2020: The year in Viasat technology news

Looking back on some of the top technology stories of 2020 on the Viasat Blog.


As we head into the New Year, we’re looking back on some of the top stories of 2020 on the Viasat Blog. In this post, we focus on stories about our technology.

March 25

Viasat optimizes its network; keeps customers connected during the COVID-19 crisis

As more subscribers worked and learned from home, we implemented new optimization and web acceleration techniques to mitigate network congestion. These changes prioritized critical business and education applications so they got preferential access compared to other high-bandwidth traffic, like gaming and entertainment video streaming.

That’s important since many of the people who use our network had few other options to be connected – and connectivity can literally represent a lifeline now.

Our “data pipe from space” was fully open, allowing maximum bandwidth to be transmitted from our satellites traveling 22,500 miles above the Earth’s surface to homes, businesses, airplanes, ships and more.

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March 25

Viasat’s remote access network encryption solution helps governments, first responders and warfighters stay securely connected during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the pandemic, governments and militaries faced enormous new challenges, including how to ensure employees can still securely access sensitive or classified information that keeps nations safe.

To help government and military personnel working from home and other remote areas, Viasat delivered a specific network encryption solution designed to help government employees, first responders, elected officials and warfighters securely access data from any location equipped with a personal, public or private broadband network.

Viasat’s network encryption products use signature technology that is designed to safeguard sensitive information across today’s battlespace —from the cloud to the tactical edge.

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April 16

Viasat gives military ability to operate across multiple satellite networks

Viasat’s Hybrid Adaptive Network (HAN) SATCOM concept was designed with the U.S. Space Force’s Enterprise SATCOM vision in mind. The Space Force announced in early 2020 its vision for a single integrated SATCOM enterprise that will enhance integration between the military and private sectors, with a goal to enable warfighters with the ability to transition between their networks and terminals to alternate resources with little or no disruption.

Rather than waiting for a program of record, Viasat took proactive steps to enhance the flexibility of its existing satellite services by deploying open architecture hybrid terminals for U.S. DoD users. In February 2020, Viasat’s KuKa2/M3 Global Aero Terminal (GAT-5530) — which already supports operations across commercial Ku and commercial and military Ka satellite networks — reached a key milestone by successfully adapting the iDirect Open Antenna Modem Interface Protocol (AMIP). This enables third-party modems to interoperate with the KuKa2/M3 terminal and operate on third-party satellite networks.

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May 5

Internet traffic surge prompts engineers to get creative

Viasat’s satellites worked hard to beam bits to customers and meet rising demand, and the company’s engineers came up with novel ways to keep the quality of service high.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Viasat’s engineers gave priority to real-time business communications applications like Google Plus, Zoom, WebEx and others; educational sites; as well as social networking apps like Facebook, because that’s often where people turn to keep up with friends and relatives during the outbreak.

Viasat’s engineers are also prioritizing “network storage.” That includes Google Drive, which is key because so many students use Google Drive for schoolwork.

To make room for the essential internet service needs, Viasat made some network adjustments, including the way video games are downloaded and upgraded. Most game consoles automatically download new versions of games, and they usually do so on Tuesday nights, when internet traffic is slow. But if a user turns the console off that night, say, it will try to take down updates at other, busier times. That would result in a bigger impact on the network.

By de-prioritizing games, Viasat made the more essential services available around the clock.

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May 12

Viasat brings connectivity services to U.S. Government maritime vessels

The McFarland, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging vessel, is one of the first ships in the organization that’s equipped for access to satellite-enabled broadband internet.

Previously, the McFarland dredger’s broadband network couldn’t handle the amount of data needed to complete daily tasks, and the crew often found itself completely disconnected.

With Viasat, some of the key improvements include a nearly 20 percent increase in broadband speed, secure access to accounting, communications and email applications as well as significantly enhanced performance when compared to legacy services.

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July 7

Viasat introduces residential internet service to Brazil

Viasat launched a residential service in eight Brazilian states, extending the service nationwide in November 2020.

Viasat offered two speed options – a 10 Mbps and 20 Mbps plan. The first, Viasat 10Mega, includes 40 Gigabytes (GB) of priority data, and the second, Viasat 20Mega, 80 GB of priority data.

Few internet service providers offer services in Brazil’s interior, instead typically focusing on coastal and urban areas.

Later in the year, Viasat also offered its service nationwide – something that no other satellite internet service provider has done in Brazil.

The service is provided via the Telebras SGDC-1 satellite.

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July 9

Faster in the air: Viasat removes speed caps to the aircraft on business aviation Ka-band plans

Viasat doubled the minimum committed speed to the aircraft across its Ka-band in-flight service plans, addressing growing appetite for bandwidth-heavy applications such as videoconferencing.

Viasat removed speed limits to the aircraft on its Ka-band in-flight connectivity service for business aviation – ensuring that the sky office is just as productive as the home office. And when it’s time to switch off from work, this increase of speeds across our business aviation network will enable private jet passengers to reliably stream entertainment content to their devices.

By eliminating speed limits to the aircraft, Viasat’s already award-winning Ka-band in-flight Wi-Fi service got even better. Customers can consistently expect speeds greater than 20 Mbps to the aircraft, meaning passengers and crew can access more data at higher speeds across multiple devices, simultaneously.

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Aug. 13

Viasat readies a small satellite that promises to be a game changer in military communications

Viasat, which was selected to lead the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Space Vehicles XVI program, is scheduled to deliver the first 50-pound XVI satellite to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California in in the spring of 2021, with launch anticipated the following fall.

The AFRL’s XVI program will push the boundaries of what can be achieved with Link 16 communications protocol.

“We’re working at distances that are far greater than have ever been demonstrated with Link 16 before and we have gone from a science project to a space launch. It’s a really exciting time,” said Craig Miller, Viasat’s Chief Technology Officer for Government Systems.

Operating from a 95-degree orbital inclination, the XVI satellite will have an on-orbit lifetime of at least six months. Benefiting from immediate interoperability with legacy Link 16 terminals already fielded across the Department of Defense, the satellite will support multiple demonstrations due to be undertaken by the AFRL, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command.

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Aug. 31

Viasat’s video encoder smooths communications between ISR aircraft and satellites

For military aircraft connected to satellites, available data rates can fluctuate for various reasons. When flying intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR), that kind of variable signal can be a problem.

Viasat’s Dynamic Video Encoding (DVE) software automatically adjusts and optimizes data rates, while reducing the chance of a degraded or lost connection. The technology takes advantage of the Adaptive Return Link capability in Viasat’s satellite modems to transmit a signal from the ground station to the aircraft. The DVE software aboard the plane uses that signal as a guide to optimize the data rate.

Viasat designed DVE in response to customer need for an automated system that could adjust video quality when available data rate changes.

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Oct. 13

Viasat’s ground network evolution

Along with our next generation of satellites, newly reimagined ground systems are also part of Viasat’s greatly expanded capacity.

Just as mobile network capacity improves with more cellular towers, higher capacity satellites need more antennas on the ground. We’ve changed the traditional model described above a great deal with our newest satellite, ViaSat-2, drastically reducing the size and cost of each ground station – or Satellite Access Node (SAN) – while increasing the number and improving the performance.

The importance of all this can’t be overstated: By driving down the cost of the ground system while improving it at the same time, we’re able to provide better service and increase capacity over the network. When our next generation of satellites, ViaSat-3, are launched, they will be connected to an even more sophisticated ground network with a great many more SANs.

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Nov. 11

Viasat UK moves ahead with NATO award for next-gen command post

Viasat and CDW were selected to provide NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) with a next-generation command post featuring innovative solutions to sustainably resolve many existing restrictions associated with the contemporary operating environment.

Viasat, which was awarded circa GBP1.7m contract on Oct. 27 to lead the two-year program, is equipping the UK-based ARRC with a new agile Staff Working Environment (SWE) — a highly secure command post capable of supporting multi-national operations anywhere in the world.

The ARRC comprises a rapidly deployable and flexible headquarters that can act as a joint land or corps HQ for operations and crisis response at short notice.

Located at Imjin Barracks in Gloucestershire since 2010, the ARRC comprises the UK’s contribution to NATO’s High Readiness Force capability, which falls under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Viasat’s winning solution, dubbed “Programme LELANTOS” (after the Greek Titan god of hunting and moving unseen), will provide the ARRC with a more agile command and control (C2) solution, making it highly survivable and modular. It will be designed to be scalable to accommodate more than 500 connected personnel up to the appropriate security classification.

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Nov. 20

Sounding the alarm about space debris

Orbital debris is a growing problem and represents a significant threat to the New Space Age. Thousands of objects left over from a variety of old satellites and other missions are currently orbiting the earth, and even the smallest of those fragments pose a risk to active spacecraft. The introduction of these mega-constellations into this environment has been described as a “game changer” and leading experts warn that as they deploy, it is not a question of if a defunct satellite will collide with debris, but when.

In this episode of the Viasat podcast, company co-founder and Executive Chairman Mark Dankberg talks about “space pollution” and how the industry and regulatory agencies around the world are confronting this growing threat. With hundreds of small satellites having been launched into low-earth orbit already — and tens of thousands planned for launch within the next few years to create mega-constellations — Dankberg addresses some of the pressing issues.

Listen to the podcast