Single-Satellite Broadband Services Vulnerable to Disruption

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  Space News Business

Single-Satellite Broadband Services Vulnerable to Disruption

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 07 April 2009
04:18 pm ET






WASHINGTON
— Companies selling satellite broadband services to consumers in
North America
and the Asia-Pacific region acknowledged that their still-fragile businesses cannot afford in-orbit backup capacity and that they would be in deep trouble should their lone satellites fail.

ViaSat
Inc., Hughes Communications and WildBlue Inc. of
North America
, and Thaicom of Thailand, all said they will have to stay largely one-satellite systems for now.

Denver-based WildBlue appears to be the most diversified of the consumer broadband service providers. WildBlue has capacity aboard satellite fleet operator Telesat’sAnik F2 spacecraft in addition to its own satellite, WildBlue-1. WildBlue-1 and Anik F2 are co-located at the same orbital slot.

Satellite capacity constraints have restricted WildBlue’s growth in certain regions of the
United States
, and the company recently agreed to lease additional Ka-band capacity on Englewood, Colo.-based EchoStar Corp.’s AMC-15 and AMC-16 satellites.

AMC-15 and AMC-16 are owned by SES of Luxembourg and wholly leased to EchoStar.

Speaking at the Satellite 2009 conference here March 26, WildBlue Chief Technology Officer Erwin Hudson said WildBlue, which now has about 390,000 subscribers, expects to be able to add 100,00 to 150,000 more customers with AMC-15 and AMC-16.

Hudson
said the Ka-band beams on AMC-15 and AMC-16 will serve the eastern half of the
United States
, where WildBlue has had trouble meeting demand.

The Anik F2 and WildBlue-1 satellites are at 111 degrees west. AMC-15 is at 105 degrees west, and AMC-16 is at 85 degrees west. AMC-15 and AMC-16, both of which entered service in 2005, are identical Lockheed Martin-built A2100 satellites, each carrying a dozen 125-megahertz Ka-band spot beams.

Hudson
said current estimates are that WildBlue-1 will be able to accommodate 700,000 to 750,000 subscribers. WildBlue and its ground terminal technology supplier, ViaSat Corp. of Carlsbad, Calif., continue to wring efficiencies out of the system and have boosted WildBlue’s throughput capacity by 30 percent to 40 percent already.
Hudson
said the effort is not finished and that another 20 percent to 30 percent can be added to the existing capacity.

The AMC-15 and AMC-16 capacity will be added to WildBlue’s service offer gradually in the coming weeks “in areas where we are most capacity constrained,” with the full capacity available by late June,
Hudson
said.

But
Hudson
said even WildBlue does not have sufficient in-orbit capacity available if Anik F2 or WildBlue-1 failed. “Over time we expect to evolve to where we have redundant capacity,”
Hudson
said.

WildBlue’s
direct competitor, Hughes Communications Inc. of
Germantown
,
Md.
, is banking on its Spaceway 3 Ka-band satellite to handle the company’s new consumer and small business subscribers. Hughes reported having 433,000 subscribers to its consumer broadband service as of Dec. 31, of which 86,000 had been loaded onto Spaceway 3.

Hughes continues to lease large amounts of Ku-band capacity over
North America
, and is using the natural turnover of these customers to rebalance the business toward Spaceway 3. Dean Manson, Hughes’ general counsel, said Hughes does not yet have a backup for Spaceway 3, although the company has repeatedly said it would secure such capacity soon.

In March 24 remarks here, Manson said not all new Hughes subscribers are being placed onto Spaceway 3, which is located at 95 degrees west longitude. Around 10 percent of new Hughes customers are still placed on Hughes’ Ku-band service because their homes or businesses are located in places without a clear view of Spaceway 3.

Spaceway
3 customers cannot redeploy their existing equipment to point to a Ku-band satellite leased by Hughes in the event of a problem on Spaceway 3.

ViaSat
Corp. Chief Executive Mark Dankberg, seeing what he believes is a large shortage of Ka-band broadband capacity over
North America
in the coming years, is building the large all-Ka-band ViaSat-1 satellite, scheduled for launch in 2011.

Dankberg
, speaking here March 26, said ViaSat-1 will go after those customers that cannot be reached by WildBlue and Hughes. It is unclear whether Hughes or WildBlue might ultimately be customers of ViaSat-1.

Dankberg
said his company, which specializes in military and commercial telecommunications ground equipment, lost 30 percent of its institutional shareholders in the weeks after ViaSat announced its intentions to build ViaSat-1.

ViaSat’s
stock has since recovered somewhat, meaning those investors who quit the stock out of fear that the ViaSat-1 project would undermine shareholder value have been replaced by others.

Arduino
Patacchini, chief executive of Skylogic of Turin, Italy, which is the broadband subsidiary of Eutelsat of Paris, is debuting its consumer service with the limited Ka-band capacity on the Hot Bird 6 satellite. But it has no backup for the large Ka-Sat satellite to be launched in 2010.

Nongluck
Phinainitisart, president of Thaicom of Thailand, whose IPStar satellite provides Ku-band consumer broadband service in 10 nations in
East Asia
, said some switchover could occur to other Ku-band satellites if IPStar had a problem. “But you cannot serve them all,” Phinainitisart said. “We cannot afford full in-orbit backup and we need to educate consumers about this.”