Wildblue Keeps Pace with Rival Hughes

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PARIS — Satellite broadband service provider WildBlue Communications announced Aug. 20 that it has increased its subscriber count by nearly 15 percent, to 400,000, in the past 12 months. The increase came despite the WildBlue-1 satellite being nearly sold out in regions of the United States where demand is strongest.

Denver-based WildBlue thus appears to be keeping pace with rival Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md., which reported that it, too, had increased its subscriber count by 15 percent, to 473,000, as of June 30.

WildBlue is privately held and does not report subscriber and revenue figures on a regular quarterly basis. Information about the company’s performance can be gleaned from financial reports by WildBlue’s terminal provider, ViaSat Corp. of Carlsbad, Calif., which is working with WildBlue to squeeze additional capacity from the beams covering high-demand regions.

ViaSat is also building its own large Ka-band broadband satellite for government and commercial use. The satellite, called ViaSat-1, is scheduled for launch in early 2011. It remains unclear whether WildBlue will become a ViaSat-1 customer by leasing capacity on that satellite.

WildBlue currently leases the U.S.-aimed Ka-band capacity on Telesat Canada’s Anik F2 satellite as well as its own WildBlue-1 spacecraft. The two satellites are co-located at 111 degrees west.

WildBlue in March announced it was leasing additional Ka-band capacity on two EchoStar Corp.-operated satellites, AMC-15 and AMC-16. On Aug. 10, WildBlue said it had begun service from AMC-15, located at 105 degrees west. WildBlue officials have said WildBlue-1 is able to accommodate up to 750,000 subscribers. But demand has been much higher in some areas than in others, meaning WildBlue has been sold out of capacity in some regions even if the satellite is far from full.

WildBlue officials hoped to add up to 150,000 new subscribers with the EchoStar satellites. The company said AMC-15 will be used for customers in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and Arkansas.

WildBlue has applied for funds from the U.S. government’s broadband stimulus financial package “to help fund a next-generation satellite with the ability to serve an additional 1.5 million customers in the rural U.S.,” the company said in an Aug. 20 statement.

Hughes recently contracted for a high-capacity Ka-band satellite to meet broadband demand growth. The satellite, which resembles ViaSat-1, is scheduled for launch in 2012.