Given the amount of talkability around Viasat’s high-capacity Ka-band satellite-supported inflight connectivity service in civil aviation, one could be forgiven for assuming that the firm is entirely focused on Ka. But the Carlsbad, California-based satellite operator and aero ISP’s near global Ku service for business jets — previously called Yonder but rebranded as Viasat Ku Advanced — is in fact continuing to add Ku subscribers today with the option to transition to Viasat’s Ka-band system in the future.
“We’re still adding Ku-band customers. We call it Ku Advanced now because you know we continue to upgrade that solution. It used to be a 1.5 Mbps solution and now operators can get up to 10 Mbps on that,” noted Viasat’s head of sales and business development – business and VVIP aviation, James Person, at the recent NBAA-BACE conference and exhibition in Las Vegas.
He used the Gulfstream G450 as an example. “They don’t make them anymore, but it came out of a Gulfstream factory with a Ku-band radome and so for an operator saying ‘you know I want to put something on’, it’s a great value option. We have MROs who can put a Viasat Ku system on a G450 for around $250,000-$275,000 and then get service.”
By installing the near global Viasat Ku Advanced solution on aircraft, operators are effectively primed to eventually accept Viasat’s Ka kit as and when they are ready. “If someone puts on our Ku Advanced system today it reuses the same power wiring and it reuses the same mounting holes. It’s three LRUs,” explained Person. “They take those three LRUs off, they put the other three new Viasat Ka LRUs in the same place using the same mounting holes, the same wiring. They’ll have to do a new radome though right, a Ka-band radome, but it makes it very simple and we give them a hardware discount when they switch. They get a trade-in credit basically.”
This is the type of arrangement that attracted Flexjet to Viasat. In June of this year, the leader in fractional private jet travel agreed to provide Viasat’s Ka-band IFC service on its Embraer Praetor 600 super-mid cabin fleet, which serves transatlantic and domestic European routes. Viasat noted at the time that Flexjet could expect speeds typically greater than 20 Mbps, enabling passengers to do the same connected activities in the air as they do on the ground, including video, music and TV streaming, video calls, browsing, email, and VPN. But Flexjet also selected Viasat Ku Advanced for its long-range Bombardier Global and G450 and G650 aircraft with an ability to adopt Ka down the road.
Flexjet Chief Operating Officer Megan Wolf said the firm appreciated Viasat’s satellite roadmap “which would ensure the IFC investments we’re making today will meet the increasing data demands of tomorrow”.
Viasat’s Ka-band footprint is presently supported by its high-capacity ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2 satellites in North America (the latter also covers transatlantic air and maritime routes to Europe) and the KA-SAT satellite in Europe, for which it now has full control. The company will be able to offer global Ka coverage including in the Asia-Pacific region when it completes the build-out of its three-satellite ViaSat-3 constellation; the first satellite is scheduled to launch in early 2022.
“[W]e don’t cover Ka in Asia as an example yet. And so, we have a lot of people who fly their G650s or their Globals to Asia and they have either done Ku Advanced or dual-band (KuKa),” noted Person. “So, we can do a dual band similar to what we do on the airlines where we have a KuKa ray antenna. In a business jet we actually put on two different antennas — a complete Ku system and a Ka system,” said Person.
He revealed that Viasat has “a lot of high-tech companies and banks” which have opted for the dual-band configuration by “adding Ku to their existing Ka” to support near global connectivity.
In time, with the launch of the ViaSat-3 constellation — particularly the third satellite for the Asia-Pacific region — Viasat anticipates an even greater shift to its Ka offering.
Until then, Viasat offers both its Ku Advanced and dual-band solutions for operators seeking global coverage. It faces robust competition in the BizAv IFC sector. Collins Aerospace is offering its new Ku-band LuxStream service, in partnership with satellite operator SES. Intelsat provides its Ku-band FlexExec service through Satcom Direct. And Inmarsat provides its near global Ka-band Jet ConneX service. In the US, specifically, Viasat is also competing with air-to-ground solutions from stalwart provider Gogo Business Aviation and new entrant SmartSky Networks.
For many operators, the coverage provided by Viasat’s standalone Ka solution — available via value added resellers Collins Aerospace, Honeywell and Satcom Direct, and directly from Viasat with some compelling new plans — is completely sufficient. Person noted to RGN that roughly 90 percent of business aviation flight hours happen between North America and Europe, and that’s exactly where Viasat presently has a Ka footprint.
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Featured image credited to Flexjet