Viasat partners with Microsoft to bridge the digital divide

With two new Internet satellites scheduled to launch next year, Carlsbad’s Viasat needs to find customers for all that bandwidth.

The company took a step in that direction on Wednesday when it announced a partnership with Microsoft aimed at connecting 10 million underserved or underserved people with Internet access worldwide by the end of 2025.

The financial terms of the multi-year partnership have not been disclosed, also because they will be defined on a project-by-project basis. But Viasat will become the first satellite Internet provider that is part of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, which to date has helped connect some 51 million people in 17 countries, including 4 million in the U.S.

Viasat will provide satellite Internet connectivity in remote communities. The partnership has a particular focus on Africa, where it hopes to bring 5 million people online, as well as Latin America.

Initial work will cover a few countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Mexico, Guatemala and the United States, followed by Egypt, Senegal and Angola.

“We have projects with Internet service providers using a myriad of technologies,” said Vickie Robinson of Microsoft’s Airband Initiative. “Viasat will be the first ISP to use satellite. We are enthusiastic about the reach that the use of a solution like Viasat offers.

Next year, Viasat plans to launch two next-generation geostationary internet satellites, adding to the fleet of five satellites it currently operates. One will cover the Americas and the second Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Each will have more than 1 terabit per second of bandwidth and the flexibility to direct that capacity where demand is greatest. Users typically access geostationary satellite Internet via a small dish mounted on a building. That antenna is similar to a Wi-Fi hotspot and can provide connectivity for multiple people.

The deal with Microsoft brings “a lot to do to accelerate the number of people Viasat can serve around the world in a shorter time frame than we could do on our own,” said Evan Dixon, president of the Global Fixed Broadband business. of Viasat. “They have relationships all over the world. They help pursue sustainable sources of finance, and there will be direct investment and collaboration in priority countries.”

The company also has experience with business models for providing affordable connectivity to hard-to-reach regions while still making a profit, Dixon said.

“This is not something anyone else has been able to do,” Dixon said. “We are able to drive this profitability while providing cost-effective service in very economically challenging areas.”

In Brazil, Viasat provides Internet access to 9 million students and 20,000 schools in partnership with the telecommunications company Telebras. In total, some 60,000 Brazilian health centers, libraries, public squares and other facilities have been connected.

Launched in 2017, Microsoft’s Airband Initiative is known in the United States for its support for exploiting the television spectrum of underutilized “white spaces” to deliver the Internet to rural areas, with mixed results.

“One of the big lessons for us from the past five years is that there is no single magic solution in terms of technology to address this problem because different areas will present different challenges,” said Robinson.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations entity, about a third of the world’s population, or 2.7 billion people, have never used the Internet.

“It’s about how people can use connectivity for e-learning, building your business, telehealth,” Robinson said. “To do that, you need some level of connectivity, so what we’re looking for is (the Internet) that’s fast enough for those use cases.”

While Microsoft and Viasat aim to connect 10 million people via satellite, the Airband initiative has a much broader goal. It wants to provide Internet access to 250 million people around the world, including 100 million people in Africa, using a variety of technologies.