ViaSat Says It Plans To Order a Second Satellite

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LONDON — ViaSat Inc., whose ViaSat-1 satellite is scheduled for launch in early 2011 and will break records for throughput capacity, expects to order another, similar satellite in early 2011 for launch in 2014, ViaSat Chief Executive Mark Dankberg said Sept. 15.

Dankberg, whose belief in the ability of high-throughput Ka-band satellites to change the economics of the fixed and mobile satellite broadband industry shows no signs of wavering, said the company’s current WildBlue consumer broadband business in the United States is making enough money to support continued investment.

“WildBlue is a very profitable business,” Dankberg said here in a presentation to the VSAT 2010 conference organized by Comsys of London. “We can invest a lot in it. But if you don’t have bandwidth, you don’t get to have everything else.”

Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat’s ViaSat-1, now under construction at Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, Calif., is scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2011. The satellite, which will cost about $400 million including launch and insurance, is expected to have a throughput of some 140 gigabits per second based on ViaSat’s most-recent estimates.

That is 14 times the throughput of the biggest Ka-band satellite now covering North America, the Spaceway-3 owned by ViaSat competitor Hughes Communications of Germantown, Md. Hughes is planning its own high-throughput satellite, called Jupiter, which is scheduled for launch in the first half of 2012.

Dankberg ran into early resistance from ViaSat shareholders when he first disclosed the company’s decision to build ViaSat-1, a decision that ultimately led to ViaSat’s purchase of Denver-based WildBlue Communications. It remains to be seen how these shareholders will greet a decision to double down on the investment even before ViaSat-1 is operational.

Since the purchase, ViaSat has limited WildBlue’s subscriber base, which has remained at about 420,000 for over a year, to prevent customers from getting a bad impression of what satellites can offer. WildBlue has suffered a lack of capacity in high-demand areas.

In his remarks, Dankberg criticized the satellite industry for permitting some of its operators to advertise that they can load 1 million subscribers onto a satellite with less than 5 gigabits per second of capacity, while other operators say they will load about the same number of customers on a satellite with more than 10 times the capacity.

Those kinds of promises, he said, inevitably lead to poor service, making it even more difficult than it is already for satellite broadband proponents to make headway with government officials planning publicly funded broadband stimulus programs.

He said the U.S government’s National Broadband Plan, which has reserved for satellites just $100 million of some $7 billion in overall funding, is an example of what happens when one technology — in this case, satellite-delivered Internet — gets a bad reputation.

Similarly, he said, the Australian government has reduced its forecast of the role satellites will play in that nation’s multibillion-dollar broadband stimulus program because of concerns about satellite performance despite the fact that Australia would appear to be the ideal terrain for satellite broadband.

“Other countries might go the Australian route,” Dankberg said, adding that it appears Australian authorities are backing away from earlier plans to build two Ka-band broadband satellites, despite the cost advantage satellite technology has over fiber outside urban areas.

ViaSat-1 and the new generation of spacecraft coming with it, including Hughes’ Jupiter, will make Ku-band satellites now used for broadband obsolete, even in maritime markets where rain is an issue. “We see Ku-band as a transient stopping point,” Dankberg said. With the new Ka-band satellites, “we will go from dollars to dimes and, in the near future, pennies per megabyte.”

Paul Gaske, executive vice president at Hughes, said the bandwidth demand shows no signs of slowing down and that, within a few years, a single household will have applications totaling some 14 megabits per second of demand for video, interactive games, security applications and conventional Web surfing.

Gaske said Hughes is already looking beyond Jupiter, which will have 100 gigabits per second of throughput if not more, to still-larger spacecraft that will test the limits of today’s launch vehicles and satellite manufacturers.

Hughes and ViaSat appear to agree that the demand for bandwidth is so large that the only way to keep up is to keep launching ever-larger satellites as those in orbit fill up to avoid WildBlue’s problem of running out of capacity.