What wifi does POTUS get in-flight?

Getting an internet connection comparable to “at home” while in a plane moving 500 miles/hour 35,000 feet above the earth is no easy feat. But for most travelers that pretty much translates to an ability to stream video content or update apps.  But what happens when your home happens to be the large white one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC?

The US Government chose ViaSat’s hybrid Ku/Ka-band satellite solution, similar to what Virgin America installed on its 10 most recent A320 deliveries to provide in-flight connectivity on its VC-25s, C-17s, C-32s, C-37s, C-40s and VIP and special air mission aircraft. As the company describes it:

the service enables “a Situation Room in the Sky” experience – with the ability to use the in-flight broadband connection to stream full-motion high-definition video for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), en-route Command and Control (C2) and Search and Rescue (S&R) missions; maintain two-way communications through HD video conference calling or voice over internet protocol calls; access real-time intelligence and other location-based, live-sensor data for critical decision-making and more.

So, you know “at home” if your house happens to include one of the most connected and secure communication facilities in the world, I suppose.

They hybrid solution has a combination Ku-band and Ka-band antenna operating essentially on opposite sides of the same mechanical structure. It allows for quick switching between satellites and networks with a single hardware kit and under a single radome. Presumably the military version of these systems involves multiple antennae on each aircraft to support “make-before-break” handoffs meaning that the next link is established before the prior one is dropped. Even the brief outage for the hybrid antenna flipping over from Ku to Ka or vice versa would likely be a deal-breaker for Situation Room types of communication. At least I think it should be.

The numbers on the deal are also good news for ViaSat. According to DISA, the face value of this award is $33,052,330 funded by fiscal 2016 operations and maintenance funding.  The total cumulative face value of the contract is $73,217,722. During FY2016 the company recorded $607mm in revenue for its Government Systems segment; this deal should give that a nice boost for FY2017-18.

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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.