The Editor travelled down to Viasat’s UK Headquarters in Farnborough to meet Ken Peterman, discuss his career and his aims and aspirations for Viasat. I first met Ken Peterman when he worked for Raytheon in 1998, and have had the pleasure of keeping in touch since then following his meteoric career.
History of Viasat
Before we discuss Ken and his career, it is worth looking at Viasat and the growth of the Corporation from a garage in 1986 with a few thousand in start-up capital to the multi-billion Corporation it is today. Viasat is a world leader in satellite communications, networking and related technologies. Viasat (sales ~$1.6bn a year) employs over 4,500 professional and support personnel worldwide. Viasat produces satellite payloads, satellite terminals, networked data links and cyber security solutions that enable fast, secure, and efficient communications and data services to any location, serving both the commercial and government sectors.
Viasat was co-founded in May 1986 by Mark Dankberg, Mark Miller and Steve Hart. Mark Dankberg became chief executive officer and Mark Miller and Steve Hart became chief technical officers. Viasat received venture capital financing of $300,000 from Southern California Ventures. In December 1996, Viasat had its initial public offering (IPO). The company offered $20m in stock to the public, leaving the founders with 28 percent of the company and venture capital backers with 20 percent.
The acquisition of the satellite networking business of Scientific-Atlanta for $75m in cash in 2000 helped Viasat to focus on providing technology for interactive services to businesses. Viasat launched a spin-off company, TrellisWare Technologies, Inc., in 2000. The self-funded company focuses on solutions for ground communications problems.
Viasat has experienced significant growth in the 21st century. In 2001, Viasat started working with Boeing on Connexion broadband for airliners. Soon after that the company acquired Lockheed Martin Global Telecommunications’ products unit, Comsat Laboratories, in 2001 for an undisclosed amount. The former Comsat Laboratories is now Viasat’s technology and product development group for communication systems; focusing on developing new technologies for extremely bandwidth efficient, high data rate satellite transmission. In 2001, Viasat also purchased US Monolithics, a company focused on designing high frequency broadband circuitry, for around $30m. Viasat won a contract with WildBlue Communications worth $16m in March 2001 to build WildBlue’s satellite modems to support the company’s initial service launch. WildBlue signed a second contract with Viasat in 2001 for $17m for Viasat to develop and produce satellite modem termination systems for WildBlue’s six gateway stations. Eutelsat entered an agreement in 2001 to use Viasat’s LinkStar high performance IP terminals for their broadband multimedia network over Ku-based FSS satellites. Viasat entered a joint venture in 2001 with Loral Skynet to found Immeon Networks to develop the Immeon satellite bandwidth-on-demand service sold in monthly managed service plans. ABC News used Immeon to improve its voice and data-communications for on-location news.
WildBlue launched its internet service in October 2004 after gaining Ka-band transponder capacity on the Telesat Anik F2 satellite. It conducted formal technical testing until January 2005, followed by nationwide beta testing before the first residential retail customers had services installed in June. The WildBlue service was upgraded in 2007 using the satellite WildBlue-1, which launched the year before.
In 2005, Viasat acquired Efficient Channel Coding, a producer of broadband communication integrated circuits and satellite communication systems, which gave Viasat access to the IPStar satellite broadband market. Enerdyne, a defence technology firm, was acquired by Viasat in 2006 for an initial investment of $17m adding its EnerLinks II video data link equipment to Viasat’s defence products.
Viasat acquired JAST Antenna Systems, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2007. JAST develops microwave circuits and antennas for terrestrial and mobile satellite applications.
In December 2009, Viasat bought WildBlue, based in Colorado, for $568m in cash and stock. Viasat issued 4.3 million shares for the stock component of the purchase. The United States Government granted stimulus funding to WildBlue to expand broadband coverage in rural areas.
In 2010, Viasat bought Stonewood Group of Dorset, England, an encryption company, for $20m in cash and stock.
In 2011, Viasat launched their first custom-built satellite, Viasat-1. When it launched, it held the Guinness World Record for the world’s highest capacity satellite with a total capacity above 140 Gbps, more than all the other satellites covering North America at the tim
In 2013, Viasat contributed $1m to University of California, San Diego’s Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. In January 2013, Viasat broke ground for its expansion in Duluth, Georgia. The building was 60,000 square feet and a $10.5m investment, which made Duluth the second largest location after the company’s headquarters in Carlsbad, California at the time. Viasat also acquired LonoCloud, a company focused on cloud networking software, in 2013. In July 2013, Viasat was licensed by the Federal Communications Commission for Ka-band aeronautical earth stations.
In 2014, Viasat partnered with Thuraya Telecommunications, a mobile satellite services operator, to provide M2M services (machine 2 machine). The same year, Viasat entered a partnership with LightSquared to work on M2M services in vehicular and aviation devices. Viasat also teamed with Southern California Edison to provide an easy transition into operational networks. NetNearU based in Bryan/College Station, Texas was acquired in 2014. Focused on government and enterprise customers, NetNearU has a Wi-Fi management system that is cloud-based software.
In 2015, Viasat acquired Engreen, a privately-held company focused on network virtualization. Through the acquisition, Viasat added management flexibility for its global satellite-ground system.
In 2016, Viasat acquired Arconics, an aviation software solutions provider based in Dublin, Ireland. The company enabled Viasat to gain broader expertise, aviation-grade software and mobile applications to make flying safer and more efficient for pilots, cabin crews and flight operations teams as well as enable new applications to make flying more entertaining for passengers.
In 2017, Viasat formed a joint venture with the European satellite operator Eutelsat. As part of the venture, the companies will jointly operate two new business entities with one owning and operating Eutesat’s KA-SAT satellite and wholesale broadband business and the other purchasing KA-SAT satellite-based capacity and marketing retail broadband internet services throughout Europe. Both businesses will be headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland.
On June 1, 2017, Viasat’s $624m satellite, Viasat-2, was launched. The launch was originally scheduled for April 25, 2017, but was delayed due to the 2017 social unrest in French Guiana. Viasat-2 is an important step toward spreading high-capacity coverage worldwide for fixed broadband and mobility services.
“We have known each other many years and have witnessed the extraordinary changes in the military communications market from Software Defined Radios, JTRS and Bowman thru network centric warfare to today’s soldier armed with a mobile phone and satcom. What is the greatest change you have seen in this period?”
“You are right, technology has developed in leaps and bounds, but the greatest change has been the move from government funded systems to governments buying technology developed by civil companies. A good example of this is the iPhone and Blackberry now in regular use by armed forces across the world.”
“What interested you about Viasat?”
“I had been following the growth of the company from its beginning and saw that the key to its success was a technology leap in bandwidth capacity which enabled them to focus on utilizing broadband itself rather than focusing on the broadcast architecture of its satellites. This technology unleashes enormous capacity and enables each user to have an individual experience, resulting in a more advanced but also affordable satcom solution.
Viasat’s approach runs counter to most government satellite systems. A good example of this is the US Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) System. When it was conceived it was seen as the state-of-the-art in satellite systems, with a capacity of 2.1 to 3.6 gigabytes per second, which in itself, was ten times more than the legacy defence satellites. Viasat-1,on the other hand, launched in 2011 and has a satellite capacity of more than 140 gigabytes per second. Viasat-2, launched in 2017, has ~300 gigabytes per second; whilst Viasat-3 to be launched in ~2020 will have 1 terabyte (1000 gigabytes) per second. Each VS-3 satellite has more than 200 times more capacity than a WGS satellite! This is a complete game changer in terms of what can be achieved in terms of data transmission, images, video conferring and cloud computing from our systems. For the first time military users will be able to access the Cloud direct from the front line, aircraft, ships and vehicles.”
“Viasat is in a number of defence markets. Can you provide a quick overview of Viasat’s defence offerings and who you sell to?”
“Our fastest growing areas in defence continue to be in mobile broadband, tactical data links, cybersecurity and global satellite communications (satcom). We’re delivering these solutions to the UK MOD and United States DoD, as well as international defence agencies around the world, including France, Portugal, Brunei, Spain, Australia, Canada, Columbia, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.”
“Viasat has had tremendous success over the past few years. What do you attribute this success to?”
“Our offerings address a number of critical needs for today’s warfighters, and range across mobile broadband, tactical data links, cybersecurity and satcom. One of the keys to our success is the way we have been able to help our government and global defence customers leverage these solutions across platforms to enable new CONOPS and increase mission effectiveness. Whether it is improving response times, increasing situational awareness, increasing resiliency in today’s threat environments, or reducing mission costs and minimizing collateral damage, Viasat’s solutions offer real value to our warfighters.
We get these products to the field faster and more efficiently by focusing on customer capabilities and customer outcomes. We place significant emphasis on developing and productizing new offerings and services that end users need, and that are not being delivered through the traditional DoD acquisition processes. By investing and creating operational capabilities – not products, we have been able to deliver the real capabilities warfighters need today, not in 10-years.”
“What makes Viasat different than its competitors?”
“We are definitely a unique company! We have more defence experience and capabilities than other commercial companies in terms of our tactical networking, cybersecurity, satcom and broadband services offerings. We also offer more innovative business models compared to pure-play defence companies, so we can take advantage of the best of both worlds. We have key knowledge and insight into emerging threats and mission capability gaps, while at the same time operating under a commercial business model that enables us to be innovative with an agile development process, flexible business model and cutting-edge technologies. These attributes allow us to fulfill the evolving and emerging needs of the warfighter with proven operational solutions that create new and enhanced mission effects on a very rapid timeline.
Our differentiation is highlighted by our performance in the market. According to Defence News, 37% of the Top 100 Defence Primes saw negative growth in 2016, while Viasat’s Government Systems segment marked another record quarter of operating profit driven by revenue growth of 7% year-over-year. This growth was achieved, in large part, due to increased interest in our tactical data link products, government mobility platforms, and secure networking products – all of which solve real-world warfighter problems in a rapidly changing macro defence environment.”
“Viasat is known for its commercial satcom offerings – have military customers turned to you for satcom solutions as well?”
“Viasat has been providing satcom solutions to the United States DoD and our allies for over 30 years, and we are seeing continued growth in demand for our secure, high capacity solutions. One reason for this increased demand is that neither the legacy military communication satellite systems nor the satellite bandwidth procurement practices employed in the past will meet the performance, capacity density, resiliency needs, affordability, or scalability requirements that will be demanded by military customers in the emerging threat environment.
This need for assured, secure, high capacity, broadband connectivity has given Viasat a competitive edge. We are using our commercial strength in high capacity satellite technology to leap-frog defence satellite technology with the implementation of extensive spectrum re-use, very small spot beam coverage, and other advanced communication techniques. Our state-of-the-art of satellite communications networks have eclipsed today’s purpose-built defence networks. As an example, today’s WGS satellite is capable of roughly 5Gbps of total user capacity. By 2020, each Viasat satellite will provide over 1Tbps of user capacity – supporting tens of millions of simultaneous users on the network. This represents an improvement of over 1000 times.
Capacity is merely one measure of the technical advancement. We’ve also made similar advancements in terms of security, resilience, dynamic capacity reallocation, interference mitigation, real time network management and network situational awareness and cybersecurity.”
“What unique requirements have military customers asked of your SATCOM solutions?”
“Our military satcom customers are increasingly interested in satcom service plans which bundle assured performance and connectivity with additional services like assured connectivity, network situational awareness, user prioritization and active cyber defence. Our customers are increasingly demanding these integrated satcom service plans because they genuinely ensure customer quality of service by including complementary capabilities such as real time active cyber defence, real time network management, dynamic capacity reallocation and asset position/location along with assured speed and capacity.
Viasat is offering these kinds of bundled satellite service plans today and we see this demand trend accelerating across our markets.”
“What satcom offerings do you have on your roadmap?”
“We’re bringing a new class of satellites, known as the Viasat-3, to the global market beginning with service in 2020, and it is already driving transformational change in the satellite communications market. Beyond the enormous capacity and enhanced throughput that Viasat-3 brings, we will also have the capacity to integrate significantly more security, to include active cyber defence. The available bandwidth will, for the first time, truly enable secure access to the cloud enabling unprecedented multimedia applications for a wide array of applications ranging from combat situations to disaster relief operations.
Military satcom users will be able to take full advantage of these new Viasat-3 capabilities without the significant investment and development risks that come with developing their own satellite network. Our military users will be able to reliably and securely transmit and receive vast amounts of data, whether it is ubiquitous soldier-as-a-sensor data, airborne ISR data, streaming video or multi-domain command and control information – and do so affordably, because they only pay for the portion of the network capacity that they actually need.”
“What aspirations does Viasat have for the UK market in particular?”
“We first entered the UK market in 2010, when we bought the Stonewood Group in Dorset, England, an encryption company, for $20m in cash and stock. We moved into our new UK HQ here in Farnborough in 2015. We continue to deliver secure projects for UK and other government customer, and in parallel have been building a team that can execute space and communications projects, and with good understanding of military communications. We have recently appointed retired Major General Bill Robins as our new UK Managing Director, a military communications and information services professional, to develop and grow this team further.
“Viasat sees ourselves as unique in our ability to deliver improved performance and cost savings from innovative fielding of out networks for defence and other customers. We see a number of opportunities for Viasat in the UK including the Future Beyond Line Of Sight (FBLOS) Skynet 5 replacement. The UK MOD already understands a “service provision” approach to key military capability, and this is something aligned with Viasat’s approach which we can take to a new level. In addition, we view Morpheus as a place we can bring both satellite, terrestrial and Link 16 technology to bear. We have already secured a key position through a recent contract win from Lockheed Martin for the Royal Navy’s Crowsnest Programme.
“In 2017 we won an FMS award for quantity 14 MIDS(JTRS) CMN4 terminals for the UK Ministry of Defence (Royal Navy in Crowsnest) airborne surveillance and control (ASaC) system upgrade to the Royal Navy’s fleet of Leonardo Helicopters EW101 Merlin HM2s. This is great news for us.
Separately, recall that we developed on our own initiative the small form factor Link-16 terminal formally designated as the KOR-24A Small Tactical Terminal (STT). This terminal has been selected for the UK Apache AH-64E’s which are scheduled to be delivered in 2019. This follows Viasat’s selection for the Link-16 terminal position on US Apache helicopters.Our KOR-24A Small Tactical Terminals (STT) are ideally suited not just for the Apache, but for any rotary wing platform requiring a small terminal enabling access to the Link-16 tactical network. We have activities on-going across the Special Forces community which could see our KOR-24A’s rolled out to platforms such as the CH-47 and C-130 fleets as part of a roll-on, roll-off communication equipment upgrade. Our KOR-24A STT’s are also operated in the UK by Cobham Defence onboard two of their Dassault Falcon 20 aircraft in support of the Royal Navy’s Joint Air Support & Tasking operations.”
In addition to the KOR-24A STT, Viasat’s PRC-161 Link-16 Handheld Terminal holds the potential to be even more impactful in the UK and across the worldwide Link-16 tactical data link market. Initial use of the PRC-161 in applications such as Digitally-aided Close Air Support (Da-CAS) clearly illustrate that the PRC-161 is a truly remarkable capability that ‘changes the game’ in many ways. We will have much more to say on the PRC-161 in the near future. As context, historically Viasat’s Link-16 portfolio has not had a strong presence in the UK. This is primarily due to the fact that BAE Systems are the dominate Prime Contractor for both UK Military Ship building and Aircraft manufacturing and therefore have always designed their own Link-16 solutions into these UK platforms – for example URC138’s and LVT’s.”
The emergence of our Viasat small form factor Link-16 terminals such as the KOR-24A Small Tactical Terminal and the PRC-161 BATS-D Handheld L-16 Terminal, along with the general migration away from the LVT and toward the MIDS(JTRS) has put Viasat on an even footing against DLS in the UK Link-16 terminal market and we believe our Viasat competitive advantages will continue to increase as these small form factor Link-16 terminals demonstrate their game-changing value in the emerging multi-domain battlespace. “
“What does the future look like for Viasat?”
“The future looks good. Our tactical networking, Link-16 data links, our cybersecurity and our high capacity satcom are all experiencing increasing customer demand. We believe governments will move toward a much more integrated end-to-end satcom architecture and buy service in more fully-integrated, bundled service plans that meet assured performance levels and provide much better mission effectiveness and secure access to the cloud.
We believe we have the ability today to deliver fully-integrated satcom, tactical networking and cybersecurity services with more capacity, performance, security and resiliency in support of current and planned user needs; as well as the ability to scale to support the increasingly large population of user terminals.
We’re also bringing new dimensions of value into integrated service plans by offering innovative business models with assured performance, quality of service and consistent user experiences to align with the diverse range of international defence environments.”
Ken Peterman, President, Government Systems, Viasat, Inc.
Ken Peterman is President Government Systems at Viasat. A world leader in satellite communications, networking and related technologies, Viasat (sales ~$1.6B/yr) employs over 4,500 professional and support personnel worldwide. Viasat produces satellite payloads, satellite terminals, networked data links and cyber security solutions that enable fast, secure, and efficient communications to any location, serving both the commercial and government sectors.
Prior to joining Viasat, Ken was president, CEO and founder of the SpyGlass Group, a respected thought leader in emerging defence and aerospace market trends, working primarily with small and mid-sized businesses to formulate effective strategies to optimize operational and financial performance, maximize growth, increase new market penetration and execute challenging business transformation and turnaround agendas.
Prior to founding SpyGlass, Ken was president and general manager of Exelis Communications and Force Protection Systems (sales >$1bn/year), and president of ITT Communications Systems (sales ~$1bn/year). In these positions, responsibilities included general management of over 3,000 employees with facilities in 12 states plus the United Kingdom. Portfolios included Tactical Communications Systems, Satellite Communications Systems, Wireless Communication Systems, Special Mission Communications Systems, Information Assurance and Cyber Solutions, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Networking Solutions, Electronic Protection and Counter IED Systems, Interference Cancellation (INCAN) Systems, Ruggedized Data Storage, Vision Systems and Integrated C4 (Command, Control, Communications and Computer) Systems for U.S. and allied forces serving markets in over 35 countries.
Previously, Ken was vice president and general manager of Rockwell Collins Government Systems Integrated C3 Systems (sales ~$600M/yr) and Rockwell Collins Displays and Awareness Systems (sales ~$450M/yr). In these positions, responsibilities included general management of facilities in Texas, California, Michigan and Iowa. The C3 portfolio included C2 (Command and Control) Systems, Special Mission Communications Systems, Information Assurance and Cryptographic Systems, Networking Solutions, Electronic Warfare Systems, and MILSTAR Satellite Communications Systems; and the Displays portfolio included Head-Down displays for all types of military ground, vehicular and aerospace platforms, Head-Up displays for tactical fighter and trainer aircraft, Helmet-Mounted Vision Systems for tactical fighter aircraft and Helmet-Mounted Soldier Systems for the land warrior and future force warrior markets. These portfolios served the US and worldwide market.
Ken has a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering (with high honors) from Tri-State University (now Trine), augmented by executive education at The Pennsylvania State University and Stanford University. Industry leadership includes roles as chairman of the Indiana Aerospace and Defence Council (comprised of over 40 companies) and membership in AFCEA, the National Defence Industry Association, the Association of the United States Army, and the Association of the United States Air Force.
Ken is married to Ms. Jennifer Hawks and is blessed with five children and four grandchildren.