You might think that 16 megabits per second is pretty fast for an inflight wifi connection. But Viasat wants its business aviation connectivity customers to have more than that. The company officially removed speed caps from its Ka-band contracts this week, allowing aircraft owners to access whatever is available in the network, whatever the hardware and the link budget can support.
Our hope is to change the conversation for people having to worry about peak speeds. They’re welcome to do speed tests if they want but our hope is that people don’t feel the need to do a speed test because it’s doing everything they want to do on the aircraft. It’s giving them that passenger experience that they’re that they’ve hoped for, now they can experience for real.– James Person, Sr. Director of Business Development and Strategy for Business Aviation
Viasat rolled out the upgrades transparently to users and without requiring any adjustments to the on-board hardware.
Much faster, but not truly unlimited
No speed caps does not mean limitless performance, of course. There are still physical limits in the capacity of the network. To that end customers might still be tempted to perform speed tests to see just how fast the network is operating.
But James Person, Sr. Director of Business Development and Strategy for Business Aviation, sees this move as part of a transition away from talking about connectivity speeds to the more useful discussion of whether the network is performing the tasks its users require, “We’re not putting a top speed on it because we don’t want people really to think about top speed anymore what we want them to think about, as happens in in more mature connectivity markets is to focus on the experience.”
We believe this key differentiator is expected to dramatically change the onboard connectivity experience for Viasat’s business aviation Ka-band customers. By removing speed limits, we are creating a home-like connectivity experience for mid-cabin to large- and long-range business jets.– Claudio D’Amico, business area director, Business Aviation
Customers have already reported per-aircraft speeds in excess of 40 Mbps during the testing phase of the new policies.
Limited scenarios, Major impact
The bursty nature of most internet traffic makes peak speed performance a major challenge for service providers, but only at limited times during a session. Person acknowledges that the bulk of usage remained below the 16 Mbps cap anyways, but there are always times where the system would hit that threshold. An initial sync of email, a large file transfer or the initial buffering of streaming video content all could trigger that cap. Getting past those start-up scenarios more quickly, or accommodating more passengers on board, are two areas where Person believes the new cap-free performance will benefit customers.
The new policy applies only for customers operating on the Ka-band network where Viasat owns the satellites. That limits the breadth of the impact initially. Many of Viasat’s BizAv customers use the company’s Ku-band solution with global coverage; the Ka-band coverage footprint is limited to the Caribbean, Central America, North America, the North Atlantic and Europe today. But the Ka-band system is forward compatible with the ViaSat-3 satellite constellation that plans to deliver global Ka-band coverage in the coming years. Person also points out Viasat’s partnerships with aircraft manufacturers and the ability to have the Ka-band kit installed at the factory for a dozen different aircraft types. That is expected to help boost the number of Ka-band connected aircraft going forward.
Person also notes that corporate jets are busier than not as many senior executives are avoiding commercial travel. Companies are taking advantage of those assets to protect a broader range of employees which often means more passengers on board. Removing the speed caps help multiple users better share that capacity on board.
No change to pricing
Even with the increased speeds Viasat is not changing the pricing of its Ka-band business aviation connectivity solution. The company prices service in Gigabyte packages and, while it added a new 200 GB/month plan, the prices of the lower tier plans are not increasing. Person also notes that the 100 and 200 GB/month plans automatically include Viasat’s Unlimited Streaming option, while that’s an add-on for the smaller packages. With that in play the streaming video content (roughly 70% of total traffic on Viasat’s aviation network) does not count against the capacity limits.
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