ViaSat is open to forging a partnership with Inmarsat to augment its regional, high-capacity Ka-band satellite service with the London-headquartered firm’s forthcoming Global Xpress Ka service to further strengthen its inflight connectivity offering for airlines.
“I think we’d always be open to a partnership with Inmarsat. I think it’s a really good solution, benefiting their global coverage with our high-density coverage,” ViaSat director mobile broadband systems Don Buchman recently told the APEX editor’s blog.
His comment echoes a similar sentiment expressed by ViaSat’s Robin Salem in an earlier interview with the blog. “If [a partnership with Inmarsat] was an advantage to our customers, that is a possibility. We have not discussed that but that’s a possibility always,” said Salem.
ViaSat is currently working with JetBlue Airways unit LiveTV to bring Ka-band-supported inflight high-speed Internet to JetBlue’s fleet as well as some 200 United-Continental domestic aircraft. The company’s new ViaSat-1 satellite will provide coverage over North America, east of the Mississippi River; this will be augmented and complemented by ViaSat’s WildBlue and Anik-F2 satellites west of the Mississippi.
Outside the United States, ViaSat is focused on providing intra-European and intra-Middle Eastern coverage via its satellite partners’ footprints, Eutelsat and Yahsat, respectively. But because Ka capacity supports direct-to-home TV broadcasts to populated regions, it is not yet available over high-trafficked, over-ocean air routes. Inmarsat’s Global Xpress solution, which is expected to be offered on commercial flights before the end of 2014, will change this paradigm.
Salem notes that Inmarsat has “adopted a very different strategy vis-à-vis of what we’re doing”. He suggests that ViaSat’s cost per megabyte “will be significantly lower than what they have”. That said, he adds: “They have a positive aspect in that they can provide Ka-band coverage all across the global, and Ka over regional centers.”
Should an airline customer press ViaSat for an immediate transatlantic or transpacific inflight connectivity solution, the company would present a hybrid Ku-Ka offering. ViaSat currently provides Ku-band connectivity – branded Yonder – to the business and government aviation sectors, and could offer Yonder for over-ocean coverage. But this would require development of a hybrid Ku-Ka antenna system.
“You can offer hybrids; we’ve talked about Ku-Ka hybrids in the past. Those have great technical solution(s), great benefits for a lot. You can also go Ka-only. There will be multiple Ka services out there so eventually you might be able to serve it all with just Ka and that’s even a better solution,” says Buchman.
Salem adds: “There are two antennas put together but done harmoniously in a manner they can work effortlessly; it would be seamless.”
Whilst ViaSat says it has the capacity to support inflight connectivity speeds of 12 Mbps over ViaSat-1, it stresses that the type of service ultimately offered to passengers will be dictated by its airline customers’ requirements.
JetBlue has said it will offer free inflight Wi-Fi until at least 30 aircraft are installed with the ViaSat system. Test flights are expected to begin before the end of the year, says Salem.
Meanwhile, ViaSat is also open to offering a Ku-only connectivity system for airlines “but obviously the economics would be every different”, says Salem.
He claims: “The price performance of Ka is radically different than Ku; the lowest possible bandwidth cost is over Ka. Roughly, our bandwidth cost will be one eight of the cost of Ku-band which equates to single-digit cents per megabyte for Ka.”
(Check out my video interview with Buchman below.)