Thinking Tech

EchoStar gives broadband a rocket boost with satellite launch

EchoStar gives broadband a rocket boost with satellite launch

Posting in Technology

New EchoStar satellite will boost broadband speeds, but data usage caps still pose a problem.

Following annual Fourth of July fireworks in the United States, EchoStar celebrated the fifth of July by rocket-launching the new EchoStar XVII satellite into geostationary orbit above Earth. The Ka-band satellite promises faster Internet speeds for customers of EchoStar-owned HughesNet broadband service, and is expected to be ready for commercial operations this fall.

Satellite broadband has traditionally gotten a bad rap because of speed and range limitations. However, for people in rural areas without wireline broadband, it's sometimes the best, or even the only option for Internet service. The goal of the new EchoStar satellite is to boost broadband quality and increase HughesNet downstream speeds to more than ten megabits per second. That's a big jump from standard HughesNet service today which offers service tiers between one and two Mbps.

While HughesNet speeds are set to rise, critics note that service usage caps are likely to remain a major problem. Today Hughes sets a daily cap of 250 megabytes for its lowest service tier, and 450 MB for its highest tier. In the context of what other Internet service providers offer, those numbers are laughable. Comcast, for example, has a current monthly cap of 250 gigabytes, and Verizon has no cap at all. HughesNet customers don't get a break on price either. Service tiers start at $60 and go up to $110 per month.

Low Internet caps severely limit what broadband users can accomplish online. Forget streaming video, even heavily loaded web pages take a toll when caps top out at 250 MB per day. Users have to carefully monitor online activity, or risk facing significant service slow-downs.

HughesNet has 1.5 million customers today, and the company announced a reseller deal with DirecTV in May. DirecTV will sell Hughes' traditional Internet service as well as its faster Gen4 broadband service after tests with the Ka-band satellite are completed this summer.

Image credit: Hughes Network Systems

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Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure