ViaSat's global Ku-band connectivity plan progresses

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A joint effort by ViaSat and KVH Industries to provide Ku-band-based connectivity around the globe has taken another leap forward with the turning on of mobile broadband service to aircraft and sea vessels crossing the Pacific Ocean.

The new coverage area includes Alaska, the west coasts of Canada and the USA, Hawaii, and extends into Asia.

"We've added that to the networks we already have in North America, Europe, the North Atlantic and the Caribbean" says ViaSat strategy director Bill Sullivan.

Last summer ViaSat and KVH reached a 10-year agreement to establish a global Ku-band mobile broadband network for aircraft and ships using ViaSat's ArcLight high-efficiency technology. Under the agreement, KVH sells into the maritime market and ViaSat sells into the aviation market.

Together, the two firms are establishing ArcLight spread spectrum mobile broadband networks in a series of new regions. KVH took the lead on the Pacific Ocean, says Sullivan.

More regions will be added "incrementally over time". For example, an ArchLight network is now operating for demonstration purposes in Japan, representing a first step towards offering service in Southeast Asia.

When it comes to operating the satellite network, however, ViaSat "operates the whole thing" and manages all the regions as one global network, says Sullivan.

The service is currently accessible to boats, yachts and ships and to business jets. But ViaSat is also focused on offering it to commercial airlines. "We are very, very interested in airline opportunities. I think we are really well positioned to support an airline," says Sullivan, highlighting ViaSat's coverage expansion and the fact that its system is "regulatory friendly" with North American and European licenses already in place.

ViaSat also has invaluable experience as a supplier of the receiver/transmitter subsystem for now-defunct Connexion by Boeing. Later ViaSat was contracted by Arinc to develop and manufacture the airborne system for the SKYLink broadband service for business jets.

Nonetheless, the company is cautious about taking significant financial risk on its own to bring Ku-band connectivity to airlines. "We are not going to make a huge investment or take a 'build it and they will come approach', which is kind of what Connexion by Boeing did," says Sullivan.

"We are working with potential partners and potential airline customers to find ways to bring that together."

Former Connexion customer Lufthansa has made clear that it plans to reinstate in-flight Internet service on overseas flights this year.

The German carrier "will be the only airline for quite a while who will run a new broadband [system] over water again in 2009", Lufthansa VP, the Americas Jens Bischof said last week.

The MELCO antennas already installed on two thirds of Lufthansa's intercontinental fleet will remain in place to support the new service, says Bischof. "We will try to use as much of our installation [as possible]," he says.

Lufthansa has not confirmed its Internet partners. But sources say a grouping comprised of T-Mobile, ViaSat, antenna maker AeroSat and others are working with the carrier.

Sullivan does not confirm if ViaSat is involved. "All I can really say is we are really well positioned to play a role in that because we understand the Connexion by Boeing system really well. And we have networks in place that can support them pretty much immediately."