Kourou, French Guiana – With a bright flash and a deep rumble, the future of satellite-delivered broadband services was lofted into orbit Thursday night.
Eyeing the kind of speeds typically delivered by wired broadband services, ViaSat 2, ViaSat’s new high-powered satellite, is designed to deliver 100 megabits per second, and possibly more, to individual subscribers.
ViaSat 2, built by Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems and launched into successful orbit here aboard Arianespace's Ariane 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle, will provide 300 Gigabits per second of total throughput. ViaSat 2 is expected to enter into service in early 2018.
“We’re still working on our plans, but we likely will have service plans that are up to 100 Mbps, and we may have some that are as high as 200 Mbps,” Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO of ViaSat, said here in an interview just hours before Thursday’s launch. “The satellite’s capable of that. The real issue is how do we price those plans and how many subscribers we can put on them?”
Though a 100-meg satellite-delivered broadband service is achievable, Dankberg believes that most of the company’s subscribers will be on tiers delivering less than that.
But the launch of ViaSat 2 will give the company, which has about 659,000 satellite broadband subscribers, the ability to far exceed what it’s delivering in the U.S. today using a legacy satellite fleet that includes ViaSat 1 and those coming way of its 2009 acquisition of WildBlue Communications.
Today, its top-end service, under the “Exede” brand, pumps out up to 25 Mbps in the downstream direction, and implements a broadband-usage policy to keep bandwidth usage in check.
With the new satellite and its new bandwidth capabilities, Dankberg believes ViaSat will also have an opportunity to support and implement new, unlimited data policies.
The ability to deliver faster speeds will give ViaSat a way to compete more directly with cable operators, telcos and other wired-based ISPs. But that won’t be the primary focus.
“Our mission is to be a really good choice for the underserved – not necessarily for people who already have access to fiber-to-the-home or the most modern cable [high-speed Internet] service,” Dankberg said. “But the qualification I’m going to make to that is, we want to give that same experience to people who otherwise can’t get it.”
ViaSat 2 will help to turn ViaSat into a bigger, regional provider of services that will also span government and enterprise customers while also enhancing its ability to deliver high-quality in-flight connectivity as well as broadband service to cruise ships.
In addition to delivering gobs of bandwidth, ViaSat 2, at an orbital location of 22,236 miles above the earth’s equator (at 69.9 degrees west longitude), will enable ViaSat to expand coverage in North America, Central America, the Caribbean and a portion of northern South America. Key transportation routes between North America and Europe also are expected to benefit.
And there's a lot more to come. “ViaSat has ambitions to be a global broadband services company,” Dankberg said. “This ViaSat 2 launch is a big step along the way for us towards that path.”
ViaSat’s grander global coverage plan will be coming way of its set of ViaSat 3 satellites. The first, which will expand and enhance ViaSat’s coverage in the Americas, is planned to launch in 2019, followed in 2020 by a satellite that will cover the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. ViaSat hasn’t announced when it expects to launch its third ViaSat 3 satellite, but it's slated to provide coverage in the Asia Pacific.
Among other stats, ViaSat 2 packs 1.2 kilometers of coaxial cable, 37 kilometers of electrical wire, and more than 300 electronic boxes. At a wingspan of 46 meters, it’s about half the length of a rugby pitch, and a weight of 6,400 kilograms at launch, giving it the heft of about four mid-sized sedans, according to Mark Spiwak, president of Boeing Satellite Systems International.
“This is the largest commercial satellite that we've ever built,” Spiwak said. “This was a big one for us all,” he added following last night’s successful launch, while also extending his congratulations to ViaSat 2’s co-passenger aboard the Ariane 5, the Airbus-built Eutelsat 172B, an all-electric telecommunications satellite that will beef up capacity that includes in-flight and maritime connectivity, cellular backhaul, and service for video and government agencies in the Asia Pacific, from Alaska to Australia.
“You'll have to forgive me for having a big grin on my face after watching that spectacular launch,” Dankberg said.
According to Spaceflight Now, the pairing of those satellites, valued at about $800 million, represented the heaviest and costliest commercial payload ever launched.
Arianespace has posted a video of last night’s launch and details about the tricky maneuvers that followed:
More detail about the launch will be featured in the June 5 edition of Multichannel News.