Author(s): Raghu Gopal
This week, California-based ViaSat announced that it was developing a system to enable high-speed Internet connectivity via satellite.
A UN report estimates that there are currently 3.2 billion people online, representing just 43 percent of the global population. ViaSat is looking to boost these numbers by enabling connectivity in all locations.
The company offers an array of services to enterprise clients, military customers and consumers, powering high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi on commercial aircraft operated by Jet Blue, Virgin America and United Airlines in the US, for example. ViaSat also provides satellite-based broadband access through its Exede Internet service, which the firm says already has 687,000 residential subscribers in the US.
ViaSat's newest satellites — expected to be launched in 2019 — will be able to deliver 100 Mbps service to remote areas all over the world. The company envisions field workers such as those on oil and gas platforms to be key users, but also sees the satellites as an affordable way to bring Wi-Fi to the billions of unconnected in emerging markets. ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg stated that the company's new system will do what's "been impossible in the telecommunications industry — combining enormous network capacity with global coverage and dynamic flexibility to allocate resources according to geographic demand".
The firm isn't alone in thinking beyond standard Internet delivery, with SpaceX and Virgin Galactic pursuing efforts to provide Internet access using satellites. Alphabet plans to deliver connectivity using solar-powered drones and massive balloons (see Daily Insight Loon Launch), and is working with the Indonesian government for trials with the country's three largest operators to integrate the balloons into their networks. Facebook is also launching solar-powered drones, partnering with French satellite operator Eutelsat to bring Internet connectivity to sub-Saharan Africa.
These initiatives are more than just goodwill, as they could eventually unlock hundreds of millions of new customers. Not everyone lives a stone's throw from a fibre connection, and it will take unconventional techniques to create a truly digital world.