Speedy Hughes/EchoStar Broadband Satellite Hits Early Design Stage

EchoStar’s Hughes Networks Systems unit is making progress on a new broadband satellite that will be capable of delivering speeds of 100 Mbps-plus across a footprint covering the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil and other countries in South America.

Hughes has tapped Space Systems Loral to build the high-density satellite, called Jupiter 3 (or EchoStar XXIV). The project is in the “preliminary design phase,” with the design review milestone expected to be complete by the first half of 2018, Pradman Kaul, president of Hughes, said Thursday on EchoStar’s Q3 earnings call.

Service on Jupiter 3 is expected to launch in 2021, and complement the Jupiter 1 and 2 satellites, while also providing some capacity and coverage for the Eutelsat 65 West satellite and Telesat 19V.

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Kaul noted that beam coverage from Jupiter 3 will be optimized where it anticipates the most demand, rather than going with an approach that provided uniform blanket coverage. The satellite itself will serve all of Hughes’s traditional markets, such as consumer, enterprise, cellular backhaul and community WiFi.

Hughes and EchoStar are pushing ahead with Jupiter 3 amid increased competition from Viasat, which is nearing the launch of services on ViaSat-3, a broadband satellite that will deliver speeds of 100 Mbps or more and support unlimited data plans.

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As Hughes works on Jupiter 3, it’s satellite broadband customer numbers continue to rise almost a year after the service debut of its Gen5 offering that can deliver speeds of up to 25 Mbps downstream, and 3 Mbps upstream.

EchoStar/Hughes added about 68,000 satellite broadband subs in Q4, up from 18,000 in the year-ago period, ending the year with about 1.2 million, a number that includes retail, wholesale and business customers.

Hughes is also involved in OneWeb, a platform that will use a constellation of low-earth orbit satellites to deliver services into rural areas, and counts Intelsat, Virgin Qualcomm, SoftBank and Hughes among its investors.

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In addition to its investment, Hughes is also providing gateway equipment for OneWeb’s ground network under a contract that, so far, totals more than $300 million.

Though Hughes’s relationship with OneWeb is currently hardware-centric, it’s also working on other arrangements that would give Hughes rights to offer services on OneWeb’s LEO network, Anders Johnson, chief strategy officer and president of EchoStar Satellite Services, said.