Viasat’s nomadic services may be one of its lesser-known segments, but it boasts an impressive list of customers — from news and sports organizations to government agencies and a long list of other high-profile events and organizations that rely on the portable technology.
Nomadic services provide portable, remote connectivity to virtually any location in the U.S., with the power and flexibility to support a single user or larger groups.
Whether it’s broadcasting breaking news or providing communications during natural disasters, the service provides a reliable source of connectivity when other sources of power and connectivity are either down or — due to the remoteness of a location — not available.
“Cable and fiber lines can be accidentally cut, and cell towers can be knocked out by fires or hurricanes,” said Viasat’s Liz Parker, a business operations manager with the company’s Global Enterprise & Mobility segment, “and satellite can bridge the gap when these events occur.”
Viasat started the service in 2012 and plans to significantly expand it with the upcoming ViaSat-3 global satellite constellation.
So what are nomadic services, and why are they so important?
Introduction and early customers
Viasat developed the SurfBeam 2 Pro Portable system in 2012, introducing ground-breaking technology that served a long-unmet need for the governmental and media markets. The 75-pound system could be setup anywhere within minutes, connecting to the ViaSat-1 satellite and allowing users to move to other beams if needed.
A beam is a concentrated area of satellite signal strength, each covering a particular geographic area on the ground.
“Nomadic services are an amazing application of the Viasat technology,” said Parker, who worked for the company when the technology made its debut. “When terrestrial infrastructure goes down, you can pop that antenna up, and the kit can roll from beam to beam. They can come up in most of our beams and be able to communicate.”
The kits include a dish, transmit-receiver (TRIA), modem, Ethernet router, battery pack, tripod and needed connector cables — all of which fit inside a suitcase-sized container.
Nomadic service users today get integrated kits from Viasat service resellers, like Expedition Communications.
News agencies and government were among the first users of the technology. They saw its advantages clearly, with Viasat able to provide stable connectivity in typically unstable circumstances.
“We have plans that prioritize the return link (the link from a mobile user over the satellite to a fixed base station), which was very attractive to the satellite news gatherers,” Parker said. “Because they had priority in the beams, that created a reliable connection for a news reporter giving a live feed.”
Designed to fill a unique need
News companies remain heavy users of the service. Today, about 40% of Viasat’s nomadic services usage is by news agencies.
Viasat provides services to another rapidly growing customer called FirstNet, a nationwide wireless broadband communications platform for first responders and the public safety community. FirstNet is a public/private partnership between the First Responder Network Authority and AT&T.
FirstNet responds to a wide variety of incidents. Most recently, it sent two rapid deployable units to Boulder County, CO to help with communications after the Marshall Fire, a Dec. 30, 2021 wildfire that destroyed over 1,000 homes.
“It’s really satisfying to be able to provide communications when it’s needed in situations like that,” Parker said. “We know our firefighters and other first responders can communicate in those times.”
With Viasat’s current satellites, nomadic services can be used across the U.S. today; with ViaSat-3, it has the potential to expand globally.
“Today, it’s a small part of what we do,” said Glenn Canales, business development manager for Viasat’s Global Enterprise & Mobility segment. “But management understands this is a service that is there for the public benefit. With that in mind, we’ve now redoubled our efforts to expand and grow these services. And with ViaSat-3, we should be able to grow that footprint internationally.”
Both Canales and Parker look forward to expanding the reach of nomadic services. Canales noted the growing need in natural disaster response alone.
“Both the intensity and duration of fire season grow every year, and hurricanes will continue to cause more and more damage,” he said. “Having served in the military and been in environments where there’s a level of criticality, I understand the need for communication.”
He added: “I’m definitely proud to be able to provide these services.”
Parker sees its future as virtually limitless.
“Nomadic services are a niche service, but a niche everyone can use at some point,” she said. “It’s incredible technology. It’s not just about satellite but about letting our users go virtually anywhere and have connectivity.”