Broadband satellite for rural Canada launched

A U.S.-built satellite was launched from Kazakhstan today which will allow a Canada’s Xplornet Communications to offer 4G speeds to rural parts of the country.

ViaSat-1, whose footprint will cover much of southern Canada and the U.S., was hurled into space by an ILS Proton Breeze M missile just before 3 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday. At 5:20 p.m., Bruce Rowe a ViaSat Corp. spokesman, said the launch was going successfully so far. The third stage burn was expected about 6:20 p.m. Eastern.

It will take some nine hours from launch to the insertion of the satellite into a low Earth orbit. After that, it will take about three hours for its solar panels to deploy. Technicials will then have to test the satellite for two months to make sure it is functioning normally.
UPDATE: On Thursday morning ViaSat Corp. said the satellite successfully deployed its solar arrays. Over the next 10 days it will be raised to a higher orbit, after which its antenna reflectors have to be opened. Following the test period the satellite is expected to be in its final geosynchronous station above the Earth around Dec. 20.
The Ka-band satellite will have 130 gigabits per second throughput and more bandwidth capacity than all the existing commercial broadband satellites over North America combined. It can handle as many as 1.5 million subscribers thanks to advanced technology, and do it a drastically reduced price from current birds.

“This is why we’re so excited,” Avis Sokol, Xplornet’s vice-president of marketing said in an interview this week. Although the Woodstock, N.B.-based company has been in the broadband satellite provider business for years, “the capacity of this satellite is unlike anything that we’ve seen before.”

“What it enables us to do is start to move our capacity to eventually get 4G to everyone in [rural] Canada.

Xplornet’s existing residential satellite subscribers pay $120 a month for download speeds of up to 1.5 megabits a second. When ViaSat-1 comes online later this year, they’ll be able to pay $55 a month for the same speed (plus a $249 up front charge), which includes 10 Gb of data. More importantly, there will be packages with speeds of up to 10 Mbps, twice the maximum that some subscribers can get now.

For business satellite customers, ViaSat-1 will enable Xplornet initially to offer a 1.5 Mbps package for $85 a month that includes 60 Gb of data and a static IP address, but by the end of 2012 there will be a business package offering up to 25 Mbps. (Prices include a monthly satellite dish and modem rental fee.)

“The economics of these new satellites are dramatically different,” Sokol said. “They’re so much more affordable for us, which means we can make it more affordable for Canadians.”

Iain Grant, managing director of the Montreal-based SeaBoard Group telecommunications consultancy, isn’t impressed with the uplink speed on the base package, which he said will only hit 256 kilobits a second. There will also be the standard 250 millisecond delay in each direction , he added.

ViaSat-1 will cover half of British Columbia, the southern parts of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and a small part of New Brunswick. Its service will start to selective areas before the end of the year, and to all of it by the end of February. With the launch of another satellite next year that footprint will be broadened to include more of B.C. and New Brunswick, as well as Newfoundland.

About half of Xplornet’s 150,000 customers are on satellite service and the company hopes to convert as many as it can to 4G. One way is by offering a $50 discount off the $249 upfront charge.

(The other half of Xplornet’s subscibers use its fixed wireless service, which is being converted to 4G WiMax)

Xplornet is buying the satellite capacity through Ottawa’s Telesat, which is partly-owned by the ViaSat-1’s manufacturer, Space Systems/Loral.

It’s part of a $500 million bet Xplornet is making over 15 years in contracting for capacity for two 4G satellites to blanket most of the country. The second, called Jupiter and built by Hughes Network Systems LLC, will be launched next spring.

Xplornet also had to build new ground stations near St. John’s, Nfld., and Fort McMurray, Alta., as well as upgrade existing ground stations.

But the company with the most on the line is ViaSat Corp. of Carlsbad, Calif., which paid US$400 million for the 6,740 kg  ViaSat-1 as it moves from a satellite ground equipment maker to a rural U.S. broadband Internet provider through its Wild Blue Communications division. Passengers flying on select Continental and JetBlue airlines flights will also be able to buy in-air broadband service.

ViaSat-1 will sit in a geostationary orbit at 115.1 degrees West longitude, meaning a subscriber’s satellite dish needs an unobstructed view of the southern sky. The satellite has 72 spot beams, with 63 covering the U.S. and nine over Canada.

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