If you’re living in a rural area and depend on satellite for your internet access, you probably have a more limited definition of broadband than those of us living in cities with access to cable modem or even fiber connections. If you’re in the former category, “broadband” likely means slow speeds and strict limits on the amount of data you can consume each month.
But Exede, the rural broadband service owned by ViaSat, is starting to close that gap. On Monday Exede will start testing a new broadband plan with a 150 GB-per month gap in several regions of the U.S. It’s calling the new Freedom Plan a “virtually unlimited” service, though I’m sure many a hard-core video streamer would disagree. But at 150 GBs, the plan is on par with the monthly limits at which many wireline ISPs are capping their lower-tier plans.
Relatively speaking this isn’t exactly a low-tier plan when it comes to price. The normal price for the Freedom Plan will be $100 a month, though Exede will offer a promotion starting Monday in which the first half-year of service cost $70 a month. The service is also isn’t as fast as cable, topping out at about 12 Mbps.
But compared to other satellite broadband plans, it’s a big step forward. Currently Exede’s most generous plan is capped at 25 GBs and costs a whopping $130 a month. Exede competitor HughesNet’s higher-tier plans max out at 40 GBs a month.
While satellite broadband may never be able to match its wireline counterparts, a new generation of satellite technologies is making the balance less lopsided. Exede taps into the ViaSat-1 satellite, which boasts a total capacity of 140 Gbps. ViaSat-1 has been in orbit for several years, which makes me wonder why the company is now just starting to push up broadband caps.
Perhaps ViaSat realizing it can’t charge $50 to $100 a month for a broadband service that you can’t really use for broadband applications. It may also be paving the way for the 2016 launch of ViaSat-2, its next generation bird that’s projected to have double ViaSat-1’s capacity.
It’s no coincidence, however, that ViaSat is launching the plan in areas where it’s seeing the least demand for its service, according to SpaceNews. In areas like Maine and Alaska its small number of customers mean it has a satellite capacity to spare.
Whatever the reason, Exede’s new tweaked plans just became a lot more attractive for those who can get it. Its footprint is still limited to areas along the Eastern Seaboard, the Gulf Coast, all of Hawaii, Alaska and Florida and parts of California, Arizona and Minnesota. In addition to offering the new Freedom Plan, ViaSat said it would also boost the monthly caps on its lower tier Classic plans.