in India to receive a Flight and Maritime Connectivity (FMC) license from the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India. The first company to be granted the FMC license in India, HCIL is now authorized to provide inflight connectivity and high-quality broadband services to Indian and foreign airlines and shipping companies operating within Indian territory.

It’s been already 9-10 months since we got the license and we launched the service in August last year. We already have two big customers in the Maritime and we are talking to many more. It’s something that is new in the maritime space. People are not used to providing connectivity, having bandwidth. So, they have to have different kinds of equipment. Recently DG Shipping has instructed all the ships to look at connectivity. Like any other industry, Maritime was not very connected or automated and now they are making that transition towards being more connected and automated. That’s what is happening in the maritime space. It needs some top-down push to create momentum and till now it was happening at a slower pace but now it’s picking up.

With regards to in-flight connectivity, it’s unfortunate that the airline which was one of the most innovative to do all these things went down. The other airline they want to do it and they have expressed their intent but I think by end of this year, you will have services live on a couple of these airlines.

With regards to in-flight connectivity, it’s unfortunate that the airline which was one of the most innovative to do all these things went down. The other airline they want to do it and they have expressed their intent but I think by end of this year, you will have services live on a couple of these airlines. This space is uniquely suited to Satellite communication. It’s an area that globally has been very successful and given it’s new to India, it’s taking time for adoption and finding the right business model.

Voice&Data: As India anticipates 5G, what has Hughes planned for this spectrum launch in India?

Shivaji Chatterjee: 5G is another type of cellular technology that is more efficient and syncs well with IoT. But, for anybody to support 5G like 4G it requires a huge investment. People will have to upgrade their networks. In India, the telecom providers’ health is not great and they are still trying to get and maximize the potential of 4G. Because they sold the 4G prices so low, they are now increasing the price per GB to get the return on the 4G network. That’s one of the reasons they are not jumping into 5G in a hurry because first the 5G spectrum being advertised by TRAI is pretty expensive. Secondly, after one buys the spectrum, building the network requires huge investment demanding a big appetite for funds and the bank may not be ready to service a telecom industry where profitability is a big question mark.

Today 5G is like a status quo, which every government wants to be seen as an early mover. But, from our perspective, it will take a few years to come.

Going by the experience, what India has done well is that we let the technology stabilize and then we will decide to jump when the business model is more successful. Today 5G is like a status quo, which every government wants to be seen as an early mover. But, from our perspective, it will take a few years to come. No doubt 5G is good because it enables more applications. Satellite technology is already designed to support 5G. The wireless service that we provide on 4G – will only get that much stronger with 5G.

There may be a demo site in the next one year, and there will be a lot of marketing hype but for it to actually come and be an end-user service, which is prevalent like 4G is today, it may take at least 2-3 years.

Voice&Data: IoT, cloud, AI are all the technologies that are shaping today’s industries. How is Hughes deploying these emerging technologies and how are your clients benefiting from the deployment?

Shivaji Chatterjee: Yes, absolutely. These new technologies have helped evolve the business into being more intelligent and more efficient. There is less wastage and we can take advantage of early and predictive analytics. First and foremost, machine learning and AI is extensively used by our backend analytics team in improving the network service and management. It’s an advanced form of analytics for e.g – when we do network management, we used to wait for the call to be logged. Then, we went into a proactive management wherein we identified the problem even before the customer logged a request.

Now, it has become predictive and that’s where machine learning is coming. That is before the problem happens, one can pre-empt what is coming and make use of AI and machine learning to even prevent it. The idea is to understand what creates a problem and address it before it even impacts the customer.  These are more practical ways of using Machine learning and Artificial intelligence in various algorithms in the service layer and the bandwidth layer and how you provide services.

In IoT, apart from what is happening on the 4G layer, where Hughes as a company is very much focused on is on providing satellite using IoT. And, there are some Satellite bands called S-band and L-band which are under 1Ghz. They are those frequency bands where Hughes as a global company has brought a lot of Satellite and assets. We are looking at providing a unique half a cellphone size kind of satellite terminal which can actually be an IoT, then it will not rely on connecting to a cellular or 5G network. It will connect directly to a Satellite network.

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