Hughes Pilot Engineers Steer Concepts to Reality
Acquiring a new network is not exactly like buying a new car: how do you evaluate performance, features, costs, and ratings of something that’s not yet real? But there is a common thread. Just as the wise car buyer follows preliminary shopping with the all-important test drive, so does the thorough engineer seek to “test drive” a pilot network, which is the culminating factor in the acquisition process.
But a pilot is no dumbed-down version of a network installation. Because of its complexity, the pilot or “concept” network typically involves creating detailed configurations, deploying equipment at live locations, and resolving issues in real-time. Sometimes a pilot is even expected to demonstrate a capability that’s never been achieved before.
“In a manner of speaking, customers need to touch, see, hear, smell, and taste the network and services, just like a new car buyer needs to thoroughly check out a new car,” said Bill Rumancik, senior manager of North American pilot programs for Hughes. “It’s our job to build a solution that will meet their business needs and to give them the confidence that we’ll respond effectively if there is an issue.” Based in Germantown, Maryland, Rumancik’s team designs, configures, and deploys private networks for North American enterprise customers. A typical Hughes pilot network includes two to six remote sites and runs about seven months long. The team simultaneously runs approximately 40 projects comprising 70 to 100 lab and production locations.
Depending on a customer’s requirements, a fully managed HughesNet® solution may be chosen, which can cover a variety of broadband technologies—from satellite, to terrestrial DSL, to wireless EVDO (evolution data only), a new technology that enables broadband mobile Internet access. And all managed solutions include integrated network management, installation, and nationwide field service. But before customers actually buy a network, they need to see the technology work.
A Day in the Life
A typical day for a pilot engineer is focused on customer interaction— creating solutions, providing information, and managing test networks. Working with the breadth of Hughes platforms and HughesNet services, pilot engineers put together configurations to meet specific needs. For example, engineers may overlay a customer’s MPLS network with a HughesNet satellite backup solution. Or they may demonstrate a HughesNet Digital Signage solution that delivers targeted videos to auto dealership waiting rooms, gas stations, or theaters, as well as monitoring other vendors’ equipment along with the Hughes components. In all cases, pilot engineers act as the “wizards behind the curtain” to facilitate customer and corporate demonstrations.
With a pilot, timing is critical. That means pilot engineers must be both nimble and responsive to customer needs. In some cases, engineers must build and deploy the solution within one or two weeks, yet be confident that it will work the first time. They also need to respond quickly if requirements change during the course of the pilot—and act immediately to diagnose, troubleshoot, and resolve problems. The team works in tandem with its international counterparts and with other Hughes teams such as installation, quality, field maintenance, and operations to ensure both the best solution and the best experience for the customer.
“As pilot engineers, we have a great opportunity to out-class, out-think, and out-perform other vendors,” added Rumancik. “ It’s all about adding value and providing customers with an effective solution that’s simple to deploy, simple to monitor, simple to manage, and simple to scale.”
Pilot Engineering at Work
Case in point: America’s Emergency Network (AEN) is a new company based in Florida that transmits real-time storm information from public officials to the public and the media. (See Cover Story in this issue of Channels). Hughes worked with AEN to test various technologies and demonstrated how SPACEWAY® 3’s mesh capability could be leveraged to deliver the connectivity and bandwidth they needed. Consisting of six pilot sites and lasting about 12 months, the AEN pilot was actually used to transmit real briefings to get the word out about relief efforts during Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gustav earlier this year.
Just like taking a car for a test drive, the true test of a managed network service is the pilot. And the pilot engineers behind the scenes play a critical role in ensuring that Hughes hands over a smoothly functioning network to the customer—where the rubber meets the road.