ViaSat Official: U.S. Appetite for Broadband is Insatiable

By | October 2, 2008 | Feature, Telecom

[Satellite News 10-02-08] According to ViaSat Senior Vice President Tom Moore, if you combine all of the satellite broadband capacity in the United States today, the total will not add up to the broadband capacity his company will provide with its first satellite, ViaSat-1.
    The satellite, ordered in conjunction with Eutelsat’s Ka-Sat spacecraft, is scheduled to be launched in 2011. “ViaSat-1 has roughly 100 gigabits of capacity and Ka-Sat has somewhere between 70 and 80 gigabits,” he said. “When you total the capacity of all the other broadband satellites serving the United States — WildBlue-1, Anik F2, the Spaceway satellite — being used for broadband plus all the Ku- and C-band satellites, they add up to less than the capacity of ViaSat 1. Ka-Sat has the same situation in Europe.”
    While ViaSat plans to increase capacity in the United States ten-fold, the company sees a healthy opportunity for its planned service. “People are downloading movies and larger size files more frequently now and the trajectory is increasing. When someone downloads a movie off of the Internet today, they are consuming the same amount of data and bandwidth that a whole household consumed in a whole month three or four years ago — about a gigabyte of data,” he said. “We project that in the next three or four years, that consumption demand will triple. It is a robust market. To be relevant in a market like this, we have to deliver a service that is comparable to the demands of the customers. That is what ViaSat-1 and Ka-Sat are all about.”
    Moore discussed ViaSat’s analysis of its potential subscriber base and their increasing appetite for bandwidth with Satellite News News Editor Jeffrey Hill.

Satellite Today: Is there is enough demand for broadband to fill up ViaSat-1

Moore: There are two areas in which we analyzed and investigated the specific demand. The first area is the market itself. How many customers are there and where are they? The second area is looking at how customers are using broadband. We have to ask ourselves, ‘What is their appetite? Are they consuming more?’ When we multiply these answers together, we get an idea of what kind of capacity is necessary.
    In the United States, there is a general belief that there are 15 million to 20 million homes with no other Internet alternatives other than dial-up or satellite broadband. At the end of this year, HughesNet and WildBlue together will have roughly 1 million broadband subscribers. WildBlue is selling out of their current capacity for Anik F1 and Anik F2 and as Hughes just added Spaceway 3, we feel it will fill up that capacity successfully in the next year or two. However, they still only have a small portion — about roughly 5 or 10 percent — of the market that is potentially out there.

Satellite Today: Will the capacity and bandwidth problems hampering terrestrial networks provide a boost for your services in the general market?

Moore: As demand for capacity increases, larger wired and wireless terrestrial companies like Comcast are making adjustments behind the scenes for customers that use more of the bandwidth. Of course, the [U.S. Federal Communications Commission] came in and said, “You can not do that. You have to let customers determine how they will use their bandwidth on their own.” I would not say that the dissatisfaction with terrestrial services will provide us with a boost directly, however, I would say that it illustrates the demand for services like ours. The demand for bandwidth is insatiable.

Satellite Today: How will SurfBeam technology employed by these two satellites increase the ability to deliver capacity?

Moore: For ViaSat-1, we will use a second generation of SurfBeam that has the ability to increase performance to deliver this kind of capacity. It builds on everything we have learned with SurfBeam and takes it a notch higher.
    Historically, If you look at the VSAT industry, satellites have been designed in their own way and VSAT broadband equipment has been designed in its own way and while the two play together, there is not much synergy between the two designs. What we have been trying to do in partnership with  is design a system where the satellite itself and the ground segment interact in a more synergistic way. Both Ka-Sat and ViaSat-1 are bent-pipe satellites without the fancy processing, antennas, packet-switching or demodulation that a lot of people talk about in terms of space technology. The satellites, while bent-pipe in nature, are very aggressive in terms of frequency reuse and deployment. Because of that, we needed to have very aggressive and well-designed ground segment to support that kind of increase in capacity and to make sure that we are getting the performance that we are looking for.  

Satellite Today: How will the ground segment for ViaSat-1 handle this demand?

Moore: In addition to building the ground segment ourselves, we are building two dozen gateways across the United States and Canada.

Satellite Today: Will any other companies be involved in the ground segment or customer interaction?

Moore: We do not have anything formal to announce at this point, but in the next year or two as we get closer to rolling out with the service, we will see those types of relationships solidify.
    As far as the retail level is concerned - our business model in the United States is to provide wholesale capacity to retail partners and those retail partners can take the form of companies like AT&T or Verizon or a satellite TV provider like EchoStar or DirecTV. We have had good conversations with a whole host of those kinds of retail partners. At the retail level, we do not see ourselves going out and interacting with consumers. We see ourselves providing a turnkey system involving the space and ground segments.

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