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Hughes

Innovations that Changed the Industry: The Two-Way VSAT

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At Hughes, we’re celebrating a half century of satellite and multi-transport technology leadership in 2021. To commemorate our 50 years, we surveyed our employees worldwide for their insights on a wide range of topics, including the most meaningful ways that enterprises, governments, and telecommunications operators use our technologies and services.

Topping the list of impactful innovations identified by our employees was the invention of the two-way Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) – the commercial breakthrough that ushered in the era of enterprise networking and paved the way for the launch of consumer satellite broadband.

Where it Began

In the mid-1980s, a group of engineers including Pradman Kaul, president of Hughes, created the two-way Ku-band VSAT, a breakthrough solution that held the promise of commercializing satellite enterprise networks. Comprised of an antenna (the “dish”), an outdoor unit and an indoor unit, VSATs are convenient, two-way ground stations that make it possible to transmit and receive satellite data from anywhere.

Their first customer was WalMart, which chose this new satellite technology to connect its disparate locations with integrated voice, data and video communications based on the promise of uniform quality and cost-effectiveness compared to terrestrial links. While elated at winning such a significant contract, the team never imagined that their invention would ignite what is now a multi-billion-dollar global satellite networks business.

According to Investopedia, Sam Walton’s pioneering approach meant WalMart could effectively manage its vast inventory in real-time and reduce delivery costs between the warehouse and stores. Mr. Walton’s high-risk choice was lauded by Fortune magazine as one of the top 20 strategically important business decisions of the 20th century.

Groundbreaking Ground Stations

Since that early enterprise deployment, VSAT technology has broken ground for distributed businesses of all sizes and in all sectors, public and private.

  1. Banking and Finance — Today, large banks use VSATs to support automated teller machines (ATMs) and to serve as backup to wired networks. The National Stock Exchange (NSE) of India has one of the largest VSAT networks in the world, supporting NSE transactions in areas where wired options are limited or unavailable.
  2. Retail and Retail Petroleum — WalMart might have been the first, but many other retailers, gas stations, and restaurants now rely on VSATs to support operations. VSAT networks carry tens of millions of credit card transactions, make pay at the pump possible, and support services, like in-store ATM machines, movie distribution, and prescription systems for pharmacies.
  3. Emergency Response and Disaster — From the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to local governments, non-governmental organizations, and private businesses, VSATs help to provide crucial connectivity during crises. FEMA often uses VSATs at pop-up relief offices so that residents in areas hit by disaster can access the Internet to get in touch with concerned family members and friends, and complete necessary forms to request aid and assistance. Such solutions are essential for communities to recover following an event like a hurricane, earthquake, or wildfire. They also are useful at other times, like when the United Nations in Syria relied on a VSAT network to perform humanitarian work.
  4. Education — School systems and campuses of all sizes need Internet access to support classroom learning, but they also require it for remote learning — as evidenced most recently by the COVID pandemic. For schools located in remote or rural areas beyond the reach of DSL and cable – such as Native American Reservations – VSAT is the ideal option. In fact, 50,000 rural schools worldwide use VSAT equipment from Hughes to provide Internet access. And, Anna University, located in Tamil Nadu, India, chose a VSAT solution to support its innovative interactive satellite-based education and usage of its digital library.
  5. Broadband in Rural Communities — Together, VSATs and Wi-Fi equipment power Community Wi-Fi hotspots that can be readily configured in public places. When set up in schools, community centers, neighborhoods or small businesses, users then access the Internet with a Wi-Fi capable handheld or laptop device. Shared solutions like this in schools and community centers throughout Mexico and Brazil, for example, serve hundreds of users, either for free – with the capital expense per user far less than a dedicated broadband deployment – or on a low per-use basis.

Perhaps most profound of all the applications of VSAT technology was one that no one could have envisioned in 1985: the invention of consumer satellite Internet, which today enables millions of families around the world to access the Internet.

At Hughes, our engineers continue to innovate for the benefit of consumers, enterprises and governments worldwide, and we are just getting started.