Echostar XVII is a spot beam satellite and the capacity we use in any given part of the country is shared between a community of subscribers. Our overriding concern in providing the service is to ensure that all subscribers have a fair opportunity to use the capacity when they wish to and that we deliver an average service level consistent with the service plan they purchased. The busiest usage periods tend to be in the afternoon and evening and so we engineer our network to be able handle these peaks with the consequence that we have some spare capacity at other times of the day – most notably overnight. Our challenge is how to encourage our subscribers to take advantage of these lower usage periods to get more of what they need done. Our first initiative was on our Spaceway satellite where we introduced the ‘Download Zone’: a 5 hour period overnight where we simply did not count usage against the subscriber’s allowance. At first this was a great success – and many users were able to utilize tools like download managers to time their large file downloads and take advantage of this limit free zone. As time went on, however, the download zone became more and more crowded creating even larger traffic peaks than the traditional afternoon and evening peaks. Some customers began to find that their downloads were not completing properly within the zone because of high levels of traffic and as a result became less satisfied with their service.
When we launched HughesNet Gen 4 our overall strategy remained: we want to offer our customers the opportunity to utilize the available capacity to the full by encouraging them to use the overnight time zone for large downloads. To ensure once more that our customers all had a fair opportunity to use this capacity; we launched our Bonus Bytes program and extended the time period of availability to 8am. From our perspective the program appears to be working in that there is increased usage overnight without undue congestion.
Why do we call them Bonus Bytes? Well if we simply increased our allowances most of the additional traffic would default to the current prime usage periods and create congestion. We can only give these extra bytes if they are used overnight – since they are extra we call them ‘Bonus Bytes’.
Can we extend the usage period? This is something we continue to monitor but there are two primary risks to extending the period. Firstly we may inadvertently create a new congestion period early in the day so we have to be very careful. Secondly if subscribers use Bonus Bytes during a larger part of the day, they have more ‘Anytime Bytes’ left to use during the peak period, potentially creating more congestion. A bytes roll-over option would create the same risks.
We believe that we have been very innovative in creating tools and plans to enable our customers to get the absolute most out of our service and we will continue to do so. Rest assured, we continue to monitor usage patterns across the network. If we see the opportunity to change our policies to the benefit of all subscribers we will do so.
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