Product Review: Satellite Rescue


Tent Rocks, top of the trail.

Several years ago, I hiked a short trail at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, having noticed the park entrance while driving by. It was late in a hot New Mexico day with a fairly thin margin until sunset, but I calculated that I had sufficient time to take the trail. I was about half-way in when I thought that if I became incapacitated on the trail (slip and fall, heat issues, etc. – as a lawyer, I tend to see the hazard), I would be up there alone as night fell, and probably remain there alone until morning. My realization became a bit more pronounced when I recalled that until that point I had seen only two other souls on the trail, and they were on their way out. Last month, I recounted noticing a lack of cell service on a well-traveled highway. Swap the highway with a steep gravel path and the potential hazard comes into focus. Of course, people have hiked through history with neither phones nor service, but we become accustomed to certain conveniences and then take them as necessities. And, for what it’s worth, at Tent Rocks I was alone, so a signal, had one been available, would have been a lifeline (spoiler alert: I made it out OK).

download (2)Enter the SPOT Gen3. The SPOT Gen3 is a satellite-enabled tracking device that can send pre-written messages as well as emergency SOS calls. About half as large as a pack of cigarettes, it is designed to hang off a belt loop or backpack and offers a measure of security for those traveling outside of mobile phone coverage areas.

The SPOT Gen3 works on a purchase-then-subscribe basis. The unit can be found on Amazon for about $150, but  deep (to the tune of 50 percent) price cuts can be found by visiting the manufacturer’s website directly; the annual subscription fee is about $150. Users register the unit and create a personalized, password-protected account that can accessed from anywhere one can obtain web connectivity. The unit can be set to record its path as it moves, as well as to send simple, pre-written messages to designated email accounts when the user desires. These messages can be altered from any web-connected device, but not from the SPOT Gen3 itself. So, if you program the device to “check-in” with a message that reads, for example, “Arrived and all OK,” you cannot amend it when you reach your campsite to say, “Send more matches,” unless you have phone or internet access (in which case you might either simply call, text or email). Read more

Hughes Sells a Record Number of Satellite Systems

Hughes Network Systems said on Monday it shipped more than 487,000 broadband satellite terminals worldwide last year, the most ever in one year.  The company credits its accelerated growth in North America to the launch of its HughesNet Gen4 service in October 2012.

Hughes is owned by EchoStar and has deals with both DirecTV and Dish Network that allows the satellite TV providers to sell broadband Internet access to their subscribers.  Hughes also signed a wholesale agreement with Frontier Communications last summer.

The service is generally not available in the middle of the country, due the footprint of the satellite.  As someone who spent a few minutes trying the service, I can say that speeds are impressive and certainly competitive.  However, there are data caps associated with these services.  Time will tell whether congestion will slow the service down to the point of consumer dissatisfaction, a problem that plagued earlier satellite Internet offerings.

DirecTV Launches Satellite Broadband Bundles

DirecTV announced last week that it has added two new satellite broadband services to its bundles through new agreements with ViaSat and Hughes. Exede by ViaSat is commercially available today, while Hughes’ HughesNet Gen4 next-generation satellite broadband service is on track to be launched later this year.

Exede claims download speeds of 12 Mbps, but real-world availability and speed vary. Likewise, users report that Hughes’ forthcoming offering may top 20 Mbps.

DirecTV already offers triple-play service bundles with Verizon, AT&T, Century Link and other telco broadband providers. As a result, the new satellite bundles are being targeted at customers living in mostly unserved, rural areas. Read more

EchoStar Halts U.S. Set Top Production, Aria Platform

EchoStar Technologies has announced its intention to cease manufacturing set-top boxes (STBs) for the U.S. market, according to an April 23 article in MultiChannel News. EchoStar indicated lack of market penetration with its line of products. EchoStar also plans to shutter the year-old Aria distribution platform.

EchoStar indicates that it will re-focus its U.S. resources on its owned intellectual properties and advanced content delivery technologies. EchoStar will continue to manufacture a small number of STBs for international markets. Read more

LightSquared Changes, Congressional Inquiry and More

On February 28, LightSquared announced its Chief Executive Officer Sanjiv Ahuja had resigned his position but would continue with LightSquared as its board chairman. The company will conduct a search to fill the CEO position. In the interim, current Chief Financial Officer Marc Montagner and Chief Network Officer Doug Smith will act as co-chief operating officers. It also was announced that Philip Falcone, chief executive officer of Harbinger Capital Partners, has been added to the LightSquared board of directors. Read more

FCC Approves License Transfer to Dish Network

On March 2, the International Bureau of the FCC approved the transfer of licenses from DBSD Satellite Services and TerreStar License, Inc. to Dish Network Corp. The licenses include gateway earth stations, earth terminals and ancillary terrestrial components (ATC).  Dish Network had acquired the two satellite companies out of bankruptcy. Read more

Ergen on Dish and Broadband Plans

According to multiple published accounts, Dish Network Corp. Chairman Charles Ergen is optimistic about the company’s planned nationwide 4G LTE network. Talking with reporters on Dish’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Ergen said that Dish had “an 80% chance or better” of successfully entering the wireless industry.

However, Ergen went on to say that much will depend upon the FCC and whether the commission will approve use of spectrum from the purchase of TerreStar Networks and DBSD North America to be used for the wireless service. “If by chance we are not granted a waiver or it was kicked down the road without a decision through rulemaking, then I think that we’d have to consider the risk, and at this point, I’d say we probably don’t have an 80% chance of success,” he said. “We’d have to look at other alternatives with what to do with the business and the spectrum, which would be unfortunate.” Dish applied for an ancillary terrestrial component waiver to facilitate construction and operation of a nationwide satellite-terrestrial hybrid wireless service. Read more

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