APEXEXPO: SES bullish about inflight connectivity market

Thales FlytLIVE with the new SES satellite.
Thales FlytLIVE with the new SES satellite.

SES says it is confident about the future, given that it has satellites in the Geostationary (GEO) and medium-Earth (MEO) orbit sectors. Its GEO capacity includes Ka-, Ku- and C-band capacity, while MEO is Ka.

Elias Zaccack, Senior Vice President, Commercial Americas, said: “Not many of our competitors can say that.

“SES has more than 50 GEO satellites and seven upcoming GEO satellites slated for launch. There are also 12 MEO satellites through SES’s ownership of O3b, with eight more O3b MEO satellites to be launched in 2018 and 2019.

“We’ve had a busy year and have secured partnerships with all the major inflight connectivity providers including Panasonic Avionics, Global Eagle Entertainment, Thales and Gogo,” Zaccack said.

SES and Thales’ FlytLIVE

SES announced recently that it is to procure a new satellite specifically designed for the needs of Thales’ FlytLIVE and manufactured by Thales Alenia Space, to be launched in 2020.

“The latest Thales Ka-band contract win covers all the Americas as well as the North Atlantic, as far as Western Europe,” he said.

SES prides itself in having more spectrum available than its competitors. “You have to invest, you have to file applications with the ITU and you need to launch satellites, which means you need deep pockets,” Zaccack said.

“Our strategy is to build a robust global network to support aeronautical inflight communications,” he said. “And this has to be a multi-system, multi-band, multi-orbit fleet.

“We are agnostic as to whether it is Ku-or Ka-band, but we continue to invest and to carry on on scaling our fleet and network to stay ahead of the demand.”

SES-5, its 51st satellite, taking off from Baikonur.
SES-5, its 51st satellite, taking off from Baikonur.

O3b Networks

In August SES announced it now fully owns O3b, the Jersey, Channel Islands-based company that is building a new fibre-quality, MEO satellite-based, global internet backbone for telecommunications operators and internet service providers in emerging markets.

“We also have one very unique advantage and that is our open architecture. If you are the chief technology officer of an airline and you opt for a closed architecture solution – especially if you opt for a company that only has one and a half satellites in orbit – if one satellite fails it is not that easy to bring the service back up in a couple of seconds, which is what we can do.

“If you invest in a closed system where the satellite, antenna and modem are all designed to work with each other and no one else you could be storing up problems.

“With SES you don’t have to worry about back-ups in case of failure, you also don’t have to worry about the future.

“If you are the CTO of an airline and have to make a decision that will last 15 or 20 years an open architecture like ours is the best way forward – you can’t go wrong.”

Zaccack said that SES wants to provide the “last mile” to the aircraft. “We provide the ‘pipe’ that enables new applications to be deployed.

“Every new satellite we build is one order of magnitude better than the last one. In terms of the future, the industry has barely started to think about what else can be done with that pipe,” Zaccack concluded.

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