Satellite specialist ViaSat is growing its Exede in the Air Ka-band satellite communications coverage to offer huge data capacity across an increasing area of the globe, enabling both airline and business aircraft passengers to access the kind of connectivity that has become commonplace in everyday life. “We’re focused on providing the same experience in the air as on the ground,” said James Person, director of global business development. “We need to match an exponential demand for data.”
For more than a decade ViaSat has supplied Ku-band connectivity, provided for much of the globe through its Yonder brand. Moving to Ka-band allows for far greater capacity, and the company is expanding its coverage both in terms of area and in data delivery rate.
In 2011 the company launched ViaSat 1 to provide Ka-band coverage for the United States. Its 140-GB capacity greatly exceeds that of other current Ka-band satellites, and was more than sufficient for launch airline customer JetBlue to offer full internet services on its fleet. ViaSat 1 employs 72 spot beams that seamlessly cover the “lower 48,” with beams of varying individual area coverages to cater for different regions, with the densest coverage over East and West Coast corridors. “We put the highest capacity where it’s needed most,” explained Person.
ViaSat has partnered with Eutelsat to provide Ka-band coverage for Europe through the KA-SAT satellite, which has a capacity of nearly 100 GB. Next year ViaSat 2 will be launched, with more than double the capacity of the ViaSat 1. As well as significantly adding to capacity over the U.S., area coverage is greater, too, extending to Canada, the Caribbean, Central America and, crucially, the North Atlantic.
When ViaSat 2 comes on line, Ka-band coverage will seamlessly bridge the gap between the two existing satellites, a gap that is one of the busiest in terms of business and commercial aviation. Ka-band coverage is also being extended to Australia when partner NBN launches a satellite in the coming months.
For passengers of aircraft with Exede in the Air installed, the high capacity allows full internet capabilities, including live streaming and video conferencing, which can be conducted simultaneously alongside numerous other internet functions. ViaSat (Booth C025) is demonstrating this capability at the EBACE show, having installed a terminal on the roof of the show building, linked to the KA-SAT satellite.
Yonder Ku-band equipment has proved popular, and is installed on many business aircraft of Challenger size and above, and has recently been selected as the sole source for Ku-band provision for Gulfstream’s large jets. The Ka-band terminal in its bizjet application employs a similar 12-inch dish antenna as the Ku-band system, and can be mounted alongside to provide dual capability, interacting to provide ‘best available network’ capability. The Gulfstream, for instance, has sufficient room in its fin fairing to accommodate both terminals in tandem.
As well as courting OEMs, ViaSat also works with MRO companies to install its terminals in individual aircraft undergoing refit and upgrade. The company already has orders for the Exede in the Air system, and work is ongoing on new supplemental type certificates for the radome modification.
ViaSat is also planning for even greater capacity. “It’s easy to think linearly, but in this business you have to think exponentially,” explained Person. “We know this isn’t going to be enough capacity for even five years’ time.”