Viasat climbs onto super-constellation plan
May 29, 2020
By Chris Forrester
Satellite operator Viasat of Carlsbad, California, speaking to banking analysts after its Q4 and full year earnings results, said that it wanted to modify and expand its current plan for Mid-Earth Orbiting (MEOs) satellites to Low Earth Orbiters (LEO).
Viasat is already busy supplying broadband to 590,000 US consumers, and is connecting Brazilian users with 11,000 sites in Brazil via 9000 schools and 2.4 million students. Its US ARPU’s are impressive at $93 per month. It is also – in normal times – serving 1390 aircraft with broadband and in-flight connectivity.
It is also building its Viasat Class-3 satellites, one of which will be sited over Europe and also serve the Middle East and Africa. Another will be sited over Asia.
CEO Mark Dankberg said: “We continue to see increased demand for fixed broadband and anticipate further growth in net subscribers during Q1 FY2021, subject to geographic distribution of demand relative to capacity. It is clear there are significant growth opportunities for US satellite broadband as school-from-home, work-from-home, video communications and OTT video stress less capable terrestrial networks in challenging locations. We believe this affirms our focus on delivering valuable bandwidth services by maximising space systems useful bandwidth to high demand geographic markets per unit of capital invested. Satellite TV net subscriber losses (somewhat driven by the absence of live sports), and rapid growth in OTT, reinforce the value of high bandwidth data plans to our customers. We believe high-speed, high-bandwidth data plans supporting more video should allow us to serve a larger portion of the consumer residential market, which is important for services growth aligned with our ViaSat-3 constellation.”
Viasat said the global broadband market is today worth some $1 trillion annually, and growing. “Satellite broadband is now around $10 billion – about a 1 percent share. Satellite can grow to low- to mid- single digits– or $10’s of billions per year. We aim to lead that market,” he added.
Helping Dankberg focus on the potential from LEO satellites is the US support scheme under its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The US is stumping up $20.4 billion over a 10-year period, and it is Phase 2 of the scheme that Viasat is eyeing. “We want to be prepared for this. So we filed an application to modify our licensed Ka/V-band Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellation to LEO altitude. Viasat’s LEO application is optimized for RDOF and, we believe, more efficient for RDOF than other LEOs.”
He added: “A modified LEO constellation would enter service by 2026. The constellation would be available globally and could complement ViaSat-3 services. Just to be clear, we do not believe we need a LEO constellation to compete successfully globally. ViaSat-3 and GEO successors will offer much more affordable speed and bandwidth. RDOF represents an opportunity to improve LEO cost effectiveness, while helping the FCC further its objective of greater availability of low latency broadband to challenging locations.”