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As 2020 draws to a close, we sat down to chat with Ramesh Ramaswamy, SVP and GM of the International Division at Hughes, to capture insights and key takeaways from the year.

Take us back for a moment to revisit the customer landscape at the beginning of the year.

Wow! That now looks like it was ages ago.

As we rang in 2020, we were well positioned to continue our strong growth in our global markets

Hughesnet®, our consumer broadband service had been launched in Mexico and across five countries in Latin America and was seeing strong growth. We were complementing that growth in these countries, along with excellent adoption of our community Wi-Fi solution where our partnership with Facebook enables us to use their Express Wi-Fi backend along with our VSATs to offer pre-paid Internet services to users in rural and remote areas.

Our enterprise broadband services in Brazil, India and Europe were well positioned to continue growth in various vertical markets such as in the retail and banking industries as well as in helping to bridge the digital divide.

Finally, our JUPITER™ System platform was positioned as the de facto standard for broadband operators globally as they launch and grow their own broadband services – including their efforts to bridge the digital divide with internet access – 3G/4G backhauling, and aero and maritime connectivity.

This has been an extraordinary year. What are some of the insights and challenges that arose?

Just as we were getting ready for SATELLITE 2020 in March, everything changed.

Once the fear of the unknown passed, what happened next really was extraordinary for us at Hughes.

We have always stressed the importance of connectivity for people and enterprises and really for the health of any economy.

With COVID, the world saw even more clearly how important connectivity is. When everyone is isolating, the need for connectivity becomes even more critical. We are humbled and grateful to be in the business and position of providing such an essential service.

At the same time, it made connecting with people and businesses harder. For those of us who travel around the world meeting with customers and industry partners, we have been sidelined and needed to shift to online meetings and virtual trade shows. That has taken time to get used to and frankly slowed decision-making processes in many instances. Even operationally, we have had instances of installers traveling to a village to install a VSAT, only to encounter people who stopped them entering due to fears of the virus. We’ve seen businesses around the world being even more measured in how they spend money, because everyone is navigating the uncertainty of when the pandemic will end.

At Hughes, organizationally we are functioning at full capacity in operations as well as in sales and marketing. We’ve seen an increase in traffic in our networks due to people working and attending school remotely, and our network operations staff is working diligently to maintain the quality of service. Our factory has been in operation the entire time and we’ve been able to conduct business and ship equipment all around the world. While we are not able to send staff to visit customers, we’re utilizing tools like MS Teams, What’s App, and Facetime to stay connected with customers and partners. Most of our staff are working from home, but they can access our customers’ facilities around the world and ensure that networks are running properly and effectively.

What are you hearing from customers about multi-transport solutions or the use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning?

The issue of multi-transport is of great interest. It’s central to our industry because many of the projects we work on, whether governmental or private, involve a mix of terrestrial and satellite technologies. No one technology can solve every problem. Our customers want to be able to seamlessly integrate a mix of technologies into one solution. So the notion of having support for multi-transport services really resonates.

In the U.S. market, we announced our HT2000L modem that integrates both satellite and LTE access. As we look at bringing that to the international market, there’s a lot of excitement. It addresses needs our customer have for both services – such as using satellite for bulk traffic and 4G for low latency traffic. The combination also allows us to offer high availability or redundancy for high value applications such as automatic teller machines. Being able to have a single device that can access either transport brings a lot of value to our customers.

The use of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning in network operations also resonates with our customer base because it enhances the network management system by being able to predict and resolve problems before they occur. That’s not only useful and increases productivity, it’s exciting.

What are the main takeaways from 2020 both for Hughes and for customers?

We’re in the business of enabling global connectivity. At one level, it sounds very mundane. At another level, it’s profound. As one example, we run a global network to monitor nuclear activity for a multinational organization. That’s a profound illustration of simple connectivity that enables security worldwide. Even though we’re in the business of “laying the pipes,” we connect the world so that other institutions and organizations can achieve secondary and tertiary benefits.

The biggest takeaway for us is that connectivity is more important than ever. There’s a new urgency to it because, as a society, we need to bridge the digital divide and enable connectivity for everyone.

What should organizations and enterprises consider or prepare for in 2021?

The big message from this year is to plan for the unexpected. If you’re an enterprise, particularly given the strong push toward apps in the Cloud, it’s clear that connectivity is essential. But you must have connectivity that is both robust and redundant so you can continue your essential operations no matter what happens in the world – be it a natural disaster like a hurricane or flood or a global pandemic like COVID.

That’s why we believe the future of connectivity is multi-transport – whether using satellite and LTE, as in the case with our HT2000L modem, or using LEO and GEO satellites to realize the benefits of LEO for low latency and GEO for capacity density, and each to back-up the other. So while the world has realized the value of being connected, it’s just as important to prepare for that connectivity to be tested and challenged, and to build the multi-transport and hybrid networks that will ensure connectivity no matter what 2021 – or any year that follows – may bring.