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ViaSat wants to bring Wi-Fi to Australian skies

US satellite group ViaSat is eyeing a bigger role in the Australian market, including potentially offering its own retail services in-country and working with NBN to offer satellite-based services to aircraft. CEO Mark Dankberg told CommsDay that the
company would look to make permanent its Melbourne office, which was set
up to oversee its A$280 million contract for the supply of ground station infrastructure
for NBN's long term satellites.

NBN's satellite ground infrastructure is now complete, with just some final
testing taking place. However, Dankberg said that ViaSat was now looking to
increase its activities in Australia in a range of other areas as well as providing
technical support for the ground network.

“We're really interested in the Australian market and we'll be looking at
maybe offering services over the satellites ourselves and will also look at supporting
other ISPs,” Dankberg said.

ViaSat is currently working with NBN on the best way to make use of its available
bandwidth, but he said with an expected total of 135Gbps satellite capacity, there were a lot of potential applications. One that stands out, he said, was the provision of services to the aviation sector. He said ViaSat would look to work with NBN to provide the technology but would also consider providing the service itself.

In its home market in the US, in-flight Wi-Fi services is a major part of ViaSat's business.

It recently signed Virgin America as a new airline partner, which will see Virgin become
the first commercial airline to operate in both Ku- and Ka-band satellite networks
on the same aircraft. As of the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, ViaSat had more than 380 aircraft in service – up from 135 aircraft for the same period last year. As well as Virgin, it provides services to JetBlue and United Airlines.

NBN CEO Bill Morrow has previously spoken about the possibility of providing services
to Australian airlines. At a Trans-Tasman Business Circle lunch in Melbourne in
November last year, he noted that the company had held preliminary talks with both
Qantas and Virgin.

Australia is lagging compared to the US and Europe when it comes to offering inflight
Wi-Fi. While there have been some trials, including by Telstra, no commercial services
have been announced.

ViaSat, which is both an equipment vendor and service provider, has seen its income
from services increase in recent years. Dankberg said that while its number one objective in the Australian market was to help NBN technically, if the company saw an opportunity to provide services in its own right it would do so. This could include offering retail broadband services, something it also offers in the US market.

For its most recent quarter, Dankberg noted that – for the first time – service revenues
represented over half of ViaSat's sales. The company has three satellites, two of which came from the acquisition of operator WildBlue in 2009. It is also planning to launch another satellite, ViaSat-2, next year.

ViaSat also reported that the recent acquisition of NetNearU had increased the company's Wi-Fi service revenue base. It serves more than 100,000 networks and more than nine million access points worldwide, with this segment also a potential area of expansion for the Australian market, according to Dankberg. Defence is also a significant business for ViaSat, which has had ongoing contracts with the Australian Defence Force. As well as the Melbourne office set up to support the NBN contract, ViaSat has existing Australian offices in Canberra and Sydney.

ICSSC 2015: Next month Dankberg will visit Australia, with a keynote at the International Communications Satellite Systems Conference on the Gold Coast included. The ViaSat CEO said that the event comes as interest in providing internet services via satellite is growing.

With the emergence of Netflix in Australia and the growth in video delivery generally,
Dankberg said he would use the event to highlight the role that satellite can play, particularly through the new breed of high-throughput satellites. He will talk about the “metrics for success” and how satellite can challenge both terrestrial and mobile networks in the delivery of broadband internet.
Geoff Long, CommsDay