PARIS — Hughes Network Systems bested most competing ISPs, including ViaSat, in in an annual U.S. government measure of whether service providers meet their advertised download and upload speeds.
The data also show that ViaSat’s service appears to have declined marginally two years in a row as the ViaSat-1 satellite fills to capacity in certain regions.
The report is one reason Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat is in a rush to launch its ViaSat-2 satellite, which will relieve congestion in the high-demand areas and presumably reverse the trend.
Both satellite broadband providers ranked well among the most important measures, and both can claim that for many customers satellite broadband is a better choice than DSL – depending on how customers use the service.
But Germantown, Maryland-based Hughes, which has made a practice of advertising lower speeds, outperformed ViaSat and the others in this specific metric used by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In many cases, the measured download speed of the Hughes service was double the advertised rate, a difference that no other ISP could match.
“We always knew it!” Hughes President Pradman P. Kaul said of the report’s conclusions. One reason the Hughes performance was surprising this year is that, unlike ViaSat, which has featured in the two previous years’ reports, Hughes declined to participate in the FCC survey until now.
Kaul said Hughes had other priorities at the time and was uncertain as to how the FCC ws going to proceed with its survey and report the findings.
Hughes’ HughesNet Gen4 advertises substantially lower rates than ViaSat’s Exede, which is one reason why Hughes came out so well in the FCC measure of how services measured up to their advertised performance.
One conclusion might be that Hughes should be advertising higher speeds.
But T. Paul Gaske, Hughes’ executive vice president, said in an interview that the company is happy keeping lower customers’ expectations and then delivering more, especially given that the monthly caps in total data volume regulate the drain on the satellite resources. “Our technology runs much faster than advertised, and we are giving users access to that.”
Kaul agreed. “If you have a 15-gigabit plan, that is what is dictating the use of the resource,” Kaul said. “It’s not so much the speed. Speed comes into it. We would rather give users the better experience by providing faster download speeds. We are not utilizing any more of the resources given the 15-gigabit plan.”
The fifth annual “Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report” is far from the last word on broadband customers’ satisfaction or ISP performance.
In one area – measured signal latency — it appears to overstate satellite systems’ defects relative to terrestrial services. While latency is touted by several low-orbiting satellite constellations now being designed, it is not of particular concern to customers engaged in web browsing and video streaming. It is a priority for customers using highly interactive video games.
The FCC’s accent on latency may be an artifact of a time when voice calls had more weight in a customer’s appreciation of a broadband service. The 600 milliseconds of latency highlighted by the FCC in both the Hughes and ViaSat services – the satellites are 36,000 kilometers distant from the equator — would be a concern for customers for whom telephony is the main use.
But by every broadband measure it’s video that now dominates customer use of broadband, and latency is not a concern here.
The FCC report also does not address the monthly volume caps that remain a real weakness of satellite services for customers who have a choice.
ViaSat trumpeted its performance in last year’s FCC report.
Both Hughes and ViaSat over the years have publicly questioned whether the U.S. government – like governments in other parts of the world – has not favored fiber, cable and DSL services despite the performance improvements of the two satellite providers.
This year’s report is more evidence that, while most customers with access to cable or fiber networks will get faster service at high volumes, the DSL providers no longer can say they are better than satellite.
The FCC’s report used several thousand volunteers from around the United States who reported upload and download speeds, latency and packet-loss measurements at different times of the day, in peak and off-peak hours. One of the metrics was how 80 percent of customers reported performance 80 percent of the measured times.
Sixteen ISPs were studied – six DSL providers, six cable, two fiber and the two satellite providers.
Kevin Lippert, ViaSat’s executive vice president for satellite systems and corporate development, said the high fill rate of some ViaSat satellite beams has had an effect on performance. ViaSat also reserves capacity for its fast-growing aeronautical service.
“We have done very well for each of the last three years against the entire field of ISPs,” Lippert said in an interview. “Our service has become very successful in the residential and aeronautical market as well. The natural consequence is that our beams have become more full than they were in the preceding year.”
ViaSat reported 687,000 customers as of Dec. 31, 2015, in addition to 446 commercial aircraft equipped with ViaSat gear. ViaSat recently switched launch providers for its ViaSat-2 satellite to secure an earlier launch, now scheduled for April 2017.
Hughes reported 1.035 million subscribers to its North American broadband service as of Dec. 31. Its EchoStar 18 Ka-band broadband satellite is scheduled for launch late this year.