New satellites could bring 1 terabit of internet bandwidth to remote regions

Delivering internet access to remote areas is challenging, as the traditional method of running lines from connected regions is extremely expensive. There are a few approaches to doing this wirelessly — for example, Google’s Project Loon balloons. However, a company called ViaSat is teaming up with Boeing to provide super-fast internet access to remote areas from space. The just-announced ViaSat-3 satellite will have a terabit of available bandwidth. Yes, a terabit per second.

ViaSat has made this announcement a little early, though. It has yet to announce its second-generation satellite, the ViaSat-2 (below). That platform is supposed to head into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a few months. While the ViaSat-2 is no slouch, it will only have one-third of the available bandwidth of the planned ViaSat-3. Once its new generation of satellites is in orbit, ViaSat claims its platform could double the network capacity of the roughly 400 commercial communications satellites already circling the globe.

The 1Tbps satellites will provide fast connections, but those on the ground obviously won’t be able to suck down the full 1Tb of bandwidth. ViaSat plans to offer residential connections of about 100Mbps, which is still faster than many people in US cities can get. When you consider many of the regions ViaSat expects to serve have no broadband service at all, I don’t think anyone will complain about “only” getting 100Mbps. Users will still have to contend with the limitations of satellite internet, including line-of-sight requirements and higher latency than terrestrial wired connections. Any real-time applications like video chat will probably be unworkable despite the incredible speeds.


Residential service is only one part of what ViaSat wants to do with its space-based connections. A more robust version of the service will be made available to corporate installations that are in remote areas (like oil and gas platforms) that can reach speeds of up to 1Gbps. Commercial jets might also be able to use ViaSat’s connections as a faster version of the internet service they already offer.

The company says that work is already underway on two ViaSat-3 satellites, and Boeing expects them to be ready for launch by the end of 2019. That would put ViaSat a few years ahead of Elon Musk’s tentative plan to get thousands of micro-satellites into orbit in order to deliver high-speed internet to the globe. Whoever makes it work is immaterial to people who lack sufficient bandwidth, but help is on the way.

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