Overview of Viasat for its activity and network

Viasat’s government-owned company is quick to point out what the impending divestiture of a secure data communications products business doesn’t mean for the satellite network operator, as much as what it does.

It is certainly significant for Viasat to sell its Link 16 Tactical Data Links product business to L3Harris Technologies for approximately $2 billion. Viasat co-founder and CEO Mark Dankberg acknowledged this in this blog post to explain the transaction and what it means for the whole company.

Craig Miller also did the same in an interview at the Association for the United States Army conference in Washington, DC on Thursday.

“We’ve never done a transaction of this magnitude before, so for us it’s definitely a big event, but it’s a big strategic event and it’s something we didn’t do lightly.” said Miller, president of Viasat’s government segment.

But as Dankberg wrote and Miller pointed out to me, the fact that L3Harris was a subcontractor to Viasat on the MIDS airborne terminal aspect of Link 16 meant that buyer and seller had a great deal of familiarity.

Craig Miller, Viasat

“They’re going to nurture this business, they’re going to empower the people who are really at the heart of this business,” Miller said. “L3Harris will continue to cultivate this and maybe even accelerate the technology associated with it, faster than we would because it’s their core.”

As for Viasat: Miller said the transaction represents his employer’s return to the rest of its portfolio of broadband satellite communications and service-based models.

“It’s not something we did to signal that we’re leaving the defense business,” Miller added.

Viasat has two upcoming milestones that represent big strategic events for the company, to use Miller’s description of the sale and highlight what she sees as core.

Launch number one of the upcoming three-satellite constellation called Viasat-3 is scheduled for early next year, followed by two more satellites that will enter orbit and become operational during 2023.

Miller estimated that the constellation will have nearly 10 times the capacity of the current Viasat-2 network and additional capacity to increase bandwidth in hotspot regions as needed.

Viasat-3 took years to develop for the company, given all the design, manufacturing and testing required for this type of network used by governments and commercial enterprises.

“It’s a transformation for us because it will take us globally, take the capability that we have in the United States and basically have the equivalent anywhere in the world,” Miller said.

Then there’s Viasat’s deal to acquire fellow satellite communications network operator Inmarsat, which was first announced in November 2021 and amid antitrust scrutiny.

In this blog post on the sale of Link 16, Dankberg said Viasat would have greater financial flexibility to undertake the combination with Inmarsat and support further reinvestments in the business.

Dankberg also touted Inmarsat’s vast spectrum holdings and L-band satellite fleet as presenting growth opportunities for Viasat in narrowband satellite services and direct-to-mobile handsets.

Miller said that although the Viasat and Inmarsat networks will operate separately for a period of time after the close as all parties work to bring them together, they are “already very friendly” and that should make the integration more manageable.

“You’ll find yourself in a situation where pretty much anywhere on Earth you have a choice of one Viasat satellite or multiple Viasat satellites, or multiple Inmarsat satellites that you can operate on,” Miller said. “As you bring other network operators online and partnerships with operators in low earth orbit, it’s a very rich hybrid network.”

It is also in this concept of hybrid networks that Viasat’s work on 5G comes into play, particularly in terms of the way Miller defined it on an episode of Project 38 last year as an extensible network management architecture.

Or in other words, 5G is more than just a spectrum protocol for more functionality in cellphones.

Viasat has been three several government contracts for 5G experimentation under a Department of Defense $600 million initiative focused on on this technology, including one announced in June focused on expeditionary forward base operations.

Miller said the most recent award called on the company to understand how 5G can enter a place without any terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure.

The way he answered my question about what the ideal end state is may help explain Viasat’s focus and what the DOD wants to achieve with its vision of connectivity.

“The ideal end state is something where you can go to a place where there is no terrestrial, telephony or network services, drop one of these 5G stations and suddenly you have a 5G bubble around that,” Miller said. .

“But it also has a broadband satcom backhaul, so you can go to a stark place where there’s no communications and set up something where you can use your cell phone and access the internet.”

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