Less than a week apart, ViaSat (News - Alert) and Hughes Network Systems have launched U.S. residential phone services for their respective satellite broadband offering. It's funny how voice continues to be relevant despite IM, e-mail, SMS text messaging and Twitter (News - Alert).
ViaSat announced Exede Voice on June 13, claiming to be the first satellite Internet service provider to offer U.S. residential telephone service at $19.99 per month. The service goes on top of the company's Ka-band satellite Internet service and will be offered as an all-satellite phone/Internet "double play" with unlimited local and long distance calling within the U.S. and Canada. A "triple play" bundle with TV services added starts at $99.99 per month.
Between development and testing, including trials with hundreds of residential users, ViaSat has spent two years working on Exede voice. The introductory offer for Exede 12 Internet customers includes monthly home phone service with unlimited calling to all 50 states and Canada for $19.99. The Internet/phone double play bundle starts at $69.98. Calling features bundled in include voicemail, caller ID, call waiting, call holding, and call return, and customers can transfer home phone numbers to Exede Voice. The service is integrated with 911 and E-911 services and 711 services for Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS). Interestingly, phone service use doesn't count against customer's Exede broadband data allowance
Equipment to support the new phone service is a small Exede Voice Adapter, shipped free to customers and connected between the Exede satellite modem and the phone.
Hughes (News - Alert) announced the launch HughesNet Voice service for U.S. subscribers on June 17th. The service is bundled along with the HughesNet Gen4 broadband satellite service with voice plans starting at $19.95 for the first three months. Features look to be a lot like Exede, including call waiting, call forward and call forwarding. However, unlimited calling is limited to domestic U.S. (Sorry residents of Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada.
The press release from Hughes goes more into bragging about the customer's VoIP satellite winds around the world than discussing pricing plans. Sure, it's nice to know HughesNet has customers in Mexico, Spain, and South Africa, but that's not really talking up pricing to potential U.S. buyers.
It will be interesting to watch competition between ViaSat and Hughes over the next couple of years. ViaSat's Exede's service has over 297,000 subscribers in the U.S., with the company moving marketing efforts from traditional "rural" settings into a competitive alternative besides residential DSL and terrestrial wireless services, Hughes, a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar, has very good technology but sometimes falls short in marketing a clean residential story.