ViaSat promises 12 mbps for cabin-wide web browsing, not streaming

n.b. – This story first appeared in the APEX Editor’s Blog on 12 September 2013

It has been a long path to deployment for ViaSat’s Ka-band connectivity service, but the solution is finally ready to take flight now that partner, JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV has received a supplemental type certificate. And in a week where everyone is talking about bandwidth and how much more they can provide to customers, the claims from ViaSat are quite interesting.

The company has focused on the efficiency and affordability of the Ka-band satellite services, noting that they can provide 12 megabits per second of connectivity not to the plane, but to each passenger, and that they can do it at an affordable price.

It is true that the capacity of the satellite constellation is higher which means reduced costs. And the onboard kit can support speeds in the 70-80 mbps range per aircraft, according to ViaSat, though the initial configuration has them more in the 20 mbps range.

In speaking with Meherwan Polad from ViaSat’s mobile business development group some clarity was provided on the overall system capacity and capabilities. “We don’t actually [allocate] capacity on a per plane basis, we assign capacity on a per passenger basis. Now, if everyone is doing 12 mbps of streaming that’s not going to happen on board, but in terms of 12 mbps web browsing absolutely we can deliver that.”

Polad also suggests that there is more to the passenger experience than just providing the most bandwidth, “In terms of speed it is not just what you can deliver to the aircraft, it’s also in terms of what the cost per megabit is… [The difference in unit cost of the bandwidth] is really going to drive what you can deliver to the passenger, what the airline can afford.”

If the airlines or the passengers cannot afford the service then it doesn’t matter how fast it is. At the same time, there is a performance threshold below which the user experience is insufficient at any price. ViaSat thinks they’ve hit the sweet spot and with their first planes taking flight in the coming weeks we’ll soon know.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.