Hughes to provide government with managed broadband services

Hughes Network Systems believes that it can use its commercial satellite and DSL technologies to be a player in the federal broadband space.

Hughes Network Systems will be offering its full suite of managed network services to the federal government, a market it had not previously felt like it was suited for, according to company officials.

Hughes, which provides broadband coverage through the use of terrestrial DSL as well as satellite broadband, has been in the advanced wireless industry for 25 years. The company has been working on bringing its suite of products to the government for the last five years and in October was awarded a General Services Administration and Networx contract to be an option for agencies, sub-agencies and field offices around the country as a broadband and wireless provider.

“This is a new rollout on the GSA Schedule of our existing commercial services,” Tony Bardo, assistant vice president for government services at Hughes, said. “We had initially kept it away from government because we thought that it was not our domain.”

Yet, Hughes now sees an opportunity to eliminate some of the problems that local and rural government agencies have with the “last mile” or “special access” problem. Broadband through terrestrial networks works as an amalgamation of pipes and hubs, with different service providers often working in concert with each other, that bring bandwidth across the country. The problem lies in routing bandwidth off the major pipes to the final end-users, the “last mile” of connection that is expensive to construct on a mass basis, especially in rural areas. Hughes, through the use of its Very Small Aperture Terminal satellite technology and existing terrestrial Digital Subscriber Lines, believes it can help solve the government's special access problem..

"we are trying to depict what is possible through this offering through GSA channels,” Bardo said. “We believe it will be an appealing alternative for certain agencies.”

Hughes is deploying no new technology for the offering. The company’s Spaceway 3 satellite has been providing broadband to the commercial market since April 2008. Rival Cisco, meanwhile, is touting its ability to route Voice over IP calls through a satellite with no earthbound link, a first.

"I don't see anything new here but I'm not sure that matters,” Jon Olstik, senior principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said of the Hughes offering. “If Hughes is an approved Networx vendor, it can compete on contracts with other carriers like AT&T and Verizon.   As such, it will find ways to win its share of the business.”

Spaceway 3 provides routable satellite services through a “spot beam” technology that slices North America into various hubs, hundreds of miles wide. The unique aspect of Spaceway 3, according to Bardo, is the ability to dynamically route power to each beam. This could be important to emergency workers during a weather-related disaster when satellite communications are disrupted because the satellite can take signal strength from one beam and apply it to the afflicted area, boosting the network to meet critical mission directives.

What is important to the government is the ability for Hughes to offer their product as a managed service. Bardo described the offering as being able to provide hundreds of agency field offices with broadband from one provider and producing one bill to the federal agency as opposed to the field offices finding service through a local broadband distributor, hence creating many bills for the agency across the country. Hughes believes it can streamline the process to make it less expensive and cut down on the strain of federal acquisitions.

“Federal IT managers are running so lean, handling more than they can handle,” Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, said. “The government is looking for more managed services and this fulfills that requirement.”

Suss also said that the government is moving away from major acquisitions. That means that the ability to purchase services through the GSA Schedule and GSA Networx becomes more important and hence is a win for Hughes.

“The folks at Hughes have had IP services for a while now,” Suss said. “I don’t think any of this represents a technological breakthrough, but the suite of packages and services is what is important.”