ViaSat diversifies, moves away from focusing on subscriber counts

ViaSat
ViaSat continues to add airlines to its roster for in-flight connectivity. (ViaSat)

ViaSat is moving away from talking about subscriber head counts, in part because it's diversifying into other areas. But perhaps more importantly, it prefers to focus on revenue and EBITDA rather than subscriber numbers.

“I think people are going to be interested in sub count, for sure. We will talk about it,” said ViaSat President and COO Rick Baldridge.

The company has disclosed, for example, that it has roughly 100,000 subscribers on its new unlimited plans that are supported by both ViaSat-1 and ViaSat-2 satellites. “We’re seeing pretty rapid adoption to the new plans that we’re launching,” he told FierceWirelessTech.

But one of the things that happened with ViaSat-1 is people were focused on the company coming up short on the subscriber count, when it actually exceeded its revenue and earnings projections. “In our view, we thought it was great,” he said. “We would much rather have one sub paying us twice than two subs paying us half. It’s a better outcome for us.”

Another reason it’s veering away from subscriber counts is a much higher percentage of ViaSat-2 capacity will be used for other services. For example, ViaSat is connecting far more airplanes than ever before with in-flight services and keeps adding customers around the world. It’s also launched an enterprise service where it’s starting to see some progress, and government customers will be using some of the ViaSat-2 capacity.

RELATED: ViaSat expects ViaSat-2 to make it more competitive with cellular’s ‘unlimited’ offerings

The ViaSat-2 satellite launched last year, after which Baldridge expected the company to become much more competitive with cellular in unlimited. Last week, he said that has held true. “We’re a much better answer to unlimited than the cellular guys are, for sure.” he said, explaining that ViaSat is more like a cable modem in a home, supporting things like Netflix on connected TVs and iPads, which under a cellular model is hard to do on something other than a cell phone.

ViaSat’s capacity play is rather pronounced when it comes to airplanes. Baldridge said Gogo boasts low latency, but ViaSat believes it’s more about speed and volume. Case in point: American Airlines chose ViaSat to replace Gogo on hundreds of planes a couple years ago. 

ViaSat for over a year now has been able to offer gate-to-gate services, meaning passengers don’t have to wait until the plane is 10,000 feet up to be connected.

ViaSat uses Ka spectrum, as opposed to Ku. “When you have a bunch of airplanes at a hub location that are consuming bandwidth on the ground before they take off and then around it, there’s not enough Ku capacity to serve a single airline at one of those hubs the way we’re serving these guys,” he said. “It’s just really about available capacity.”

ViaSat is the rare satellite player that is not worried that 5G is going to eat their spectrum lunch, so to speak. “We think our technology is good enough that we’re going to be able to share,” he said. “We’re not in the dense urban environments where 5G is going to play, that’s not where we live, but even if we did, we believe we could coexist and share without interfering.”