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Inmarsat to launch new inflight connectivity service for Europe

Mobile phone being used in flight.

A passenger using a mobile phone in flight.

Inmarsat is to deploy a new EU-wide satellite/air-to-ground (ATG) network to serve the rapidly-developing demand for aviation passenger connectivity.

The service will require an integrated telecommunications network across Europe and a new S-band satellite called Europasat.

The new aviation network will deliver high speed broadband services to commercial and business aviation passengers.

The system will mimic Gogo’s ATG service in the US and Canada. That is, aircraft will communicate with base stations throughout Europe, probably using a 4G or LTE protocol. This will be backed up by the new satellite. Around 300 base stations/towers will be required.

S-band frequencies run in the range from 2 to 4 GHz. This means that the likely speeds attainable will be faster than Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband (SBB) service at 432kbps, but probably not as fast as the 50 Mbps promised by its upcoming GX Aviation service.

In a conference call with analysts, Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce said “we can deliver over 40 Gigabits per second across an air-to-ground network in Europe”. Although no technical details are known, likely speeds to and from the aircraft are probably going to be in the 2-15 Mbps range.

The new service will be offered alongside Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band and SwiftBroadband L-band aviation offerings.

This isn’t the first time that 4G ATG has been looked at in Europe. Deutsche Telekom has conducted air-to-ground 4G tests, but the stumbling block has always been licensing and regulation. Gogo CEO Michael Small had also previously told Get Connected that he didn’t think an EU-wide ATG system was feasible for the same reasons.

Rupert Pearce, Inmarsat’s CEO, said: “North America has seen rapid take-up of in-flight passenger connectivity services, with installation and usage both growing very quickly.

“The success of the Gogo air-to-ground network has already triggered the building of a second competing network by AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecommunications operators.

“Independent research predicts that in-flight connectivity services will be a multi-billion dollar revenue sector by 2020.

“We believe that the same in-flight connectivity opportunity exists in Europe and that, with the support of EU telecoms regulators, Inmarsat can rapidly bring to market unique, high-speed aviation passenger connectivity services to meet this market demand on an EU-wide basis.

“A number of European airlines are aligned with this vision and we are absolutely delighted to announce advanced discussions with British Airways to be a launch customer on our new aviation network.”

British Airways is in discussions with Inmarsat about starting with UK domestic routes. Inmarsat will deploy Europe’s first ground-based 4G broadband network giving our customers the internet access they expect on the ground while in the air.

To reduce initial programme costs, Inmarsat and Hellas-Sat, a non-competing European satellite operator, have contracted with Thales Alenia Space for the construction of a satellite on a shared basis such that each partner will retain exclusive rights to a separate payload.

Inmarsat’s S-band payload will be called Europasat and the satellite is expected to be delivered for launch at the end of 2016.

Inmarsat has an existing authorisation (from 2009) to operate integrated satellite/terrestrial communications services in 30MHz of S-band frequencies across the 28 Member States of the EU.

The company has already commenced the licensing process to allow timely deployment of the new aviation services.

Further investment in the development and construction of the complementary ground component network across the EU, fully integrated with the Europasat satellite, will follow the progression of national level licence approvals and the signing of substantive customer commitments.

The total cost to Inmarsat of the further ground network development programme and service deployment is estimated at $200m to $250m and would be incurred over the next six years. The satellite cost is estimated at $200m – half of what it would have cost to deploy an S-band satellite on a stand-alone basis.

In addition to aviation services, Inmarsat expects Europasat to support next-generation emergency network services for public protection and disaster relief.

Inmarsat to launch new inflight connectivity service for Europe was last modified: June 5th, 2014 by Steve Nichols
Filed in: Commercial Tags: , , , ,

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