Coverage over Russia is a crucial link for Viasat’s global in-flight connectivity

Pending agreement with Gazprom and TMC fills coverage gaps for routes over Russia

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With Viasat expected to soon launch the first satellite in its global satellite constellation, ViaSat-3, we’re busy putting in place agreements that will expedite that coverage around the world.

A perfect example of this is in Russia, where Viasat recently announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Russian satellite operator Gazprom Space Systems and TMC. The initial agreement represents an important opportunity to expand our in-flight connectivity (IFC) network in that part of the world with an existing satellite network. It also sets the stage for ViaSat-3 by establishing relationships and advancing our position in — and understanding of — the market.

In the near term, our focus in Russia is on IFC. Aircraft flying between Europe and Asia or North America to Asia routinely fly over the pole and into Russian Federation airspace. Today, for most connected planes, service goes dark for several hours when they’re over Russia. That should soon be a thing of the past for aircraft with Viasat connectivity.

This arrangement gives us the opportunity to access Gazprom’s Yamal 401 Ku-band satellite using TMC’s telecom license, enabling roaming connectivity over Russia for our global airline customers. It’s also expected to provide IFC services on domestic flights within Russia and allow Russian and international airlines access to roam onto the Viasat global satellite network when outside of Russian airspace.

With Viasat putting the plan in place to connect those aircraft over Russian airspace, we’re fitting yet another piece into the puzzle of global connectivity. In a few years, we’ll add coverage with our ViaSat-3 Ka-band constellation, and this partnership gives us a strong opportunity to lay a foundation for a true global network. With the existing relationship with China Satcom for coverage over China, the day will soon come when someone can fly from Europe or North America to Asia with uninterrupted service.

“There’s no global coverage without coverage in Russia,” said Shameem Hashmi, Vice President, Emerging Markets for Viasat. “This partnership enables us to create a roadmap of capabilities that potentially include maritime, land mobile, enterprise and residential applications — in addition to IFC.”

Arrangements like these underway in Russia are emblematic of how Viasat is approaching its global coverage. Once the ViaSat-3 constellation — three ultra-high-capacity satellites providing near-global coverage — is in place, our ability to make the most out of that coverage and capacity depends on creating good relationships with operators already well-entrenched in a variety of markets.

“Finding the right partners in countries around the world to ensure that we have a global network available to customers is key,” said Jimmy Dodd, Senior Vice President and President, Global Enterprise & Mobility. “Further, partnering with regional network providers and bringing them into our network enables us to operate seamlessly across the globe.”

In Russia, Gazprom’s Yamal 401 satellite provides coverage for most of the country. Viasat is continuing talks with Gazprom and TMC about future coordination using other satellites. What’s important to note is that the “KuKarray” — Viasat’s dual band Ku/Ka antenna — allows aircraft to send and receive from satellites using both frequencies.

“This capability offers tremendous flexibility for roaming between satellites,” Hashmi said. “It’s for applications like this that we created the KuKarray antenna. Users may see a very short break as the satellites switch over, but otherwise it’s a smooth transition. There’s no need to log back in or anything like that.”

Hashmi gave an example of a flight between Dallas and Beijing, where the aircraft starts out on our Ka-band network over North America, transitions to coverage we have over Canada, then onto the Russian satellites and finally onto the China Satcom satellites the rest of the way.

“It’s a global aviation network that we are putting together,” Hashmi said. “This kind of seamless experience over such a vast area will easily extend to ViaSat-3 when that is in place, ultimately providing Viasat’s unique experience over almost all routes all around the globe.”

Dodd added that creating this global network, while key for aviation, also creates openings for other applications in sectors like maritime and energy.

“The opportunities are wide open,” he said. “There are many kinds of emerging markets for things like ships, buses, trains, ferries, renewable energy — whatever we want to connect.”