A new satellite launched Wednesday is promising to provide access to higher broadband internet speeds in rural Canada.
ViaSat-1, launched aboard a Proton rocket in Kazakhstan on Wednesday afternoon, will be able to support "4G" download speeds of up to 25 megabits per second and provide broadband service to 1.5 million customers in North America, says Xplornet Communications Inc. The company says ViaSat-1 has a capacity greater than all other existing North American broadband satellites combined.
Xplornet says it has purchased 100 per cent of the Canadian capacity within a certain range of spectrum for the satellite called the Ka band and will be using that entirely for rural broadband.
The Canadian government kicked in $28 million dollars to help the private company expand its rural broadband offerings.
"ViaSat-1 will allow for previously unavailable speed and bandwidth economics, and will provide Canadians in its footprint, which includes many remote areas, the opportunity to get a broadband connection that is truly fast and affordable," Xplornet said in a statement Wednesday.
The company will also expand access with a second satellite that launches next year and build a series of new ground stations to bounce stronger signals to its customers across the country.
"By the end of 2012 we're going to be in a position to say that a hundred per cent of Canada is covered with fast, reliable, high-quality broadband," said John Maduri, CEO of Xplornet.
He added that he expects prices to come down as well.
The company's existing service is considerably more expensive than internet service of comparable speeds.
High school student Hayleigh McGrath's family in Branch, N.L., pays more than $60 a month to subscribe to satellite broadband from Xplornet. Activation fees to get the service range from $549 without a contract to $99 with a three-year contract.
In the area near Branch, the maximum available download speed is just one megabit per second. In comparison, in urban areas, Bell charges $36.95 per month for download speeds of up to two megabits per second and $29.95 for activation. For $56.95 a month – comparable to what McGrath's family is paying – Bell offers download speeds in some urban areas 12 times faster than what the McGraths are getting.
But one megabit per second is still 25 times faster than the dial-up internet McGrath's family had up until this past summer.
"It's really important to have the faster speed so you can re-watch your classes, or send emails to ask your teacher for help," said McGrath, noting that in the rural area where she lives, educational resources are limited, and students may need to learn from teachers in other communities.
Telecom analyst Eamon Hoey said even with the new satellite, rural broadband will continue to fall short.
"If people in a rural area think they can subscribe to the lowest service that Xplornet provides and have, you know, Netflix, and so on, it will be slow," he said. "It certainly will not be up to urban standards."