Podcast: How satellite internet fills in the gaps in rural areas

A conversation with Viasat’s Steven Mesnick about how Viasat is continually improving service for people outside ‘the cable zone’


In this episode of the Viasat Podcast, we catch up with Vice President of Marketing Steven Mesnick to talk about how satellite internet service from Viasat can be a real game-changer for rural areas.


Steven Mesnick

In addition to continual improvements to Viasat’s service through the launch of additional satellites, Mesnick outlines some of the other ways the company has improved service for customers since the earlier days of satellite internet.

Topics covered in the interview with Alex Miller from Corporate Communications include:

  • How the upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation is expected to cover most of the earth with just three satellites and offer an unprecedented amount of capacity
  • The new Flex hybrid technology that combines satellite with other services (such as DSL or LTE) to create a “best of both worlds” service with high speeds, low latency and robust data plans
  • Some of the myths about satellite internet and today’s technology
  • Viasat’s renewed commitment to meet customer expectations through better communication


Alex Miller: Welcome to the Viasat podcast. I’m Alex Miller with Corporate Communications, and in this episode we’re going to focus on residential internet and why satellite internet from Viasat is a great option for many people in rural areas where millions are still un- or underserved by other internet providers. And you know, some recent developments have made satellite broadband from Viasat even more appealing. So to help explain, we have with us today Steve Mesnick, Viasat, vice president of marketing. So thanks for being on the podcast today, Steve.
Steve Mesnick: Thanks for having me.
Alex Miller: Well, to start, I think it’s fair to say that there are some misconceptions out there about internet delivered over satellite. So what are some of those myths and what’s the real story?
Steve Mesnick: So for years, people have thought that, you know, satellite internet has not evolved at the same pace of other technologies, but that’s actually far from the truth. Many in the past thought satellite internet was considered to be slow or very restrictive in the amount of data you can use. But the evolution of satellite technologies really got to the point where there are speeds up to 100 megabits per second. There are data allowances now that are significantly higher than they were in the past that allow customers to do many of the activities that they care most about.
Alex Miller: So how did Viasat improve the service that’s available so dramatically in just the past few years?
Steve Mesnick: So there are many ways we improve service, but the easiest one — or maybe I shouldn’t say easiest one — is to launch a new satellite into space -- isn’t quite so easy, but that increases the amount of capacity available for customers to use. Therefore, allowing greater speeds, allow our larger data allowances. But it’s not just the satellites themselves, it’s also the other parts of the network, the terminals that people see on their homes. There’s the ground network, which is the where the satellites talk to back on Earth. And all these pieces, they come together to provide a much better experience for customers over the last few years.
Alex Miller: And I know one of the things that Viasat likes to talk about is our vertical integration in that, you know, unlike some other satellite providers, you know, we kind of own and operate everything from the modem all the way up to the satellite, into the ground systems and all that. And it tends to make things just work a lot more smoothly.
Steve Mesnick: Yes, that’s an unknown thing, I think, is that, as you put it right there is you start with everything from what you actually either plug your computer into or the Wi-Fi used in the house is produced by Viasat, the satellite terminal that sits on your roof produced by Viasat, the satellite in orbit, again, produced by Viasat. What that allows us to do is to make sure that everything works perfectly with one another. This isn’t one of those situations where we’re saying ‘I’m sorry, that piece of the puzzle isn’t working right. And that’s not us.’ We have responsibility and we make sure that every single piece works to give customers the optimal experience.
Alex Miller: Great. Well, I know one of the things that we’re focused on as a company related to that is setting expectations for our customers and then meeting them. So I wanted to ask what are some of those expectations that people have of their internet provider and how are we working to meet those?
Steve Mesnick: So when a customer buys internet service, usually you’ll see it -- They’ll buy it based on a few things: price, the speed of the service that they’re buying, usually measured in megabits per second. And there’s also oftentimes the amount of data that a customer can consume over a given period of time, usually a month. And so we’re trying to do is be very clear so customers know exactly how much they’re paying, what their bill is going to be, how much speed they’re going to get and how much of the data they get at that given speed throughout a given month. So the idea is, if you can communicate those clear to all the customers, they’ll know exactly what they’re buying and it’ll meet their expectations.
Alex Miller: So, you know, many people who live in urban areas that are used to getting pretty high speeds may not even be aware of the problem in other parts of the country where there just isn’t good internet options available. So what does it look like even today that might surprise someone who lives in, say, a city?
Steve Mesnick: So what you often see is you have a lot of competition in a very urban area. So take the middle of a metropolitan area. You might have a cable option. You may have a fiber option. Now you’re seeing certain wireless carriers offer a 5G, fixed 5G, or 5G to the home. And so what’s happening is you see an intense amount of competition in a very small area, high density, lots of people, but a very small geographic area. And what happens is the people who live outside those very dense urban areas get forgotten. Right. The cable company chooses not to offer cable service out there. The DSL company chooses not to lay copper lines that far out there. And it’s all because they don’t believe they can get a sufficient return on their investment by putting cable or fiber or DSL out past certain areas where the great thing about satellite is we launch a satellite in the sky. And basically we have coverage and we’re happy to offer someone no matter where they live. We’re not beholden to the fact that, it costs us more money to string a wire, a cable wire, a certain amount of feet more. So satellite is a wonderful technology to be provide much greater coverage than DSL, cable or fiber ever could.
Alex Miller: It really is great at filling in a lot of those gaps that are left by those what we call terrestrial providers. So what can you say about the technology that Viasat offers today that’s different from the earlier versions of satellite internet.
Steve Mesnick: So the biggest one is probably speeds, I think when Viasat first started launching service, you would see speeds 1.5 megabits per second, 5 megabits per second, and at those times actually that service was very good for browsing the Web or for sending e-mail back and forth. Now we’re able to offer speeds at -- packages we have start at 12 megabits per second, all the way up to 100 megabits per second. So you can actually do things like send large files and stream a certain amount of video and you can partake in the things that basically the internet allows. Where in the past you never had those speeds. And then along with speeds also is the allowance of data. Where it used to be you might have a gigabyte of data or two and now you could have 30, 40, 50, 100 gigs of data, 150 gigs of data. And this number just continues to grow. And so those are the two key differences are probably the speed and the amount of data that a customer can consume in a given month that has exponentially increased since satellite began many, many years ago.
Alex Miller: And, you know, we have talked about capacity and it really it all kind of boils down to that is how much how much data you can put through the pipe, which is what goes up and down through the satellite. And with this streaming music and especially video, you need more capacity to make all those things work.
Steve Mesnick: So there’s a couple of things you mentioned there. One is you have to have both downstream and upstream. So downstream is how much are you pulling down? How many pictures can you download or music can you listen to or videos can you stream? And you also have the upload, which today with social media becomes very important. Right. How fast can you upload that image you just took so that a family member can see it or video calling is two way. You have to have upload and download it. So that’s part of the evolution of the technologies to make sure that we don’t forget that upload, which is becoming more and more important with the amount of kind of social media type communications that occur.
Alex Miller: So thinking a little bit about the future, what is Viasat working on that will make our service even better in the coming years?
Steve Mesnick: So one of the key things is we have a new satellite constellation we call ViaSat-3. It’s actually three satellites that cover largely the entire earth. And those will be launching over the next about three to four years. And what those satellites do is they offer a few things. One, much greater coverage. So more people in the world actually going to have connectivity. And then you also have much greater capacity, which means we could offer larger data allowances and higher speeds to more people. So three things, right? Coverage overall, more people have access to it. People who do have access get a faster speed and they have more data that they can consume in a given month.
Alex Miller: Just to dig into the numbers a little bit. It’s interesting to think about the ViaSat-3, satellites and that they have each of them will have a thousand gigabits per second.
Steve Mesnick: Also known as a terabit per second.
Alex Miller: A terabit. And so a thousand versus, you know, like our ViaSat-1 satellite had, I think 140. So huge jumps in capacity, which will really make a difference. And also the amount of earth that they can cover is astonishing. So another thing that we have in the pipeline is a kind of a hybrid solution. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Steve Mesnick: So one of the very fascinating things I think the Viasat is working on is saying, look, we think satellite technology is great, satellite internet. But however, there are also options where if you combine satellite internet, for example, with another service. So let’s say a home is able to get DSL. Let’s say in the past you were able to get 3 megabits per second DSL. Maybe that’s not a great service by itself. You combine 3-meg DSL with a satellite service and you actually have a cable-like service that customers can get who don’t have access to cable, for example, by combining the very high speeds that satellite is able to offer with the very sort of fast, low-latency connections DSL is able to offer. When you sort of marry those two services together, unknown to the customer, right. They just get they feel like they’re getting one internet access that’s actually combining two together. It could be a significantly better experience for customers.
Alex Miller: Right. So this is fascinating. So the router at the person’s home kind of makes decisions about which data it goes over which network?
Steve Mesnick: You’re basically plugging in a satellite connection and let’s say a DSL or could be LTE or could eventually be 5G. And you’re combining two connections into a single router. And then the router basically, with our kind of network is making determinations of when’s the best time to send what type of data over which network. So if it requires something like gaming that generally needs a low latency type connection, you might send it over something with lower latency like DSL or 4G or 5G. If something needs really high speeds, like downloading large file, you would send it over the satellite so that the customer is sort of getting the best of both worlds.
Alex Miller: Right. And so you talked about latency a little bit. And real quick, that’s just refers to the amount of time it takes for signal to go up to the satellite and back and because our satellites are in high orbit. There is a ...
Steve Mesnick: It’s like a brief pause before the data starts flowing into your home.
Alex Miller: And for most applications, it’s not a big deal. But there are a couple that are particularly sensitive to it. You referenced gaming, virtual private networks. And so this hybrid thing would kind of offset some of those.
Steve Mesnick: So right now, if a customer calls up today and we talked about expectations, right, if they’re interested in satellite internet, we tell them, hey, if you do a lot of real time gaming, satellite service might not be the best for you. And now we’re saying, look, we think with this hybrid technology, we have a way to actually expand the universe of customers who we can meet their expectations by having both the low-latency and the high speed data network.
Alex Miller: So we talked about capacity and you know, how important it is to have that the ability to move that at the larger amounts of data. And then the other one is, is coverage, which is, you know, how much of the country are you covering or how much of the world. So can you talk a little bit about the availability of our service?
Steve Mesnick: So ViaSat-2, our current generation satellite covers much of North America, a little bit of Latin America, most of the Atlantic Ocean all the way to, I think, right about London. And with ViaSat-3, the first one will be able to cover all of the Americas, both North and South America, Latin America. And then our second satellite would cover all of Europe and Africa. And our third satellite is going to cover basically the APAC region, Asia Pacific region. So between those three at that point, you’d have true global coverage and you might say, well, OK, I just happen to live in, you know, one place in the United States, one state, what do I care that Viasat has coverage over the entire world? Part of is if you get on an airplane, which is something we provide service to as well, you’ll be actually able to fly across the entire world, go from the United States to China and back and have coverage the entire time via these high capacity ViaSat-3 satellites. Or, we provide service to the U.S. government. And for example, there are times where we are putting people in harm’s way in different parts of the world and they need to bring their own network with them. And Viasat, by having global connectivity, is able to allow our military men and women wherever they are to make sure they are connected at all times, no matter what country they’re deployed in.
Alex Miller: Right. And right now, there’s a sort of a patchwork of satellites around the world that kind of make that happen. And so one network would really be a pretty big improvement and also a lot more capacity than I think is out there now. So you think of somebody on a naval ship in the middle of the ocean being able to, you know, Skype with their, you know, their kid at home or things like that. It’s pretty fascinating what’s possible with that.
Steve Mesnick: Even today, if you look a good example of our services. So JetBlue Airlines, which happens to be a great partner of Viasat, we have enough capacity is that every person sitting in a seat on a JetBlue airplane can stream Netflix or any other video service. Right. And so if we’re able to do that on a plane at 35,000 feet, I would say imagine what we could actually do in a home where we’re it’s just stationary and not moving at 500 miles an hour.
Alex Miller: Yeah, a little easier to hit that target. All right. Well, it sounds like, you know, there’s definitely a lot to think about. If, you know, if you haven’t looked into satellite internet and you’re out there in a place where you can’t get very good service, it’s well worth a look because things are getting better and better all the time. So thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us today, Steve.
Steve Mesnick: Thanks for having me.
Alex Miller: Yeah. Look forward to checking in. Maybe next year sometime and seeing what else is new.
Steve Mesnick: All right. Great. Have a good day.