A massive amount of Ka-band spectrum just opened; Viasat to benefit

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A treaty has been signed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Member States to allow the release of far more Ka-band spectrum for satellite communication solutions. The decision, says Viasat, will allow it to offer enhanced gate-to-gate connectivity. The treaty was signed on Friday, 22nd November 2019, at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19).

The new spectrum will be highly beneficial for ESIM. Photo: ITU

More spectrum for ESIM

Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM) solve the complicated issue of getting high speed, reliable internet services to moving objects. They are used by aircraft, but also by ships and land vehicles too. The demand for ESIM is rapidly rising, not just in aviation, and to deploy in line with demand without any loss of quality was forecast to require more spectrum than was immediately available.

To address the increasing need for ESIM, delegates at the WRC event discussed the use of frequency bands 17.7‑19.7 GHz (space-to-Earth) and 27.5-29.5 GHz (Earth-to-space) and how they could be used by ESIM. According to the ITU report on this, the new resolution says that,

“There is a need for global broadband mobile-satellite communications, and that some of this need could be met by allowing earth stations in motion (ESIMs) to communicate with space stations of the geostationary-satellite orbit (GSO) fixed-satellite service (FSS) operating in the frequency bands 17.7-19.7 GHz (space-to-Earth) and 27.5-29.5 GHz (Earth-to-space).”

They did put some caveats on this resolution, however, in particular in relation to interference with other applications using these frequency bands. Overall, the resolution paves the way for a huge increase in Ka-band spectrum, which will hopefully open the door to more rapid deployment of ESIM in aviation and other industries.

The treaty aligns with Viasat’s aims

According to a press release, the treaty will allow access to four times more global Ka-band spectrum for inflight connectivity powered by satellites. It ensures that ESIMs are able to access the full Ka-band spectrum, something that is well-aligned with Viasat’s strategy for inflight connectivity.

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Viasat has a strong focus on operating broadband mobility on a worldwide basis and is preparing for the launch of a new constellation of satellites. ViaSat-3, a trio of next-generation satellites, aim to provide global coverage with one terabit or more of network capacity. In comparison, ViaSat-1 provided 140 Gbps, and ViaSat-2 260Gbps.

Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO of Viasat commented in a press release,

“We are grateful for the global recognition of the importance of Ka-band satellite broadband for use on mobile platforms from aircraft, ships and ferries to buses and trains. Having a uniform regulatory framework for ESIM applications across nations will enable Viasat to meet escalating customer requirements for mobility service enhancements, while creating a broader environment for further innovation in the mobility sector.”

The first ViaSat-3 satellite is slated to launch in 2021. This will be followed around six months later by the second, with the third joining them in the second half of 2022.

About the WRC event

The World Radiocommunications Conference took place this year in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from October 28th to November 22nd. It’s a rare event, only held every three to four years, and brings together important delegates to address issues of the management of global radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits.

WRC-19 is the biggest gathering of industry personnel. Photo: ITU

In addition to the expanded Ka-band decision, there were a number of other key outcomes of this year’s event. These included access to additional Fixed Satellite Services (FSS) spectrum in the 51.4-52.4 GHz band and increased support for Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) in the S-band. Prior to the next WRC event, stakeholders are planning to investigate the use of the Ka-band for satellite to satellite links.

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