Monday 31 October 2011

ViaSat 1 Launch and Impact on Algoma District

Based on the public information available together with some insider leaks , I don’t anticipate the recently launched ViaSat1 will have a major impact on satellite service in the Algoma District although I do expect there will some reduction in congestion as the customer base using the current satellites shrinks.
I first discussed the new generation of satellites in July 2010. ViaSat1 was on the books as the first of the High Throughput Satellites (HTS) to serve North America. After about a six month delay due to a potential issue with the solar array used to provide the power in space, International Launch Services (ILS) lifted the ViaSat1 satellite into orbit on 19 Oct 11. A technology overview of the satellite operation can be found at this link.
The new satellite uses a newer version of the spot-beam concept used in the Canadian Anik F2 satellite. According to data released by ViaSat through various media resources, there are 72 spot-beams; 63 in the U.S. and nine over Canada. The spot-beams are “steerable” to a certain degree so the actual footprints are yet to be finalized. The maps below show the rough estimates of the ViaSat1 spot-beams covering parts of Canada as well coverage provided by the Anik F2 spot-beams 

Fig 1. ViaSat1 Canadian Spot Beams* Fig 2. AnikF2 Spot Beams
* The number of spot-beams shown is greater than nine as some US spot-beams project into Canada.
The Canadian spot-beams are owned by satellite operator Telesat and will be used by Xplornet Communications Inc to service to consumers in rural Canada. The satellite is designed to deliver service for 15 years or more.
The new satellite uses acceleration software called AcceleNet®. As explained on theNetworkProductssite, this software addresses some of the problems associated with satellite usage such as preservation of enterprise security policies—such as SSL VPN compatibility and acceleration of secure file transfers (signed SMB) and web applications (HTTPS)—and bandwidth management for VoIP calls.
Even with the new software, the issue of latency will remain and impact applications that require low ping times to run efficiently or indeed run at all. Gaming and video-conferencing could remain a problem. On the other, user should notice a marked improvement in the web surfing and message exchange experience.
The whole concept of ViaSat1 is that it will concentrate its beams in the areas of relatively high population density. As can be seen on this unofficial map, whole swathes of North America are left uncovered and will need to rely on existing space platforms to provide coverage which may be beefed up.

Xplornet has yet to publish details about how it will use the new capability of ViaSat1. From various sources it appears Xplornet will not use a ViaSat1 spot beam to cover the Algoma District. It seems the plan is to use the capacity freed up by the transfer of customers in other parts of the province and country to ViaSat1 to provide better service to the Algoma District users by reducing the congestion on the existing network.
There has been some discussion as to what the ViaSat1 based price structure could look like.
The following speculation appeared in an ITWorldCanada article: When ViaSat-1 comes online later this year, they’ll be able to pay $55 a month for” 1.5 Mbps downlink service “ 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.” Indications from other sources indicate additional GBs will cost around $2.50 per GB.
The exact impact on the pricing and service conditions for legacy users on the Hughes and Anik systems is unknown except that Xplornet insists the current users will notice a marked improvement in service quality as some of the new network control features, especially the terrestrial aspects, will be available to the existing network.
Another issue worthy of consideration is terminology and the oft misunderstood term 4G. I discussed the definition for a 4G telecommunications service as a moving target in this blog. Most of the publicity associated with the ViaSat1 launch and subsequent service calls it “4G”. This could easily be confused with the cellular networks’ “4G” service in terms of speed. In reality ViaSat1 4G usually refers to a fourth generation of communications satellites and associated electronics. The only similarity is that the cellular networks and the satellite networks are changing over to their respective generations coincidentally.
It has become part of the ICT culture to bad mouth satellite service with complaints about, speed, reliability, data cap limits, price and a myriad of other features. In many cases this is justified. On the other hand, satellites offer a substantial improvement in throughput over dial-up. They provide a needed access on a universal basis, where terrestrial systems are not available.
I used satellite service for over 7 years. It definitely filled a need.
Was I glad to be able to switch to a terrestrial based system when Rogers and Tbaytel introduced service in my area? Absolutely.
Would I recommend a satellite service as a viable option for use as a system of last resort? Absolutely.

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