Hughes’ GEO satellites can do SD-WAN, too

A story in Fierce Telecom in December reported that MetTel is providing software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) — including a satellite connection from SpaceX’s Starlink — to two commercial companies and two federal clients.

MetTel’s CTO said it had tried to work with HughesNet to add its geosynchronous orbit (GEO) connection to MetTel’s SD-WAN offering, but the GEO connection didn’t mesh well with the SD-WAN technology. There was too much latency.

In order to win an SD-WAN contract with one of its federal clients, MetTel pivoted to work with Starlink’s low earth orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity instead.

But HughesNet wanted to have its say on the topic of SD-WAN.

Randy Anders is VP of North American sales with HughesNet for Business. He said HughesNet has been providing SD-WAN to enterprise customers for several years, using its GEO satellite connectivity.

The company works with VMware, Cisco Meraki and Fortinet for the SD-WAN technology.

“We have over 52,000 SD-WAN locations and over 100 customers in the U.S. over retail, healthcare, banking, energy, restaurants and government customers,” said Anders. For instance, it connects about 2,000 gas stations in far-flung locations with SD-WAN.

He did concede that with GEO “you have the latency issue because the satellite is so much further from earth” than with LEO. But HughesNet and its partners use compression software “to make the user experience better.”


Hughes is also establishing a partnership with the LEO satellite company OneWeb. Together they’ll be able to provide LEO and GEO connectivity to suit a customer’s specific needs.

“We’ve been involved with OneWeb for a few years,” said Anders. “We’ve actually done deals where they bought 10,000 of our electronically steerable antennas.”

There’s a huge difference in the number of satellites needed for GEO as opposed to LEO.

Starlink has more than 3,000 satellites in orbit and has recently received FCC approval to launch 7,500 more. As if that’s not enough Starlink wants to launch about 20,000 more on top of that.

In comparison, Hughes needs only a handful of satellites — it uses a few of its own and has hosted payloads on a few others.

The FCC is very concerned about space debris from all the companies that are entering the satellite business.

RELATED: How does SpaceX remove old, obsolete satellites from space?

SpaceX has developed technology that can control the de-orbiting of its satellites once they reach the end of their life. Once the satellites de-orbit, they pass through the earth’s atmosphere and burn up.

But it’s different for GEO satellites. First, there are far fewer of them. Once they reach the end of their life, they move out of their operating orbit and drift further out into space.