For most of us, the internet’s never farther away than our pocket. But until recently, the 240 residents of Mesa de las Tablas, Mexico faced a 35-mile drive to get online, often compounded by a steep bill and a day’s lost wages.
Then in September 2016, the village became one of many small communities to receive affordable satellite internet from ViaSat.
The Carlsbad-based company is poised to connect more remote regions thanks to ViaSat-2, a satellite the size of a city bus that blasted into space in June.
Early next year, ViaSat-2 will begin providing broadband service across North and Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America—seven times the coverage of its predecessor, ViaSat-1, which has been in orbit since 2011. It also has twice the bandwidth, clocking in at 300 gigabits per second of total network capacity. (Everyone live-streaming their reactions to the World Cup at once, in high def? No problem.)
This extra horsepower, combined with low-cost two-way satellite terminals that can be installed anywhere, has the company thinking big. ViaSat currently serves 100 remote areas, with plans to connect thousands more in the next few years.
ViaSat-3, slated to launch in 2019, will speed up the company’s mission even further.
About half of the world’s population lacks internet access, and ViaSat aims to help bridge the digital divide. Key to their model is affordable technology: The average household income in Mesa de las Tablas is less than $4,500 a year.
“There are others offering satellite internet, but the issue is that they don’t have capacity,” says Keven Lippert, president of ViaSat’s broadband services division. “So they either have to charge a lot of money, which makes it unaffordable, or they can’t serve a lot of communities. We can provide affordable internet and still be successful from a business perspective.”
And then there’s the boost in commerce that comes with connecting the unconnected. ViaSat is exploring partnerships with microfinance organizations, which provide small loans to entrepreneurs without capital.
And the new satellite’s perks aren’t just for the far-flung: Commercial airlines will also benefit from improved Wi-Fi service. It’s a technological breakthrough, whether you’re in the country or in the clouds.