Responding to statements that Ka-band might not be ready for 2012 deployment, ViaSat’s director for mobile broadband strategy and business development ripostes unequivocally that ViaSat “remains on track to fly in 2012 as promised.” And the cost? “Our Ka-band service in the US will be significantly less expensive than any Ku-band offering,” he tells Michael Childers.
In a recent article, Part 2 of which is being published in this edition, APEX NewsDigest published an interview with Howard Lefkowitz, chief commercial officer at Row 44, in which he expressed his views on the readiness of Ka-band connectivity for deployment in IFEC. Both Lefkowitz, and Aircell CEO Michael Small, expressed viewpoints which are decidedly different than those of ViaSat, a Carlsbad, California-based provider of Ka-band connectivity in IFEC with specific plans to deploy its connectivity solution in 2012, first on JetBlue, and then on Continental.
In order to give ViaSat the opportunity to respond to the comments of Mr. Lefkowitz and Mr. Small, the author of the earlier article(s), Michael Childers, interviewed Bill Sullivan, ViaSat’s director for mobile broadband strategy and business development, by phone while Sullivan was in Paris last week. Sullivan was succinct and unequivocal in saying that ViaSat “will fly in the summer of next year on an STC flight.”
We also asked Sullivan whether ViaSat has sufficient data to currently project the cost of providing its service. “We know exactly what it costs,” he replied. “Our Ka-band service in the US will be significantly less expensive than any Ku-band offering.” Sullivan is also confident that it would be easy for an airline to offer a service free, or bundled with other optional services. Sullivan believes that Ka-band can be priced “to drive usage” and says that the ViaSat high-capacity service is designed for that.
When asked whether the STC application for the connectivity solution has been filed, Sullivan deferred to LiveTV, expressing confidence in their partner’s ability to obtain certification of the equipment in time to meet ViaSat’s delivery schedule for the 2012 deployment by JetBlue and Continental.
Our interview with Bill Sullivan follows:
Question: Will there be coverage issues for Ka-band west of the Mississippi River and in the Midwest?
Answer: Absolutely not. We already have contiguous Ka-band satellite coverage over the entire continental U.S., sections of Southern Canada and Northern Mexico, as well as adjacent ocean waters up to a few hundred miles offshore. Today this coverage is provided using satellites that supply service to our WildBlue residential broadband customers. This summer we will be launching ViaSat-1 which will provide enormous amounts of additional bandwidth in areas where the traffic is most dense and the demand for bandwidth is the highest. Our system automatically manages aircraft access to these satellites to provide a seamless connectivity experience.
Q: There have been assertions that Ka-band won’t be ready for several years. When do you expect to be ready to install the first Ka-band terminals on commercial airliners?
A: It’s important to note that we are currently serving over 400,000 residential customers here in the U.S. Also, Eutelsat, using ViaSat Ka-band technology, just had a successful launch of its residential service in Europe using its recently launched KA-SAT satellite. So the notion that Ka-band technology is years away is simply incorrect. Our implementation of the Ka-band equipment for commercial airliners takes advantage of many of the elements of our consumer broadband system, and remains on track to fly in 2012 as promised.
Q: Why are you confident that the certification process for Ka-band equipment will be complete in this timeframe?
A: The equipment, service, and regulatory aspects of Ka-band for aeronautical use are no more complex than for Ku-band. ViaSat has more certified and licensed Ku broadband systems flying than all of our competitors combined today. Our partner, LiveTV, has hundreds of Ku-band TV systems flying today. Between ViaSat and LiveTV, there is a wealth of experience in certifying this sort of equipment – the right people are on the job.[When asked whether the STC application was filed, Sullivan deferred to LiveTV.]
Q: Will the size of the Ka-band satellite antenna cause excess drag on an airliner’s fuselage?
A: Our Ka-band antenna system is no larger than Ku-band antennas (TV or broadband) that routinely fly on hundreds of airliners today. There is nothing inherent in our Ka-band system that would drive an increase in drag relative to the widely accepted Ku systems.
Q: Will the new Ka-band in-flight terminal and antenna cost more than ATG or Ku-band terminal?
A: It is difficult to compare prices for the equipment associated with various offerings since business models can vary. For instance, a service provider can subsidize the equipment and attempt to recoup that expense over time using service revenues. However, when such subsidies are factored out of the equation, our Ka-band equipment price is equivalent to or less than that of Ku-band systems. The current ATG offerings use very simple blade antennas so they have a natural advantage in capex that, to
the extent those antennas are used, will always be there. As ATG providers seek to extract more capacity out of their very limited allocated bandwidth, the aircraft antennas will need to become more complex and the capex difference compared to satellite will diminish or go away completely.
Q: What do you say to those who maintain that many of the costs of Ka-band are unknown? Are there cost elements that are unknown to you?
A: We know exactly what it costs.
See Part 2 of the interview with ViaSat’s Bill Sullivan in the next APEX NewsDigest (to be published 18 July 2011).