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Viasat CEO Talks New Satellite Internet Service and SpaceX

February 27, 2018, 1:00 PM UTC

A company that offers consumers Internet service via satellite is introducing unlimited high-speed connections that it says are as speedy as plans from AT&T and Comcast.

Viasat, the company offering the Internet service, is charging $150 a month for its fastest plan of up to 100 megabits per second. Customers who sign up for a two-year deal won’t have to pay for satellite dish installation and related costs. The fastest Internet speeds will also only be available to people living in metropolitan areas as opposed to more rural areas, although existing customers will be able to choose faster Internet services than they currently have.

Viasat’s price is higher than the typical Earth-based Internet service provider like Comcast (CMCSA), which charges an “introductory price” of $50 a month for 150 MPS Internet service. However, that price likely increases after the promotional period ends.

The company’s new satellite Internet service is born from a satellite it sent to space in June. Although it already sells unlimited Internet service, the company claims that its newer ViaSat-2 satellite will boost the speed of its service.

But there are tradeoffs to satellite Internet service. For example, customers are more likely to experience latency issues with satellite web services that could cause online video games to stutter or streaming video to suddenly lower in quality to compensate.

However, Viasat’s new, faster Internet service shows that advances in satellite technology are improving the quality of Internet services to Earth from space.

That’s likely one reason the Elon Musk-led SpaceX is exploring delivering Internet services through satellites. SpaceX is looking to launch several small satellites into a lower orbit than Viasat in order to cut down on latency errors, with the idea being the closer a satellite is to Earth, the less likely there will be hiccups.

Viasat CEO Mark Dankberg believes that it’s unlikely that the kinds of smaller satellites that companies like SpaceX or rival OneWeb are looking to deploy in low orbit will be able to offer Internet speeds that are as fast as the bigger satellites in higher orbit.

“It’s not obvious having lots of small satellites is better than having a big satellite,” he said. “Ultimately, time will tell which one delivers the best.”

Viasat originally signed a contract with SpaceX to launch its ViaSat 2 satellite into space via SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. But because SpaceX delayed the rocket’s launch, Viasat ended up sending the satellite aloft with the help of Arianespace.

Asked about Viasat’s contract with SpaceX, Dankberg said “we’re still evaluating” it and that the company has not made any decisions about future satellite launches.

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SpaceX’s decision to possibly create a satellite Internet service shows that the company is expanding its business beyond simply launching other company’s cargo into space. Of course, this may create more tenuous relationships between SpaceX and its customers, which Dankberg acknowledged.

“I think that’s a fair observation,” Dankberg said.