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Mega-constellations, Multi-transport Networks and Managing the Hybrid, Connected Future

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At Satellite Innovation 2020, Hughes President and CEO Pradman Kaul shared his vision for the future of the satellite industry

Pradman Kaul, president and chief executive officer at Hughes, gave the virtual keynote for the Satellite Innovation 2020 conference. In it, he focused on how innovative thinking in the satellite industry has set the precedent for the connected experiences of the future.

He began by acknowledging that we have adapted our society and our individual behaviors to meet the rapidly changing reality of a worldwide pandemic. We’re working from home. We’re holding virtual conferences. We’re participating in remote schooling and telehealth appointments. We’re shopping online. And we’re watching hours of streaming content.

Mr. Kaul mused that was not what Harold Rosen likely envisioned in the early 1960s when he engineered Early Bird (also known as Intelsat 1), the very first commercial communications satellite manufactured by Hughes Aircraft and launched into geostationary orbit. Early Bird could carry 240 telephone calls at once. Today, there is more processing power in a Ring Doorbell than there was in that satellite.

What’s Next?

The leap from those initial capabilities to what’s possible today is vast. Mr. Kaul challenged his audience to imagine then what might be possible tomorrow. “You wake up in the morning, the blinds open automatically, and the shower turns on to your preferred temperature,” he described. “A voice from your phone or digital assistant lets you know that coffee is ready. You join a work meeting from your mobile device by entering the virtual conference room via hologram.”

What may seem far-fetched, he said, are the exact types of applications that Hughes engineers envision when they innovate networks to meet future customer needs. Enabling such scenarios—which don’t rely on users taking action—requires a complex and highly intelligent network, Mr. Kaul explained. “All of it depends on a ubiquitous, interconnected network using Wi-Fi, 5G, Cable, Fiber, LEO, MEO, and GEO satellites, with fixed and mobile end-points and intricate network management.”

“At Hughes,” Mr. Kaul asserted, “That’s what is meant when we say we’re powering a connected future.”

The Hybrid Network

The simple fact, Mr. Kaul noted, is that no single transport technology can meet all the requirements for connectivity. Instead, hybrid networks—comprised of local Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular connections, combined with wide area transport by satellite, cable and fiber—continue to evolve to meet the growing demand for connectivity. Soon, that will include 5G deployed in urban areas, and LEO constellations worldwide. But none of these networks will operate in isolation.

Mr. Kaul advised not to underestimate the evolving impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on networks, regardless of transport type. As more and more devices require connectivity, they will add pressure on networks in terms of both capacity and prioritization. At the same time, consumers expect these IoT devices to ‘just work’ once activated. The intelligent network, beginning at the local area network level, must be able to recognize and adjust to the demands of connected devices in real-time to meet and maintain performance expectations.

A Vision for the Future

Mr. Kaul continued by discussing industry innovations, such as flexible payloads that can move or change capacity once on-orbit. Other innovations include Machine Learning (ML)-assisted, computational decision-making that can diffuse data overload, and suggest or invoke network changes to address issues and maintain seamless connectivity. By deploying robust Artificial Intelligence and ML, flexible satellites can be enhanced with the ability to be modified “on the fly” to meet changing conditions. 

In bringing his talk to conclusion, Mr. Kaul announced that, in 2021, Hughes will celebrate its 50th Anniversary. Much has changed since the company’s humble beginnings in a garage in suburban Maryland. Yet Mr. Kaul said he still sees at Hughes the very same passion and drive to innovate the most advanced, intelligent networks to make all of our connected dreams of the future, a reality – even when that demand is for yet unknown uses.

You can watch a replay of Pradman Kaul’s keynote at Satellite Innovation 2020 here.