Viasat Removes Connectivity Speed Limits

 - July 8, 2020, 10:48 AM

Viasat has eliminated “internet speed limits” for business aviation customers of its Ka-band satcom network, and some customers have already reported seeing airborne connectivity speed tests of 30 to 40 Mbps. “We removed a software limit, which takes place in a ‘traffic shaper’ in our satellite network,” explained James Person, director of business development and strategy for the satcom operator. 

Viasat’s initial Ka-band satcom services peaked at 16 Mbps and this was available even for the smallest aircraft that can accommodate the Viasat airborne hardware—super-midsize business jets such as the Gulfstream G280 and Embraer Praetor 500/600. Members of Viasat’s customer advisory board asked if more speed might be available, and it turned out that Viasat’s network had “massive amounts of capacity,” Person said. “Why not open that for our business jet customers?”

The traffic shaper limited the capability of the network for end-users, and once that was removed the full capacity became available to business aviation operators. “Instead of artificially constraining the internet experience,” he said, “now it will go up to whatever capacity is available in our satellite beams and the hardware in the aircraft.”

When the extra capacity became available recently, Viasat didn’t tell customers and some called wondering why they were seeing such high speeds and if the system was working properly. 

Person explained that the move to open up the Viasat capacity “isn’t to wow people with high results of speed tests, but more in line with how people use the internet.” Customers now expect airborne internet access to match their experiences at well-connected homes and offices. Streaming content such as movies or large email attachments start buffering quicker on the aircraft and download much faster. “When you start to download, you will appreciate having no speed limits,” he said.

Viasat is unique among satcom network operators in that it also provides the airborne hardware. Its system comprises just three LRUs that can fit on midsize and larger business jets, thanks to the 12-inch antenna. The hardware fits outside the pressure vessel and doesn’t require space in the baggage compartment. The airborne hardware is also forward compatible with Viasat’s next Ka-band satellite network, ViaSat-3, which quadruples the capacity of ViaSat-2 satellites. The ViaSat-3 network is planned to begin service next year. 

To accommodate growing customer data needs with the new capacity and speed, Viasat has added a new 200 GB service plan, double the previous maximum plan size of 100 GB. “It’s effectively an unlimited plan,” Person said. “It would be hard for an operator who flies less than 120 hours per month to use that much.” 

The top tier 100 and 200 GB plans also include unlimited streaming, which doesn’t count against the plan’s data. This eliminates the need for installation of a separate television system and antenna, he explained. The unlimited streaming, for example, covers services such as YouTubeTV, Hulu, Disney+, and others that provide access to television channels. This is especially attractive for smaller airplanes, he said, which don’t have space to accommodate a separate TV antenna.

Prices for the Viasat airborne hardware start at about $400,000, including a router such as the Satcom Direct Router or Honeywell’s Forge Router.