Australia could host ground infrastructure for next-gen Viasat satellite

Company seeks to fend off telco efforts to grab more mmWave spectrum

Australia is a potential site for ground infrastructure to support a next generation ViaSat satellite, but the company says that decision may be contingent on the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) knocking back a bid by telcos to get access to spectrum in the 28GHz band.

Viasat, which in Australia provides ground infrastructure for NBN Co’s Sky Muster satellites, today announced that it had signed an agreement with Boeing to build the third ViaSat-3 satellite bus platform (Viasat builds the satellite payload itself).

ViaSat-3 APAC is part of a planned global constellation of three third-generation Viasat Ka-band satellites, which will each be able to deliver approximately a terabit of capacity. The other two ViaSat-3 satellites, which will cover the Americas and Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), are already under construction.

ViaSat-3 APAC will be capable of delivering gigabit-speed services for maritime operations and enterprises, according to Viasat.

“It completes our constellation of three ultra-high-capacity satellites, and with that we’re delivering our high-speed connectivity at affordable rates,” said Pete Girvan, Viasat’s APAC vice-president. “Our whole concept is about driving the cost of bandwidth down so we can move into a lot more markets.”

The three satellites are expected to be launched by the end of 2022.

“Globally, the economic impact of the internet on society hasn’t been realized yet, as there are still too many rural and urban communities without access to high-quality broadband,” said Viasat president and COO Rick Baldridge

“Satellite is a critical part of the broadband ecosystem — as it is the most economical and sustainable way to serve billions of people with fast, high-value connectivity services.” 

The constellation will also boost Viasat’s ability to offer high-speed Internet services on long-haul international flights, Girvan said.

At the moment in Australia the company delivers high-speed connections on Qantas domestic routes using Ka-band spectrum (and NBN Co’s satellites), but there’s no equivalent service for international routes — where connectivity is often “very spotty, it’s not as high speed, typically it’s using Ku band satellites, which are more narrowband than Ka,” Girvan said.

The commercial air business is going “gangbusters” for Viasat, Girvan added. Another business enjoying rapid growth is the company’s community Wi-Fi service, which supports up to 100 users on a single hotspot in small communities.

“We’ve been adding 600 sites a month in Mexico for community Wi-Fi,” he said. “We see that as a key service we can bring to Asia for places like Indonesia, the Philippines, India.”

Viasat also has also enjoyed significant defence deals in the US and Australia.

Girvan said that Viasat believes it is “critically important” in Australia that the 28GHz band is reserved for satellites.

“These satellites that we’re launching are the world’s biggest capacity satellites from a throughput point of view – and the only way you can get that throughput is that you take all of your bottlenecks out of your system.

“We design and build the ground infrastructure and the satellite infrastructure as a system and we take all the bottlenecks out of that end to end system.”

The ACMA last year began consulting on the future of the 28GHz band (covering 27.5GHz to 29.5GHz). The band is currently allocated for satellite services and point-to-point links. However, around the world telcos are also interested in using the band and other so-called ‘mmWave’ bands to support 5G services.

In Australia, the ACMA has also been looking at accelerating the release of spectrum in 26GHz band for use in 5G.

For the 28GHz band, the regulator has outlined a number of potential scenarios for its future: A single service using the majority of the spectrum, services being assigned exclusive spectrum in the band, geographic separation of services, sharing of spectrum, or a hybrid approach based on some combination of the other four scenarios.

“To support this satellite we need ground infrastructure,” Girvan said. “At the moment we think Australia is a good, solid location for that network and we are talking to infrastructure providers about how we would put that in.”

However, that may be dependent on the ACMA’s decision, he said. “You need spectrum from the ground station up to the satellite and then you need other spectrum from the satellite down to the users.”

“The satellite is a fixed cost, the ground infrastructure is a fixed cost; if I lose capacity then obviously my cost of bandwidth goes up,” he said.

Both Telstra and Optus have indicated they support some kind of hybrid approach to the band.

“The risk at the moment is people consider satellite a rural technology only,” Girvan said. “But if you look at businesses like commercial aviation — the trend with the customers is they want gate to gate service, and airports are by definition close to population centres.”

An approach that uses geographic separation with spectrum allocated to 5G services in cities and satellite in rural areas, would rule out a gate-to-gate service, he argued. He also said that in the US Viasat had 600,000 residential users on its satellites: “A high proportion of those consumers are not in rural centres – they’re still in metro areas that are hard to get to with cable.”

“The point we’re trying to make is that it’s very difficult from a satellite point of view if you hive off the country and the city and you have two separate rules,” he said.

(Girvan said he wouldn’t rule out the potential for Viasat to launch consumer services in Australia, which could potentially be as a wholesaler, through partners or directly.)

“We’re not anti-5G – we’re very supportive of 5G,” Girvan added. “We just believe there’s plenty of spectrum available for 5G and that [telcos] don’t need the 28GHz.”

In addition to the ACMA conducting third-round consultations on the 26GHz band, the regulator recently auctioned off 3.6GHz spectrum for 5G services.

The current International Telecommunication Union position backs 28GHz for satellite, Girvan said, although he acknowledged that in APAC both South Korea and Japan have earmarked spectrum in the band for 5G services.

“We think that’s a little short-sighted,” he said. “They’re very advanced countries so they don’t have a lot of rural requirements for satellite,” he added, and in the case of South Korea have a powerful mobile lobby thanks to Samsung.

“We think from the perspective of commercial air, for example, it’s a very short-sighted decision,” he said. “They’re very advanced countries with very advanced air services, and if you’ve allocated all of 28GHz to 5G, you’re going to have a lot of problems with gate-to-gate air services, for example.”

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Tags NetworkingTelecommunicationssatelliteAustralian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)spectrumMobility & WirelessViaSat5GmmWave

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