NBAA Convention News

Viasat Select Lowers Broadband Satcom Costs

 - October 11, 2021, 5:00 AM
Viasat's GAT-5510 airborne satcom terminal is installed in this Challenger 350, and the 12-inch parabolic antenna is mounted under the radome on top of the vertical stabilizer. (Photo: Matt Thurber/AIN)

Satellite operator Viasat (Booth 1023) has launched regional and global service plans for its Ka-band satcom, giving aircraft operators new options for high-speed service with lower prices when global connectivity isn’t needed. The new Viasat Select includes global and regional service plans with no speed limits on its Ka-band network.

The GAT-5510 airborne terminal needed to access Viasat’s Ka-band satellites is designed for installation in super-midsize and larger business jets and comprises three LRUs: the 12-inch parabolic antenna, modem, and power supply, at a total installed weight of about 50 pounds. Viasat is vertically integrated and builds the hardware, including the airborne terminal and satellite payloads, and provides the connectivity service. Value-added reseller partners are also able to provide Viasat service to their customers.

“The pain point we heard is that customers don’t like data caps and speed limits,” said Claudio D’Amico, Viasat business area director, business aviation. Select not only offers customized regional and global service plans but all of the capability available can be accessed by all Select customers. An operator with a regional plan covering North America, for example, can pay less than $3,000 per month and still receive the same no-speed limit, high-throughput service as a customer paying much more for a global unlimited plan. The lower-cost plan does have data caps, but no hit on speed.

“You can select a plan to match your operational profile,” he said. “And you get the same performance across the service plans. It’s different pricing [for the plans] but we’re not changing the performance.”

The Ka-band service on the Viasat satellites typically runs at about 20 Mpbs, but after Viasat lifted speed limitations last year some customers have seen much higher numbers, some as high as 80 Mbps. Next year, Viasat will launch the first of three Terabit-per-second ViaSat-3 satellites, which will add more capacity to its Ka-band network, which now runs on two satellites (ViaSat-1 and -2). The first ViaSat-3 will add to the existing coverage area mostly over North America, while the second will supplement coverage in Europe and the third will add the Asia-Pacific region. Viasat also has coverage in Brazil through a partnership with Telebrás. “We’re delivering coverage on 90 percent of business aviation travel routes,” D’Amico said, “and focusing capacity on where the heavy travel routes are. With ViaSat-3, we will be able to enhance and expand that.”

An interesting feature of Viasat’s new lower-cost offerings is that they tie in perfectly with developments in avionics and advanced air mobility, where aircraft need to be connected full-time to the internet. Honeywell’s recent announcement of its next-generation Anthem avionics suite is one such example. Viasat and other satellite-based connectivity systems provide coverage to the ground, unlike air-to-ground systems that use cell-tower antennas, and this capability is also necessary for cloud-connected avionics like Anthem.

“Anthem is trying to solve customer problems and make flight simpler for pilots,” D’Amico said. “Honeywell is putting computing in the cloud, so less hardware is required in the airplane, and there are better features across platforms. That’s in line with what we’re trying to do with Viasat. We’re trying to provide a solution with flexibility, performance, and value to operators.”

To demonstrate Viasat’s service in a super-midsize jet platform, this writer traveled with Viasat from Portland, Oregon, to Harry Reid International Airport in a Bombardier Challenger 350 equipped with the Viasat Ka-band satcom. The five passengers and two pilots were all connecting multiple devices to the system, and testing included running FaceTime video calls, YoutubeTV streaming video, sending and receiving emails with attachments, Slack messaging, and other tasks. I did a speed test while we were all using the satcom and saw 12 Mbps download and 0.68 Mbps upload speeds, and this was while the multiple devices were connected.

While some critics of geostationary (high) orbit satcom systems say that signal delays cause too much latency that slows the transmission of information, this wasn’t the case during this flight. “I hear a lot about other satellite constellations and latency,” D’Amico said, “but how does that change the experience?” If the user is able to stream live video and get work done with geostationary satellites and doesn’t see any latency effect, he added, “we don’t see it as a big problem.”