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Satellite Internet Switch: HughesNet Outperforms Exede in New FCC Study

In the 21st century, most people think of Internet service as an invaluable resource similar to utilities like electricity and water. Oftentimes, when consumers are shopping for an Internet service provider, they’re most interested in reliability and speed. Nearly 60% of online traffic consists of watching video, which require fast speeds to avoid buffering. In 5 years experts project that 80% of web traffic will come from online videos furthering the need of reliable, fast broadband. To help inform the populace and check on progress of nationally-set goals, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) conducts comprehensive studies on several different fixed broadband Internet service providers in regards to their performance with speed and latency.

Graph of Average Connection Speeds

The U.S. currently ranks 12th in the world as measured by the Average Peak Connection Speeds (APCS). Source: Wikipedia

Each year since 2011, the FCC unveils a report that outlines the performance of the United States’ Internet providers from these tests. Over a thousand volunteers allowed the FCC to test the performance of their Internet provider. Several different metrics are used to determine the vitality of each provider and the consistency one could expect from having the service. Outside of DSL providers, the results of the research were generally positive and many Internet providers showed growth in delivering consistent speeds that aligned with or exceeded their advertised speeds. However, the latest study revealed some interesting findings in regards to the speeds delivered by both HughesNet and Exede- the top satellite broadband providers in the U.S. This was the first year that HughesNet elected to participate in the study and based on Exede’s prior accolades, Hughes surprisingly outperformed Exede in several different categories.

HughesNet Logo Exede Logo

Has the Baton Been Passed?

Between 2013 and 2014, Exede reigned supreme in the Internet world in regards to delivering on their advertised download speeds. In the 2014 report, Exede’s average download speeds exceeded their advertised speeds by nearly 140%! What makes this even more impressive was the fact that Exede beat out the United States’ top cable-Internet providers including AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Comcast, Verizon, and Cox. Measurements from 2015 report paint a different picture and now it looks like HughesNet, who last year exceeded 1 million customers for the first time, outperformed Exede in several categories. Chart 4 shown below displays the ratio between actual speeds measured in September 2014 to the advertised speeds each provider promotes. HughesNet offers plans that range between 5 mbps and 15 mbps, and it’s easy to see why they’re so popular among rural communities since their customers often experience speeds greater than what’s advertised by Hughes.

Download Vs Upload Speed Ratio Chart

Chart 5 reconfirms the consistency HughesNet delivers to their customers as less than 10% of the panelists used in the study were unable to get at least 95% of the speeds that HughesNet advertises. In contrast, DSL providers like AT&T, Frontier, CenturyLink, and Windsteam, performed poorly on delivering the speeds they’re promoting. In more rural areas, customers are often limited to satellite Internet and DSL. DSL has historically been inconsistent in regards to speed as it’s greatly affected by the distance between the customer and the Internet provider’s hub. In other words, your neighbor who lives closer to the provider's hub could experience faster speeds due to the data traveling a shorter distance. Furthermore, DSL Internet is a shared connection and speeds are heavily influenced by the number of people using the service. In other words, if your DSL provider has allowed more people to sign up for service than they can effectively support, then your neighbors’ online activities could affect the speeds you’re receiving and vice versa. For example, if you have a neighbor who is playing fast-twitch online games and streaming Netflix constantly, then your speeds could be affected negatively.

Percentage of Consumers with download speeds matching advertised speeds

HughesNet Delivers Consistent Service- Even During Peak Usage Timeframes

One of the most important metrics used in the FCC’s study measures consistency consumers experience during peak usage periods. Generally, consumers utilize the Internet more often between 7-11 PM. Since bandwidth is shared, if an Internet service provider doesn’t manage their customer base properly then users can experience wildly inconsistent speeds. Similar to the problem among many DSL providers, if a provider allows too many people to sign up for service without having proper infrastructure to support them, then everyone will experience less than desirable service. The FCC uses the term “80/80 consistent speed”, which refers to the minimum actual speed experienced by at least 80% of consumers during at least 80% of the peak usage period. When analyzing the chart below, Exede performed poorly compared to HughesNet. Again, as confirmed earlier, even during peak usage times HughesNet customers often experience speeds that surpass those that are advertised. On the other hand, Exede’s speeds proved to be greatly affected by either location or fluctuations of users during the peak usage times.

Ratio of consistant download speeds to advertised download speeds

HughesNet is in the process of developing a new satellite which will ensure more bandwidth for their customer base and extend their coverage to underserved locations. In late 2016, HughesNet will launch EchoStar XIX, otherwise known as Jupiter 2, which will provide Internet service throughout the North American continent. Jupiter 2 will feature multi-spot beam technology and 50% more capacity than Jupiter 1, which has been serving the U.S. since 2012. Also, in early 2016, HughesNet will be extending their proprietary service Smart Browsing. Unlike other providers with data allowances, HughesNet never charges their customers overage fees and through Smart Browsing, customers can continue surfing the web at high speeds despite data usage.

ViaSat Exede, who currently services around 687,000 customers in the U.S., also plans to launch a new satellite named Via-Sat 2 towards the end of 2016. While little information about the new satellite has been revealed, Chief Executive Mark Dankberg believes the new technology will increase its bandwidth and enable the company to offer virtually unlimited data plans to its customers. Virtually unlimited plans would allow their customer base to enjoy more streaming services without worrying about running out of data. Dankberg also said the download speeds offered will have the ability to go over 100 mbps- further reducing buffering issues that stem from slower download speeds.

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