The Man From Hughes

We’ve discussed HughesNet at length here at ReallyRocketScience — their ability to expand high-speed Internet access to rural America, to remote villages in Brazil, to Middle-eastern networks, to name a few.

The man behind the plan? Pradman P. Kaul. On Saturday he was interviewed by the New York Times:

Q. It seems that Americans communicate more via high-speed cable and digital subscriber telephone lines than via satellites, suggesting that satellites have not lived up to their promise. Do you agree?

A. No, each technology has its place, and its advantages in terms of applications and when it’s used. Clearly, significantly more bits of data are transmitted on cable and DSL than satellite, but what satellites do well is broadcast and multicast applications, as in the case of DirecTV and EchoStar broadcasting television. They have close to 30 million subscribers. In almost every country in the world, direct-to-home television is going great guns.

A second thing satellites are very good at is, once you put a bit up on a satellite it reaches anywhere in the region that the satellite is serving. There is no place in North America that you can’t reach. The ubiquitous coverage that satellites offer is a major advantage. For broadband Internet access capabilities, there are probably 15 million households in the United States who don’t get it and will not get it for a long time. So satellites play a great role in bridging the digital divide.

Q. Why aren’t cable and telephone companies making a stronger effort to reach all Americans?

A. It’s an economic issue. The cost of running a piece of wire or a piece of optic fiber is high, and it requires a density of subscribers to give them an economic return on the investment. In rural areas, the economics just don’t pay out. With satellites, it doesn’t cost any more to reach the one guy sitting on top of the mountain in the state of Washington than it does the guy in downtown Manhattan.

Q. Can you offer as fast and as robust communications as the cable and telephone companies?

A. The service is robust and in some cases offers a higher level of reliability than you get from cable and DSL. In terms of speed, that’s an economic issue. We just launched a new satellite called Spaceway 3 that will be in service in the United States by January of next year. The speeds that satellite offers can match any speed that is available terrestrially. The question is what you charge for it?

Perhaps most interesting is the deployment of satellite Internet in suburbs:

Q. What is the divide between those who have access to high-speed communications versus those who don’t? Is it an urban-rural split?

A. It’s actually rural and suburban where people don’t have it. It amazes me sometimes when I look at it. Even in major Washington, D.C., suburbs, which is our neighborhood, there are big pockets where you can’t get DSL or cable.

Mr. Kaul received his undergraduate degree from George Washington University and a Masters in electrical engineering from UC-Berkely. His bio is available here.