The U.S. battle for broadband

Many U.S. residents face the same problem Australia is grappling with: consumers without access to high-speed internet.

On top of that, there are tens of millions of American’s whose cable or DSL services are not as good as they would like them to be, said Keven Lippert, executive vice president and general counsel for Carlsbad, California-based ViaSat.

Unlike in Australia, however, there is no national campaign to connect all consumers. Instead, the battle is being waged by commercial firms like ViaSat and Hughes Network Systems that are preparing near-term solutions, as well as firms that have announced plans to launch constellations of hundreds or thousands of satellites to provide broadband worldwide, including OneWeb, Boeing and SpaceX.

Growing U.S. demand for broadband is prompting Englewood, Colorado-based EchoStar Corp.’s Hughes Network Systems division to launch EchoStar 19, a Ka-band satellite with multiple spot beams, that also is called Jupiter 2. With that satellite’s launch in December on a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Hughes will more than double its available broadband capacity, Mike Cook, Hughes Network System’s senior vice president for North American sales and marketing, said by email.

ViaSat also plans to expand its service in the United States with ViaSat-2, a Ka-band satellite scheduled to launch during the first quarter of 2017 aboard an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana. ViaSat-2 will provide customers in the United States, Mexico, Central America and the Atlantic Ocean with higher-speed internet connections and more bandwidth, whether they are in their home and businesses or traveling on commercial airlines equipped with ViaSat’s in-flight service, Lippert said.

In 2020, ViaSat plans to dramatically bolster U.S. broadband capacity with the first satellite in its ViaSat-3 constellation, which it plans to launch in late 2019 or early 2020 on an Ariane 5. ViaSat-3 ultra-high capacity satellites are designed to provide consumers with 100 megabit per second residential internet service, which is fast enough to stream high-definition videos, and speeds of one gigabit per second for businesses. With those speeds, ViaSat will be able to compete not only for customers in rural areas, but also for people in more heavily populated areas that have access to other internet service options, Lippert said.

Still, ViaSat will have to work to convince customers accustomed to terrestrial and wireless services to switch to satellite-based broadband because some of the older space-based services have a bad reputation for being too slow or unreliable, Lippert said.

“Service is finally getting to the point where it’s good, and we are going to make it better,” he added.