On October 20, this year, one of the most important connectivity events occurred… certainly with respect to US inflight connectivity, that is. ViaSat-1 was launched and is now in geosynchronous orbit. Why significant? Operating at Ka Band, ViaSat-1 will deliver 100 times the capacity of its Ku counterparts. Over the US, where ViaSat-1 plans to provide bandwidth, it will be via their Yonder service (branded as WildBlue, by their reseller). Using the ViaSat network will allow jetBlue to begin Ka Band service later in 2012. “ViaSat-1 is the highest capacity satellite ever launched,” noted Mike Moeller of LiveTV fame. This high bandwidth ‘bird’, in combination with Wild Blue service offering, will supply 70 US spot beams that will provide coverage over all the US (and most of high density Canada). The total data speed (thruput) is on the order of 140 GB/sec so it is a flying Internet solution waiting to happen! Developed for ground and airborne service, the user base for ViaSat’s Yonder (WildBlue) service will benefit from the delivery of up to 15 MBps to homes. Consequently, airlines like jetBlue and United Continental have bought in. Readers should should also note that aircraft service will be operating on the order of 20 to 60 MBps per plane.

IFExpress was lucky to glean a few charts that tell a good part of the supply & demand story from Moeller. These charts, while marked ‘LiveTV Confidential’ have been approved by Mike for all our readers to view and we encourage you to check them out as they tell the story of “Why Ka Band for Inflight Connectivity” – in nice chart form. (Note: These charts are both old and new from the LiveTV repository and, while some data is out of date, watch the trends.)

Chart 1 – The “Scissors chart”. The trend is obvious, and while some of the data is outdated, the trend and issues remain the same – mobile connectivity Internet users continue to want free connectivity and they are getting greater connection speed for less money every day. Freer airport Wi-Fi trends are proof of this sea change.

Chart 2 – Quantitatively, the cost per megabyte is dropping on the ground, but as Moeller likes to point out, while the effective (and this is rough) Ku Band data offerings hover between $.30 and $.40 a message, ground users are working at $.01 or less effective message pricing. Based on the LiveTV/ViaSat model, their service is targeted at around $.05 per MB message. The message here is: greater bandwidth and a better footprint over the US permit economies of scale in situation where booth Ku and Ka compete equally.

Chart 3 – Programs underway as noted above. The US map is a graphical representation of Ka Band spot beam service, with the red polygons representing Yonder today, and the blue polygons indicate the additional coverage offered by ViaSat-1. ViaSat-1 is also pictured in this chart. You will note that there is going to be a lot of Ka Bandwidth available over the US next year.

Chart 4 – The LiveTV Global TV initiative that will launch later in 2012. Yes, it is a Ku Band service, consequently, there is going to be a lot of R&D in antenna radomes that offer minimal signal attenuation at both Ka and Ku frequencies!

Chart 5 – Proposed global Inmarsat service is shown in this chart and it is obvious there are Ka Band signal density differences over land, but we believe there is a lot of Inmarsat signal concentration over water, which is designated for shipping but will serve aircraft. As far as we know, the initial LiveTV/ViaSat Ka Band offerings will occur over the US first and Europe second. Over water service at Ka Band, at least initially, will be redirected to Ku Band birds.

It is not going to be all uphill for the Ka crowd, however. Issues like the requirement for increased, onboard antenna, beam pointing accuracy will surely increase the cost of the airborne hardware. Television service will not be the focus at Ka band as the systems will be built for transceivers… transmit and receive which may also bias the economies. While fine for two-way communication, streaming TV will most probably be better suited for other satellites operating at Ku Band.

As Mike likes to say, “This is a high risk, high reward game.” IFExpress would like to point out that only one part of this syllogism is guaranteed.

Ponder Yonder with these additional links:
http://www.tele-satellite.us/TELE-satellite-0709/eng/feature.pdf
http://www.starlancs.com/EducateMe/educate_wb_vsat_tech.html
http://www.dbsinstall.com/GeneralInfo/Satellite_TV_Frequency_Bands.asp

(Editor’s Note: IFExpress would like to thank ViaSat’s Bruce Rowe for the Proton launch and preflight photo’s you might not have seen elsewhere.)