TAMPA, Fla. — Microsoft said Dec. 14 it is partnering with satellite operator Viasat to find solutions for bringing internet access to 10 million unserved or underserved people within three years.
Viasat is the first satellite operator to join Microsoft’s Airband initiative, which aims to deliver connectivity to a quarter of a billion people by the end of 2025 through a mix of technologies.
Microsoft set up Airband in 2017 and said the initiative had enabled high-speed internet access for more than 51 million people globally — about 20% of its goal.
In addition to telcos, Airband seeks to facilitate connectivity-enabling partnerships among equipment makers, local and regional energy access providers, nonprofits, and governmental and non-governmental organizations.
“Microsoft and Viasat will jointly review options to co-invest on a project-by-project basis,” Evan Dixon, Viasat’s president of global fixed broadband, told SpaceNews.
The companies will first look at projects that could leverage Viasat’s fleet of existing satellites in geostationary orbit, including its upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation.
However, Dixon said Viasat will also explore solutions from low Earth orbit in its search to deliver “broadband in the most productive and cost-effective manner.”
Half of the 10 million people the companies are partnering to reach are in Africa, where they said Viasat’s support would help expand Airband’s work for the first time to Egypt, Senegal, and Angola.
Only 40% of Africa’s roughly 1.4 billion population is currently online, according to data from the United Nations.
“Working with Viasat, we will use satellite to reach remote areas that previously have had few, if any, options for conventional connectivity,” Teresa Hutson, Microsoft’s vice president of technology and corporate responsibility, said in a statement.
“Together, we will be able to rapidly scale and expand Airband’s reach, exploring a wider pipeline of projects and new countries where we haven’t yet worked.”
According to Microsoft, Airband has helped connect nine million people in Africa to date across the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria. By the end of 2025, it aims to have helped connect 100 million people on the continent.
Microsoft said the partnership with Viasat builds on the relationship its data center business already has with the company — in addition to other satellite operators — via Azure Space, which aims to integrate terrestrial and space networks to enable global cloud access with low latency.