Top 5 Companies To Watch: ViaSat

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ViaSat

Headquarters: Carlsbad, Calif.

Employees: 2,000

Revenue: $688 million

ViaSat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg made some shareholders anxious in 2007 by investing $400 million in a broadband satellite to serve rural North America, a major strategic — and in some eyes risky — foray for what had traditionally been a terminal manufacturer with a steady stream of U.S. government and consumer business.

In ordering the satellite, ViaSat was positioning itself to compete directly with its partner, satellite broadband provider WildBlue, whose service utilizes ViaSat terminals. ViaSat had grown impatient with foot-dragging on WildBlue’s part in ordering a second satellite, even though the first, WildBlue-1, was essentially tapped out on orbit, stunting the growth of the business.

So convinced was Dankberg of the North American market potential for satellite broadband that in 2009 he doubled his bet. He plunked down $568 million to acquire WildBlue, accelerating ViaSat’s transformation and positioning it to compete against fellow terminal and broadband service provider Hughes Communications Inc.

For the first nine months of 2011, ViaSat’s services division, which is dominated by WildBlue, accounted for $175 million, or 30 percent, of the company’s $585 million in total revenue. This is in spite of the fact that the WildBlue service added virtually no new net subscribers during the period because WildBlue-1 is fully booked in the markets where demand is strongest and lacks the flexibility to focus more capacity on those regions.

The key to ViaSat’s growth plans for the services business is ViaSat-1, a large, high-throughput satellite whose launch is scheduled for this coming July following a three-month delay caused by a factory-floor mishap at manufacturer Space Systems/Loral. In addition to having higher throughput than WildBlue-1, ViaSat-1 is designed with the flexibility to focus its beams wherever the demand is strongest.

With a second satellite on orbit, ViaSat will be poised to compete head to head in the North American market with Hughes, which already operates the Ka-band Spaceway satellite, has another, higher-throughput satellite on order for launch in 2012, and is set to become part of Charlie Ergen’s growing empire following the Feb. 14 announcement that Ergen’s EchoStar company is buying Hughes for $2 billion.

ViaSat, meanwhile, is in the planning stages for a third satellite, ViaSat-2, with a contract award targeted for sometime this summer.

ViaSat-1 is scheduled to begin operations in September.