APEX: Inmarsat / Panasonic explain new strategic agreement

Philip Balaam, Inmarsat President, Aviation (left) and Ian Dawkins, Panasonic Avionics Senior VP, Global Network Operations.
Philip Balaam, Inmarsat President, Aviation (left) and Ian Dawkins, Panasonic Avionics Senior VP, Global Network Operations.

Inmarsat and Panasonic Avionics have used a press briefing at the APEX Expo to give more detail on their new strategic agreement announced last week.

They say the strategic collaboration, for an initial 10-year period, will enable them to combine services to offer broadband inflight connectivity (IFC) paired with solutions and services to customers in the commercial aviation industry worldwide.

They add: “This collaboration will enable airlines, aircraft manufacturers and passengers to benefit from the combined expertise of the two companies that have been at the forefront of technology and innovation for nearly four decades.”

No one really saw this agreement coming – Panasonic and Inmarsat have been arch rivals over the years with a “war of words” often breaking out. So who made the first approach?

Philip Balaam, Inmarsat President, Aviation, said: “We made the initial approach, but it took about 12 months to work out how we could make it work.

“Bit by bit, step by step, a picture started to take shape that this could work, as long as we could get over some obstacles.

“I think we have come to a stage that we think is pretty profound in providing our customers and their passengers with a step forward in terms of what can be offered,” Balaam said.

Balaam added that Inmarsat specialises in providing the best, most resilient Ka-band network, but is happy to let others provide services that can run on it –  services such as the Panasonic NEXT platform.

“We do networks better than anyone else,” he said. “We can’t do the same with in-cabin networks and services, hence this partnership.”

This is not the first time Panasonic and Inmarsat have had to work like this – Air New Zealand is a recent example where Inmarsat GX Aviation inflight connectivity has been blended with Panasonic cabin services.

Ian Dawkins, Panasonic Avionics Senior VP, Global Network Operations, said: “ We thought how can we provide the level of service we want going forward?

“We recognised that the aviation market hasn’t matured as quickly as we would have liked, but by coming together we might be able to open up this market quicker.

“Our people said this starts to make a lot of sense going forward. We’ve had a lot of support from the satellite industry too.”

Ian Dawkins said that if you look at the number of connected aircraft it currently represents only about 20% of the market.

“On the ground you can be connected 100% of the time. What we want to do is address the inflight connectivity market in the same way. By joining forces with Inmarsat we can help provide the best solution for a particular application.”

So does this mean Panasonic won’t be developing its Ku-band capabilities further going forward?

“Absolutely not. We are fully committed to Ku and will be rolling out further HTS and XTS services in Europe and America over the next couple of years,” Dawkins said.

For example, Panasonic recently announced it will be main client on the high-capacity APSTAR-6D satellite, jointly designed by China’s APT Mobile Satcom Limited and Panasonic.

“We have in excess of 2,000 customers on Ku and that will grow to 3,000 or more.”

Balaam concluded: “Our relationship with Panasonic is very strategic. We hope that other partners may step forward too.”

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