ViaSat Sees Future in Aeronautical and Maritime Broadband Markets

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PARIS — Satellite broadband hardware and service provider ViaSat Inc. is pitching its future ViaSat-2 Ka-band satellite as just as much a mobile broadband asset for maritime and aeronautical use in the Atlantic as an addition to its existing U.S. consumer broadband business.

The satellite’s coverage area extends east to the border of Britain and includes much of the Caribbean to the south. Under construction by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, Calif., as part of a $358 million contract, ViaSat-2 is scheduled for launch in mid-2016.

ViaSat-2 will have about double the capacity of the existing ViaSat-1, whose total throughput of about 140 gigabits per second already makes it the highest-throughput satellite in orbit, along with competitor Hughes Network Systems’ Jupiter 1 satellite. Both were built by Space Systems Loral (SSL) of Palo Alto, Calif.

In a Jan. 14 presentation to investors, ViaSat Chief Financial Officer Bruce Dirks indicated the company has no intention of backing away from its contract- and patent-infringement lawsuit against SSL, which is owned by MDA Corp. of Canada. The company is seeking financial compensation in an amount yet to be set.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat has filed two lawsuits against SSL, with the second seeking a court injunction to prohibit SSL from using similar technologies on satellites currently under construction. ViaSat has named two SSL satellites — Eutelsat 65 West for Eutelsat of Paris and the Jupiter 2 for Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md. — as featuring ViaSat-patented technology.

The lawsuits were filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. The trial is set to start March 18.

Dirks said ViaSat’s Exede and legacy WildBlue consumer broadband business in the United States now has more than 600,000 subscribers. The company reported 591,000 subscribers as of Oct. 4.

Dirks said that to avoid a repeat of the higher-than-expected customer defections that occurred in 2013, ViaSat is taking more care to target only those consumers in markets where there is no reliable cable service.

ViaSat officials have said Exede’s promise of downlink speeds of 12 megabits per second for as little as $50 per month has lured customers who were unaware of the 10-gigabit data caps that are customary for satellite services. Customers living in areas with cable connections have quit Exede as a result.

ViaSat has dismissed several of its Exede marketing companies that are suspected of not informing customers of the data caps, ensured that those remaining are paid to find long-lasting customers, and fine-tuned the marketing to areas with no cable alternative.

ViaSat-2’s coverage area will be seven times as large as ViaSat-1’s for about double the total throughput, according to ViaSat. Its Atlantic Ocean footprint will bring it into maritime and aeronautical markets that are now hotly pursued by other satellite operators in C- and Ku- as well as Ka-band. All are pursuing oil and gas production installations as well as commercial, civil and military maritime and aeronautical customers.

ViaSat has already begun providing broadband connectivity to Jet Blue commercial passenger aircraft, with downlinks of 12 megabits per second to up to 70 passengers per flight. ViaSat also sells the hardware used to equip the aircraft for broadband, much as it sells ground network gear for Exede.

Dirks said conventional satellites in C- and Ku-band will never be able to provide such throughput, nor will providers of ground-based broadband services to aircraft.

He said the Air Force One U.S. presidential aircraft is fitted with gear limited to downlink speeds of about 1 megabit per second. “It’s not much,” Dirks said. “They should want more.”

ViaSat’s contract with Boeing brings the two companies into a partnership to sell ViaSat-2-type satellites outside the United States. Dirks said this effort continues and that several prospects have been identified, but that the system’s overall cost is prohibitive for some potential customers.