Viasat has struck a €140 million (US$166.22 million) deal to acquire the remaining 51% share of a wholesale satellite broadband joint venture with Eutelsat Communications. Viasat says the deal will accelerate its business in the region as it nears the launch of a new high-capacity satellite.
The agreement for that jointly held entity, Euro Broadband Infrastructure (EBI), also resolves a conflict that emerged between the companies once Eutelsat opted to go in a different direction with its next-gen Konnect satellite. Konnect, a 75Gbit/s platform built by Thales Alenia Space, just entered into service. Viasat and Eutelsat announced their JV in 2016.
Rick Baldridge, Viasat's newly named CEO, called it a drawn-out but "good resolution" for both sides of the JV, and one that will help Viasat control its destiny in Europe as the company moves ahead for the planned 2022 launch of a ViaSat-3 satellite that will cover the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.
The ViaSat-3 satellite tagged for EMEA will provide nearly 20x the capacity of the KA-SAT satellite that's tied to the original Viasat-Eutelsat JV. ViaSat-3 for EMEA is one of three such satellites that will provide Viasat with global coverage – the other ViaSat-3 satellites in development will cover the Americas and the Asia-Pacific region.
"Europe is really important to us," Baldridge said, noting that European nationals will be running Viasat's offices across the pond. "What this allows us to do is be in full control and be able to run experiments and change service plans and go into the market areas like we're doing in the US in preparation for the ViaSat-3 launch as well. When ViaSat-3 gets there, the ramp will be quicker and we'll have a management team in place."
The resolution of the joint venture, expected to close in Q1 2021, will also enable Viasat to focus on a direct-to-consumer and direct-to-business model that also includes retail relationships with airlines.
Baldridge said it will also free up Viasat to explore new features and enhancements for Europe as it is doing now in the US. Of note, Viasat has been experimenting with hybrid networks that integrate high-speed satellite networks with low-latency terrestrial networks.
Baldridge also offered some color on Viasat's exploration of low-Earth orbit (LEO) systems that could someday complement its current constellation of high-orbit, geosynchronous satellites.
"We think LEOs play a role in the next era," he said, noting that Viasat is also a tech partner for SES's new mid-Earth orbit (MEO) network and is in regular communication with OneWeb. OneWeb, an entity focused on LEO systems, is being acquired out of bankruptcy from a consortium that includes the UK government and India's Bharti Global along with an investment from Hughes Network Systems.
"We think there's an ecosystem there that we can all exist in, and they have different roles," Baldridge said. "Once you have bandwidth [with GEO satellites], then LEOs become relevant; low-latency becomes relevant."
Viasat is looking into a LEO plan that would involve far fewer and higher-power individual satellites than what's being deployed today by SpaceX for Starlink. Viasat has not announced a timetable for its LEO effort, but potential bidding in the multi-billion-dollar US Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) could accelerate those plans.
Meanwhile, Viasat sees LEOs, along with DSL, fixed wireless and even long-loop cable, playing a role in hybrid low-latency systems that could be bonded with the company's GEO satellites.
"We think the integration of those technologies is really what the future's about, not that LEOs are going to show up and take the market away from GEO satellite," Baldridge said. "Just from an economic efficiency standpoint, they can't compete."
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading