Viasat posted record fiscal Q1 revenues of $665 million, up 25% year-over-year, as elements of its business, including in-flight connectivity (IFC), showed more signs of recovering from the earlier phases of the pandemic.
Viasat also posted net income of $17 million last week, reversing a year-ago net loss of $12.4 million.
Artist rendering of a ViaSat-3 satellite. Viasat's set of high-capacity ViaSat-3 satellites provide global coverage.
(Image source: Viasat)
Those results arrive a year after Viasat was hit the hardest by a pandemic that temporarily scaled back air travel. For Q1 2021, Viasat's IFC business saw the number of active, connected aircraft rise to 1,400 on an installed base of about 1,550 aircraft.
"We continue to see sequential quarterly improvements as passengers return to air travel, but we're still well below pre-pandemic business levels," Rick Baldridge, Viasat's CEO, said on an earnings call last Thursday (August 5).
Satellite capacity in demand, but supply has run low
Viasat's residential fixed satellite broadband business was a mixed bag. The company lost some US broadband customers, but didn't disclose that specific figure. However, the company noted that customers who are staying on board are continuing to upgrade to speedier, more expensive data service plans. With those factors combined, Viasat expects revenues for this piece of the business to stay relatively flat.
Subscriber growth in that category, at least in the US, may have to wait as current capacity is largely being used up, according to Mark Dankberg, Viasat's chairman and executive chairman.
"The dominant issue for us over the next few quarters in US broadband [is] just going to be supply," Dankberg explained. "The main trend we're seeing is high demand for more bandwidth, and a lot of that is being absorbed by customers that are upgrading to provide bandwidth."
He estimated that the result is a loss of a "few thousand" subscribers countered by the fact that those who remain or are new to the platform tend to take premium speed plans. Dankberg also pointed out that some capacity on existing systems is also being allocated to support new business that will help to finance the company's developing ViaSat-3 platform.
Progress with ViaSat-3
ViaSat-3, a set of new satellites, will provide a major capacity boost and ultimately provide global coverage. The payload for the first of those birds, to provide coverage in the Americas, has been delivered to Boeing Satellite Systems for final integration and environment testing. The other two ViaSat-3 satellites in development are poised to cover Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) and the Asia-Pacific region.
Viasat expects the ViaSat-3 constellation to not only provide global coverage, but also enable the company to enter new market verticals or expand on existing ones.
Baldridge acknowledged that Viasat does have some interest in IoT opportunities that can drive recurring revenues.
Viasat has also started some initial work for ViaSat-4, a satellite that could support capacities of between 5 Tbit/s to 7 Tbit/s.
"We're doing some early initial efforts there," Viasat SVP and CFO Shawn Duffy said. "We're still scoping out what that ultimately looks like. But there is some real small spending. It's not significant."
Viasat execs were also asked to comment on recent Ookla speed tests indicating that Starlink's growing network of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites saw overall speeds increase in Q2 2021, with the caveat that the Starlink network itself is still lightly loaded.
Baldridge said the apples-to-apples comparison is Viasat's ability to deliver on the speeds it delivers on various advertised speed tiers. The "vast majority" of Viasat's satellite broadband subs take speeds in the range of 12 Mbit/s or 25 Mbit/s, though "tens of thousands" are getting speeds of 50 Mbit/s or 100 Mbit/s.
"The thing I would emphasize is that, yes, even with the number of subscribers that we have and our satellites being effectively full, we do meet the speed that we advertise," Baldridge said. "That includes the 1,500 megabit plan. So that would be a more relevant comparison of us versus anything."
Baldridge also stressed that the study focused on the speed averages across all service tiers compared to Starlink, which today has just one speed tier. "So that's really the part that I think people should pay the most attention to," he said.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading
A version of this story first appeared on Light Reading.