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ViaSat's New Satellite Launch Furthers Reach of High-Speed Internet

ViaSat said the new $625 million satellite will allow it to offer residential satellite internet plans with up to 100 megabits per second speeds and virtually unlimited data use.

(TNS) -- ViaSat’s latest internet satellite blasted into space Thursday afternoon, furthering the Carlsbad company’s strategy of delivering high-speed broadband to more homes and commercial airlines for in-flight Wi-Fi.

ViaSat-2, which at 14,149 pounds is the size of four sedans, launched from Guiana Space Center on an Ariane 5 rocket. It was supposed to enter orbit on April 25, but civil unrest in French Guiana delayed blast off until Thursday.

With more than 300 gigabits per second of maximum capacity, ViaSat-2 has more than twice the bandwidth of the company’s first internet satellite, ViaSat-1, launched six years ago. It’s the highest capacity communications satellite ever launched, according to the company.

ViaSat-2 represents the latest test to the company’s strategy of engineering satellites to maximize speed and low-cost bandwidth in hopes of mitigating concerns over latency — the delays as signals travel from space to Earth that can bog down some real-time applications such as online gaming.

ViaSat held a blast-off party at its corporate headquarters Thursday, where several hundred employees and guests watched a live stream of the launch.

“With ViaSat-2, we set out to solve this problem of how do we get capacity and coverage,” said Chief Operating Officer Rick Baldridge. “We were able to do that. ViaSat-2 has over seven times the coverage of ViaSat-1.”

ViaSat said the new $625 million satellite, which was built by Boeing Satellite Systems in El Segundo, will allow it to offer residential satellite internet plans with up to 100 megabits per second speeds and virtually unlimited data use — challenging cable and telephone line internet in some regions.

That beats ViaSat’s current baseline plans, which start at 12 megabits per second but have usage caps around 10 gigabits per month.

Launched in 2011, ViaSat-1 is full with 660,000 subscribers. It will take several months to test and position ViaSat-2 in its orbital slot 22,000 miles above Earth. The company expects to begin offering service in January.

Competitor Hughes Network Systems, owned by EchoStar, already launched its second high capacity internet satellite, giving it about a seven-month head start on ViaSat-2.

But analysts say there’s room for both. About 14 million U.S. households are outside the footprint of cable or telephone company high speed internet services. But only 1.7 million currently subscribe to satellite internet, according to Northern Sky Research.

For commercial flights, ViaSat-2 aims to deliver 25 megabit speeds or better to each passenger airplane, and widen geographic coverage beyond the U.S. The satellite’s footprint reaches the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, parts of South America and across the Atlantic.

Once in Europe, ViaSat-2 would hand off in-flight Wi-Fi to satellites of partner Eutelsat, but the switch would be seamless to users, the company said.

“In fact, with ViaSat-2, you’ll be able to fly from the U.S. West Coast all the way across the Atlantic and through Europe to the Middle East with ViaSat’s network,” said David Abrahamian, director of space systems at ViaSat.

The company currently powers free inflight Wi-Fi on JetBlue, as well as some American Airlines and United Airlines commercial aircraft. More than 550 aircraft use its technology today, which is fast enough for passengers to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime video on their mobile devices in the air.

About 830 additional commercial aircraft are in the pipeline to be retrofitted with antennas for ViaSat-powered onboard Wi-Fi.

Northern Sky Research forecasts in-flight connectivity will be installed on two out of every three commercial passenger aircraft worldwide by the end of 2026, driven by higher demand for broadband connectivity. The industry research firm said inflight Wi-Fi could generate $32 billion in revenue over the next decade.

While ViaSat pushed the market toward faster in-flight Wi-Fi, competitors are fighting back. Gogo, a Chicago company that provides cellular-based ground-to-air Wi-Fi to airlines, has developed a new antenna and leased space on existing satellites to provide faster speeds. It is battling with ViaSat and others for a pending Wi-Fi upgrade contract at Alaska Airlines, according to analysts.

ViaSat-2 isn’t the end for the company. It’s currently building payloads for ViaSat-3 – a three satellite constellation slated to begin launching in 2019.

Each ViaSat-3 satellite will have 1 terabit-per-second maximum capacity – more than triple that of ViaSat-2. When all are in orbit, the company will have global coverage.

“What’s really important is ViaSat-2 is a stepping stone to ViaSat-3, said Baldridge. “Two of those satellites are already under construction with our Boeing partner. We just can’t wait to get there in a couple years.”

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.