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ViaSat’s New 1Tbps Broadband Satellite for the UK and EU Takes Shape

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 (9:21 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 1,016)
ViaSat 1 satelite spacecraft earth orbit

Aviation and technology company Boeing has completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) for the first two ViaSat-3 class satellites, which will be able to handle 1 Terabit per second of data and make it possible to offer 100Mbps packages to home users in the Americas, UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa.

The next generation Satellite was first unveiled at the start of this year (here) and this week’s announcement, which marks the first critical milestone toward confirming the ViaSat-3 satellites will satisfy performance specifications and requirements when operating in orbit around the Earth, reveals that its development is still on target for launch in 2019.

Just to put this new Satellite in some perspective, Eutelsat’s (Tooway) KA-SAT spacecraft was launched in 2010 (here) and can handle a total capacity of 90Gbps (Gigabits/sec); domestic broadband packages for this tend to offer download speeds of around 20-30Mbps with very limited usage allowances. Similarly the first ViaSat-1 Satellite launched in 2011 and could handle 130Gbps.

Both of the older Satellite platforms mentioned above were designed to handle around 1 million+ customers, which is one of the reasons why managing network capacity can be such a huge challenge for Satellite operators. This is particularly true during peak times, when heavy usage from lots of active customers can cause a significant slowdown.

The two ViaSat-3 class Satellite’s will be able to handle 1Tbps (1000Gbps) of network capacity each, which should make it possible for residential packages to have much bigger usage allowances and offer speeds of up to 100Mbps. A third ViaSat-3 class Satellite is also being planned for the Asia Pacific region.

Keven Lippert, ViaSat Executive VP of Satellite Systems, said:

“Almost one year into the ViaSat-3 program and we are on schedule with a solid satellite design. Once again, the ViaSat and Boeing teams are working really well together in a collaborative effort to continue to revolutionize satellite broadband communications. The ViaSat-3 satellite platform will provide enough capacity to deliver an affordable, high-speed, high-quality internet and video streaming service across the globe.”

Mark Spiwak, President of Boeing Satellite Systems, said:

“The ViaSat-3 class of satellites are the highest power payloads a Boeing-built 702 satellite platform has ever supported, coupled with the efficiency of all-electric propulsion. With a truly innovative design, the Boeing and ViaSat team have done a tremendous job working together to ensure that ViaSat-3’s latest program milestone is on time and that the team continues to push forward.”

On the other hand the new Satellite won’t overcome the age old problem of slow latency, which will always be an obstruction given the orbit / relay distance, and by 2019/20 the average data usage of a fixed line broadband connection will have also increased significantly.

According to Ofcom, people on 30Mbps+ capable “superfast” class home broadband connections gobbled an average of 112GB (data) per month in 2015 and this increased to 169GB in 2016 (here). The rise in 4K adoption by 2019 will no doubt cause that figure to surge, which could be difficult for ViaSat’s new platform to challenge.

Not to mention that by the end of 2019 some 60-65% of UK premises, mostly in urban areas, will already be able to receive a 300Mbps capable service from either Openreach (BT) via G.fast or Virgin Media’s DOCSIS based cable network. In fact if the new digital infrastructure fund and regulatory changes pan out then the coverage could be even higher thanks to input from alternative network providers.

However Satellite technology isn’t really designed to serve urban areas and instead the primary target is usually a combination of poorly served rural premises and or public / business transportation (aircraft, ships, high speed trains etc.).

Separately a new TNS survey of 2,012 adults in the UK for ViaSat has revealed that only 48% of consumers believe they can access 24Mbps+ broadband in their area, which is despite the estimated coverage of related networks reaching over 90% of premises. On top of that 28% of 16-24 year olds are worried about poor broadband affecting connectivity over Christmas, which rises to 36% for all respondents in London.

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11 Responses
  1. TWKND

    Satellite will be viable once the response time is below 100ms.

    • TWKND

      Which will obviously mean they’ll have to be closer to the surface.

    • craski

      If SpaceX plans for Low Earth Orbit satellites come to fruition that could be a good alternative.

    • Smaller LEOs won’t improve latency enough to truly overcome the problem and I think around 350ms+ is probably a more likely outcome in a real-world network. Better but still problematic and not all of this is the fault of the Satellite itself.

      The real challenges with smaller LEOs stem from the wider problem of maintaining unbroken coverage, as well as issues with speed / data capacity, maintenance costs and power. We’ll just have to wait and see what actually happens when the first real deployment starts, but I wouldn’t be expecting a miracle solution.

      Most of the investment in this sector still gravitates towards solutions based on big comms Satellites, largely because they get the job done and without the extra hassle.

    • craski

      <100ms latency has been mentioned is several recent articles but havent found a hard reference to it from SpaceX.

    • I’m aware, but they’ve said low theoretical figures for other LEO satellites before and yet the reality of whole-network provision (from the end-user and all the way back to source) usually increases the figure quite a bit. Some of the big name broadband Satellite’s today can theoretically do 200-300ms, but in reality it’s often more like 600ms or significantly higher.

      So I’d take the sub-100ms claim with a big pinch of salt until we see the network working under normal conditions.

  2. craski

    We all know satellite internet from geostationary orbit satellite has its problems but perhaps if the satellite operators didn’t cripple the service with such restrictive data allowances, it could be a viable alternative for those that don’t depend on low latency.

    Even at today’s headline speeds of 20-30 Mbps (on a good day), what use is it because if you use it at full speed for just a few hours you will have consumed your entire monthly data allowance.

  3. Optimist

    Would be very useful for communities in remote parts of the world which will never have submarine or terrestrial links.

  4. Billy

    Satellite internet travels at ~300,000,000 metres per second. Satellites are ~35,000,000 metres above us, so there and back is ~70,000,000 metres.
    So a ping sent to a satellite would take 233ms to get there and back without factoring in processing time.
    Sub 100ms latency from geostationary satellites requires at least 2 flux capacitors to achieve, although scientists are experimenting with a modified warp-drive but due to the high price of dilithium crystals, progress is very slow.

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