Subscriber Growth Prompts WildBlue To Install Six New Earth Stations

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  Space News Business

Subscriber Growth Prompts WildBlue To Install Six New Earth Stations

By PETER B. de SELDING
Space News Staff Writer
posted: 07 March 2007
04:48 pm ET


WASHINGTON — WildBlue Communications, a provider of satellite broadband services, expects to complete installation of six new gateway Earth stations in the United States by June to take full advantage of the new capacity available on the company’s WildBlue-1 satellite that was launched in December.

WildBlue Chief Technology Officer Erwin Hudson said WildBlue, which currently has about 140,000 subscribers in the United States and is growing at a rate of 6,000-8,000 new subscribers per month, will be able to accommodate up to 750,000 subscribers on the WildBlue-1 satellite and the capacity the company has leased on Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 spacecraft.

WildBlue of Denver has built its initial base of customers on Anik F2 but has been limited by the fact that the Anik F2 spot beams covering the U.S. Northeast and Midwest have been filled to capacity. Adding WildBlue-1 will satisfy the company’s immediate need for the additional capacity it needs to grow in those high-demand regions.

“We expect our [monthly growth] rate to increase dramatically once WildBlue-1 and the new Earth stations are up and running,” Hudson said here Feb. 22 during the Satellite 2007 conference organized by Access Intelligence. Three of the Earth stations are already built, Hudson said.

Hughes Network Systems (HNS) of Germantown, Md., which remains the global market leader in providing two-way satellite communications terminals and services for businesses, is positioning itself in the United States as a direct competitor to WildBlue for consumer and small-business customers.

HNS is coping with capacity issues of its own. The company’s Spaceway 3 Ka-band satellite was scheduled for launch early this year aboard a Sea Launch Co. vehicle, but Sea Launch is now grounded for an undetermined period of time following a Jan. 30 launch failure. HNS, however, was able to find an open spot this year on the manifest for Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket. Arianespace announced March 1 that it has scheduled the launch of Spaceway 3 for August.

HNS Vice President Paul Gaske said the company’s current subscriber base of about 330,000 in the United States continues to grow fast, forcing HNS to lease Ku-band satellite capacity from commercial satellite-fleet operators.

As of early 2006, HNS had satellite-lease commitments totaling more than $800 million, and while about half of these leases expired in 2006, HNS was an active buyer of new capacity last year, notably from SES Global’s SES Americom subsidiary.

Gaske said that given the company’s current subscriber base and near-term growth rate, even the 10-gigabit capacity of the Ka-band Spaceway 3 satellite will soon be filled up — once it is launched — by new customers and those existing subscribers that HNS will move from Ku-band spacecraft to Spaceway.

Customers switching to Spaceway will need to purchase new equipment.

Gaske said the conventional Ku-band satellites that HNS uses are able to do some things that Spaceway cannot do. “We want to keep these customers, so we will continue to use Ku-band capacity for some years to come. “

Shin Satellite of Thailand is rolling out a service in the Asia-Pacific region that is similar to the WildBlue and HNS offer in the United States and Canada, but using Ku-band frequencies on Shin’s Ipstar/Thaicom 4 satellite.

Patompob Suwansiri, head of marketing at Shin, said about 70,000 Ipstar terminals have been deployed. He said the company should exceed the 100,000-subscriber milestone “in the next few months.” Shin expects to begin deploying terminals in India — the biggest remaining Asian market outside Ipstar’s current reach — beginning this year.

Suwansiri said up to 1 million subscribers can be accommodated aboard IpStar/Thaicom 4, with average throughput per subscriber of 256 kilobits per second for data reception and 128 kilobits per second for data upload.

Satellite-broadband terminal provider ViaSat Corp. has been watching these broadband developments and determined that neither WildBlue nor HNS are moving fast enough to keep up with latent demand.

Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat provides user terminals to WildBlue and Shin, and has recently struck an agreement to provide similar gear to satellite-fleet operator Eutelsat Communications of Paris for use with that company’s Hot Bird 6 satellite.

ViaSat, in a submission to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), proposes to build its own all-Ka-band satellite and to station it at the geostationary orbital location 115.2 degrees w est longitude to serve the continental United States.

ViaSat proposes that its satellite will have 32 spot beams and carry an on board processor capable of reallocating capacity depending on regional demand.

ViaSat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg said the company is interested only in assuring that enough capacity is available.

“There are nearly 200,000 subscribers with WildBlue and Telesat now,” Dankberg said . “There is at least another order of magnitude to go — and it’s coming soon.” ViaSat, Dankburg said, would like to see a satellite providing 100 gigabits per second of capacity — 60 gigabits upload, 40 gigabits download.