How Hughes is Driving ‘Made in India’ Innovations

Shivaji Chatterjee

Spotlight on Made in India |

Enabling innovation that is driven by realizing the spirit of ‘Made in India’ initiative, Hughes has built a new Made in India product, a Quick Deploy Antenna (QDA), which is a mobile and rugged antenna that can be easily deployed on-demand. It has been successfully supplied to organizations such as NDRF and BSNL, with orders also coming from the Ladakh government and J&K Bank.

Shivaji Chatterjee, Executive VP, Enterprise and Government Business Hughes Communications India Private Limited speaks with Zia Askari from about how the company is driving meaningful innovation for India.

What are some of the technologies that you are focusing at?

The Indian telecommunications industry has gone through some significant changes in the last few years. The shift towards Convergence as is the theme of this event is stronger than ever. In satcom terms with multi-orbit satellite solutions now available, converged solutions have taken center stage. This has led to the development of multi-orbit and multi-transport technologies that provide users with a range of benefits.

For example, the SD-WAN platform was developed to provide users with greater control over how their routers are configured, with a single pane of glass dashboard that offers greater visibility of network parameters, proactive monitoring with SLA and much more. At Convergence India this year, we are showcasing the High-Performance LTE SD WAN Edge series CPE, which is a multi-transport CPE that works on satellite, wireless broadband with inbuilt LTE, and will soon have an inbuilt 5G variant. This product won a bid against big companies like Cisco and Versa and has already been used by Indian Oil for 10,800 unique devices with two 4G LTE ports in each device.

Hughes India

Additionally, we have built a new Made in India product, a Quick Deploy Antenna (QDA), which is a mobile and rugged antenna that can be easily deployed on-demand. Our approach is to build products specifically for the Indian market. As such, the big deploy antenna includes unique features such as creating a Wi-Fi zone and potentially a private 5G zone. QDA has been successful and has been supplied to organizations such as NDRF and BSNL, with orders also coming from the Ladakh government and J&K Bank.

“OneWeb has the potential to create fiber in the sky”

Could you discuss the significance of Hughes India operations within your global organization? Additionally, could you elaborate on some of the major innovations that are being spearheaded by your India team, as you mentioned one earlier? Overall, how critical is the India business to your company?

India has always been a land of opportunities and challenges for Hughes. With a diverse population and varied terrains, satellite technology has always been a perfect fit for India. However, the high cost and restrictive policies made it difficult for the company to flourish in the market. But things have changed in the last two to three years.

The current administration under the leadership of Shri Ashwini Vaishnaw, Shri K Rajaraman and Shri SK Niraniyan have been instrumental in bringing about policy changes that have enabled Hughes to offer services like maritime, aero, land mobility, and cellular backhaul, which were previously not allowed. The introduction of HTS satellites has also reduced costs significantly. Once the Space policy 2023 is introduced by IN-SPACe, there will be even more opportunities, including the ability to contract LEO satellites, which is a game-changing technology. Hughes was the first to sign a contract for OneWeb and has exclusive access to its whole capacity over India. This is particularly exciting as OneWeb brings a low latency option that will significantly improve performance. OneWeb has the potential to create MPLS or “fiber in the sky,” which could revolutionize the satcom industry. With a vast and dynamic market, India is in an excellent position to succeed with OneWeb.

When do you think when they will be able to roll it out for usage and how is it going to change the definition of internet?

OneWeb is in full execution mode in India, with gateways being set up in two locations and multiple hub antennas and equipment being imported. Service readiness is estimated to be four to six months, subject to quick implementation of the new Space policy.

In what ways do you anticipate the definition of the Internet and user experience to differ from what we currently have?

When it comes to internet connectivity, fiber is great for low latency, but it’s not always reliable or even available in remote areas. With OneWeb’s satellite technology, however, the difference will be felt in semi-urban and remote areas where companies are currently struggling with average terrestrial solutions. OneWeb’s great satellite service is better than the average terrestrial, marking a significant change in the industry. Now you can get great performance and reliability anywhere in the country with high QoS, without having to take other links that are not reliable. Additionally, OneWeb’s end-to-end managed service makes it incredibly easy to use – just put up a flat antenna and let it do its job.

Once OneWeb is rolled out, you have your business partners and ecosystem ready to push it. What approach & strategy do you plan to take?

Our enterprise customer base, which includes industries such as banking, oil and gas, cellular backhaul, and government defense, is likely to cover a broad target base for OneWeb. Our strategy is simple: demonstrate the solution to them and watch it catch fire. We believe that businesses want stability and continuity and are willing to pay for a good solution. OneWeb’s compact terminals make it an ideal solution for the mobility market, including providing affordable Wi-Fi on airplanes. We are also in talks with system integrators and partners to integrate OneWeb into their turnkey solutions. However, we are being cautious not to make promises we can’t keep until the service is officially launched.

But is there any trial happening with the OneWeb in India? Do you have customers?

Currently, there’s no regulatory compliant gateway in India, which makes it difficult to conduct a trial. The first gateway is expected to be up and running by July or August, and we’ll begin proof-of-concept trials soon thereafter, with complete service readiness by the end of the year.

In terms of customer focus, enterprise is a significant area of interest for Hughes. How do you see the different segments, such as banking, oil and gas, and others and which ones do you think will become more important once OneWeb is launched?

The Indian flag shipping vessels and airplanes are the biggest focus area for us. Rural connectivity, backup to terrestrial links, SME projects, and broadband markets are other sectors that we plan to target. With the launch of GEO plus LEO, OneWeb will now be able to offer multi-megabit satellite services. The excitement globally is around the direct-to-device technology that can allow cellular devices to talk directly to the satellite, providing connectivity even in areas where there are no ground stations. We are also excited about the potential for narrow-band, LAN mobility, which can provide connectivity directly to handsets without relying on ground stations.

With the rise of institutions and engineering colleges in smaller locations, and the government’s push for the establishment of medical and engineering colleges, how do you view the education sector as a potential market segment for Hughes? As these institutions require connectivity as well, do you see opportunities for Hughes in this space?

The lack of education in remote areas is a major concern for Hughes, as it believes that virtual education, internet access, and connectivity play a significant role in bridging the gap. Currently, the cost of broadband is still too high for schools to afford, even with the government subsidy of 1000 rupees. Hughes is excited about the potential of OneWeb and Ku-band to provide affordable broadband solutions to schools. We’ve created an outdoor device for schools with LTE and satellite connectivity, providing reliable broadband regardless of location. This product has immense potential for schools in remote areas but needs better marketing. It’s not just a commercial opportunity, but also a social one, as improving education in remote areas can have a significant impact on the productivity of the country.

You previously expressed your belief in India’s global potential and also your challenges with current policies. However, you remain optimistic about the encouraging policy decisions made in the past few years. With this in mind, what major disruptions can we expect from your end, specifically for India?

Our ‘Make in India’ products are disrupting the market and encouraging innovation and customization in the line with “Atmanirbhar Bharat” direction of the Goverment. We’re creating networking devices such as routers, 4G/5G networking products and SD-WAN products that are made in India and complementary to other technologies. We have also built mobile and SATCOM products for use on the ground, in the air, and on the water. We see potential in creating mobile devices that connect to satellites, which could become an independent area for Hughes India. The LEO space is also inherently disruptive, with big players like OneWeb, Starlink, Amazon and others globally investing in Gen-2 and Gen-3 satellites with inter-satellite links. Quality-of-service norms have been ignored in India, but satellite technology can provide reliable, high-quality service to enterprises. We believe that bringing back the importance of QoS will be a disruptive force in the market.