From 2000 to 2023, worldwide internet usage grew at an astronomical rate of 1,355%. There are a number of reasons for this amazing growth rate. Changes in the way people use the internet — higher numbers of people working and learning remotely, the massive expansion in the numbers of mobile apps, and the increased ability to shop and access other daily services online — spurred this meteoric uptick.
With roughly one-third of the world still unconnected, internet traffic and the demand for it will only continue to grow.
Globally, the consumer demand for satellite internet access ebbs and flows across locations and during different times. ViaSat-3 is designed to address those fluctuations as they occur – delivering bandwidth where and when it’s needed most.
This flexibility is crucial for serving a broad cross-section of Viasat’s current and future customers, including residential and business internet, commercial and business aviation, enterprise, government, coalition defense forces, and other customer groups that experience degraded or no connectivity due to location or timing.
Stronger protection for U.S. and allied forces
The added capacity and flexibility the ViaSat-3 constellation will provide is critical for the company’s government services segment, which provides security and communications services and products to the U.S. military and its allies.
“That additional capacity gives us all kinds of leverage to grow the business and provide even better services on the commercial side, and the military and defense side as well,” said Craig Miller, president of Viasat’s government services segment. “The ViaSat-3 constellation will give us global capability and opens the door to a wider variety of government missions.”
The constellation’s expected flexibility will be key for defense communications.
“Capacity demand isn’t static; we need to be able to move data around to where it is needed most,” he said, noting that low-Earth orbit satellites don’t have such ability. “They can’t concentrate their capacity in one region because of orbital dynamics, but ViaSat-3 was designed to do this exact thing.
“This is important in defense because you have theater hot spots of increased activity due to defense activity or a natural disaster. If an eastern European country turns into a hotspot, we can direct extra capacity right into a small region over Europe. Being able to do that is critical to addressing those needs.”
Another critical differentiator: ViaSat-3 was designed to protect against jamming, an effort to interfere with communications traveling to and from a satellite.
“Jamming is highly successful and commonly used in war time,” Miller said. “ViaSat-3 is designed to be incredibly difficult to disrupt. So you’re going to have a system that has a large amount of capacity that is designed to work even when our adversaries are trying to make it stop working. That’s really important, and it will set ViaSat-3 apart from basically all other systems. ViaSat-3 is expected to outperform even some purpose-built military satellites in that regard. That’s a really exciting capability.”
Viasat’s technology is also critical in the immediate wake of disasters, when other communication systems may be temporarily disrupted. When damaged or destroyed overhead lines and underground cables knock out terrestrial phone and internet services, satellite can still provide those services, because all that’s needed is a few pieces of equipment and a power source — often a generator.
Viasat has a long history of providing crucial communications when other services are down, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Most recently, the company responded to the devastating February 2023 earthquakes in Turkey by installing internet terminals in emergency and healthcare response centers, shelters, airports, emergency management, and utility operations. That connectivity enabled search and rescue management communications, infrastructure restoration, management of donation distribution and point-of-sale transactions for critical needs like gasoline and groceries.
In 2022, Viasat partnered with the Košice Region of Slovakia to bring free, high-speed internet to Ukrainian refugees sheltering there. Those access points are still serving displaced Ukrainians today.
The ViaSat-3 constellation is designed to enable Viasat to help even more people in more places.
Flexible bandwidth to serve airlines
Viasat’s commercial aviation service expects to also directly benefit from the added capacity and flexibility of the ViaSat-3 constellation. Today, Viasat can devote more bandwidth to airport hubs and busy flight routes, and — when fewer planes are flying and extra bandwidth is available — shift it to other areas. That ability is expected to be greatly improved when ViaSat-3 Americas and its successors are in service.
“We can move capacity with ViaSat-2, but with ViaSat-3, we should be able to do that much more quickly,” Buer said. “We would then be able to apply the capacity exactly where we want it. We expect that to be a huge advantage for both us and the airlines.”
Each of the satellites in the upcoming ViaSat-3 global constellation is expected to be able to temporarily concentrate capacity at geographic points of demand, reducing coverage to places that need less capacity. For instance, Viasat expects to be able to meet demand at busy East Coast airports in the morning, then shift that bandwidth in late afternoon and evening to accommodate passengers at West Coast airports, where demand peaks later in the day.
Diverse ground network
Another important factor in the systemwide improvements is ViaSat-3’s anticipated strategic and flexible ground network designed to be significantly more robust than its predecessor, ViaSat-2, ViaSat-3’s ground network will be composed of hundreds of Satellite Access Nodes (SANS). These smaller ground stations are designed to provide a redundancy solution if a ground station temporarily loses power, the others would then pick up the slack.
“In a traditional satellite system, losing a ground station means some fraction of the coverage area is completely out,” Buer said. “In our system, if 10 percent of our ground stations are out, the system is designed to adapt to outages and route traffic other ways.”
As transformative as the ViaSat-3 satellite constellation is expected to be, Buer said there will always more to come from Viasat’s innovative designers and engineers.
“The ViaSat-3 constellation is anticipated to be one of the most exciting things to make it to market in my career to date, but Viasat isn’t stopping there,” he said. “There are a number of things we’re working on that will evolve the satellite industry even further. We have even more exciting products and services in the pipeline.”