NEW YORK — Satellite broadband providers ViaSat and Hughes expect to purchase big Ka-band satellites within the next year to back up and expand their existing and soon-to-be-deployed capacity, the two companies’ chief executives said Oct. 13.
Hughes’ priority for a second model of its Jupiter satellite now under construction appears to be to duplicate its North American success in Brazil, India or China. ViaSat’s expected order of a ViaSat 2 spacecraft would provide in-orbit backup for the company’s North American business.
Addressing the Satcon conference here, Hughes Chief Executive Pradman P. Kaul said the company’s sale to EchoStar Corp. this year has given Hughes the resources it needs to accelerate its international expansion.
As the world’s biggest seller of hardware for VSAT, or very small aperture terminal, corporate satellite data networks, Hughes is present in some 100 nations. But outside North America, almost all of these networks rely on sometimes expensive, and less-efficient, Ku-band satellite capacity that Hughes leases from commercial satellite operators.
Hughes used to operate along the same lines in North America, where it has around 640,000 subscribers for its HughesNet consumer broadband service. But once its Ka-band Spaceway 3 satellite became operational in April 2008, Hughes began migrating its customers away from leased Ku-band capacity and onto Spaceway 3.
Spaceway 3 generates about 10 gigabits per second of throughput, which is 10 times more than most Ku-band satellites. Spaceway 3 also has an on-board processor that permits Germantown, Md.-based Hughes to move coverage and power from one area to another, depending on where demand surfaces.
But that power management capability aboard the Boeing-built Spaceway 3, which has given Hughes an advantage over ViaSat’s fixed-beam WildBlue-1 Ka-band satellite, remains expensive technology.
For its Jupiter satellite, under construction by Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, Calif., and scheduled for launch in mid-2012, Hughes decided on a less-complicated bent-pipe design. Jupiter will have about 100 gigabits per second of throughput.
“Spaceway has 112 uplink beams and 784 downlink beams, and nobody comes even close to that today,” Kaul said. “But it costs a lot of money.” Hughes was an independent company when it decided on Jupiter, and to save money it selected the less-complicated design.
With Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar now Hughes’ owner after the $2 billion purchase this year, Hughes is looking to place Jupiter-type satellites in other markets.
“We were acquired for just that purpose,” Kaul said, referring to Hughes’ ambitions to use its existing expertise to create high-throughput satellite broadband markets around the world.
While it continues to work the regulatory issues involved in starting satellite services businesses, the company hopes to decide on at least one market “within 12 months,” Kaul said. “Brazil, India, China — these are exciting markets. We hope we can make a dent in a couple of these in the next few years.
Hughes in August won a satellite spectrum and orbital slot auction by Brazil’s telecommunications regulator, Anatel, for two orbital positions. Both include Ka-band frequencies. Hughes agreed to pay a total of $118.2 million for the two positions, at 45 degrees and 68.5 degrees west longitude.
Kaul said a Jupiter 2 and Jupiter 3 satellite would be intended for regions outside North America, but he also said the company planned to have in-orbit backup for its first Jupiter.
In-orbit backup is a priority for Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat Corp., whose 6,700-kilogram ViaSat-1 satellite is scheduled for launch Oct. 20 aboard an International Launch Services Proton rocket from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
ViaSat-1 is even more important to ViaSat’s WildBlue consumer broadband service than Jupiter is to Hughes’. WildBlue customers currently use the ViaSat-owned WildBlue-1 satellite and the Anik F2 spacecraft owned by Telesat of Canada. Anik F2 suffered a 24-hour outage Oct. 6, knocking out WildBlue service to some customers.
In addition, the current WildBlue satellite capacity is sold out for those beams covering the highest-demand regions, meaning WildBlue has been unable to grow its subscriber base.
The launch of ViaSat-1, which ViaSat officials say will have 140 gigabits per second of throughput, has been delayed for multiple reasons in the past six months.
The delay of the launch has also delayed ViaSat’s announcement of a ViaSat-2 satellite |procurement.
ViaSat Chief Executive Mark D. Dankberg said the order is likely to come not long after ViaSat-1 is declared operational in orbit, an event set to occur by April 2012 assuming a late-October launch.
Dankberg said intellectual property rights over the ViaSat-2 satellite’s design will be a focus of the contract. ViaSat had voiced suspicions that Hughes’ Jupiter spacecraft bore too close a resemblance to ViaSat-1, which Dankberg said the company designed pretty much on its own.
“We feel like some of the IP [intellectual property] around our first satellite wasn’t protected as well as it should have been,” he said. “This time we’re going to do better.”
Space Systems/Loral, prime contractor for ViaSat-1 and Jupiter, strongly denied that it had taken ViaSat proprietary technology to build Jupiter.
Dankberg said that in addition to patents over high-throughput Ka-band satellites that ViaSat expects to register, the company will take extra care in structuring its ViaSat-2 contract to assure that no technology slips away.
Hughes Subsidiary Leases Orbital Slots over Brazil
Newly Acquired Hughes Business is a Bright Spot for EchoStar