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CES Feature Articles

January 13, 2012

CES 2012: ViaSat Shows Off Exede Consumer Satellite Broadband Service

Comparing ViaSat's (News - Alert) new Excede Ka-band consumer satellite broadband satellite, offering last-generation Ku-band services, is, shall we say, disturbing. Or I've been in Vegas channeling Hunter S. Thompson too much, because I keep on thinking of a Ka-band tiger letting loose on the Ku-band gazelle. There's just no comparison -- or competition. But I'm not so about the prospects of pitting Exede against DSL players in more densely populated areas.

Excede offers speeds of up to 12 Mbps downstream and up to 3 Mbps upstream. The entry level residential service price starts at $49.99 with a bandwidth cap of 7.5 GB. The next level is a 15 GB cap at $79.99 per month, and the 25 GB upper tier costs $129.99 per month. In addition, ViaSat will be offering enterprise and mobile broadband packages and is installing its shiny new service on JetBlue planes to provide in-flight Internet service.

Consumers who worked with the Ku-band solutions offered throughout the '90s will have to become acquainted with a much faster and optimized service. "Home" services offered by companies such as Gilat and Hughes (News - Alert) delivered around 400 Kbps downlink and either used a dial-up modem return path or a paltry 40-60 Kbps uplink.

However, ViaSat is not simply relying on faster RF technology and higher satellite throughput capacity in order to deliver a better service.  I spoke to company officials who said several techniques were being used to deliver optimum performance, including traffic shaping using Cisco (News - Alert) equipment and in-network compression of content. The latter technique uses farms of blade servers to pre-process popular Web content into a compressed form, similar to the Amazon Kindle Fire Web browser. Unlike the Fire, ViaSat decompresses the content on-the-fly once it is delivered to the customer's satellite modem and popped back out the Ethernet port as vanilla IP.

All this amounts to a "feels like fiber" Web-browsing customer experience that delivers performance roughly equal to a DSL-grade connection if you aren't doing any sort of time-sensitive two-way interactive applications such as video conferencing or high-performance gaming. Audio quality over a VoIP connection was good and gets priority over other bits during a phone call, but you can't get around the speed of light delay introduced into a conversation when you're making a round trip of 22,500 milesbetween ground and satellite .

For consumers and businesses that have no other terrestrial wireless or wireline options, the Excede service is the best affordable broadband option available. ViaSat executives believe the service can be competitive against existing DSL and some cable offerings in rural and closer suburban areas, claiming that while service providers may offer comparable speeds, they aren't employing network optimization techniques to deliver the best experience.

At this point, I think it's an open question if ViaSat can significantly displace wireline cable and DSL offerings. While incumbent vendors in smaller to mid-sized markets may not have web acceleration solutions, it's a fair bet that they can make some quick phone calls to get upgrades in short order.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO East 2012, taking place Jan. 31-Feb. 3 2012, in Miami, FL. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. For more information on registering for ITEXPO registration click here.

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Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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