Emirates passengers on US flights to get connectivity over North Pole

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In a world first, passengers on board Emirates’ US-bound flights are to have WiFi connectivity and even live TV as they cross the North Pole. In partnership with inflight connectivity expert Inmarsat, the new capabilities are scheduled to be live by 2022. It will be the first time complete coverage has been provided at such a high latitude.

Emirates A380
Emirates passengers will soon be able to stay connected, even over the North Pole. Photo: Wikimedia

Emirates’ Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer Adel Al Redha said in a press release,

“We are very pleased with this development, which will ensure Emirates continues to lead the industry in providing our customers a seamless inflight connectivity experience across geographies, on all of our flight routes. Over the years, we have worked closely with Inmarsat and our supply partners to continually raise the bar on inflight connectivity, and we look forward to further enhancing that experience, taking advantage of new technologies and infrastructure.”

Investment in GX satellites

The service announced today will be possible thanks to ongoing development of the Global Xpress (GX) network by inflight connectivity specialist, Inmarsat. Specifically, they will introduce two new satellite payloads to the Arctic region – GX10A and 10B.

The path of an HEO satellite. Photo: NASA

These two satellites, operated by Space Norway’s Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission team (ABSM), will be settled in at Highly Elliptical Orbit (HEO). This will lead to continuous coverage above 65° north, with the ability to target capacity at the areas with the highest demand.

The additional GX payloads are scheduled to launch in 2022, further extending the network into an increasingly high demand area. CEO of Inmarsat, Rupert Pearce, said in a statement,

“Connectivity in the Arctic region is growing in importance as aircraft fly more northerly routes, merchant ships transit new high-value waterways and the region becomes of increasing geo-political importance for diverse governments.  Inmarsat’s GX network will always seek to be ahead of where our customers are going and what they demand from us. This enhancement is fully backward compatible and will strengthen coverage over the Arctic to provide the connectivity needed by our customers now and into the future. As part of the existing Inmarsat GX network, customers will now have seamless, high-quality mobile broadband services as they travel in and out of the Arctic region.

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“I am delighted to say that Inmarsat will be the only provider of the mobile broadband connectivity our customers need in the Arctic region.”

Inmarsat GX
An Inmarsat GX satellite. Image: Inmarsat

This is the latest in a string of GX investments by Inmarsat, who recently announced a decision to invest also in three new GX satellites. These are specifically GX7, 8 and 9, and will be built by Airbus Defense and Space.

Inmarsat currently operates four GX satellites which will increase to a fleet of seven by the middle of 2021. Three further GX payloads, GX5, 6A, and 6B, are planned for launch this year, next year and in 2021 respectively. By the time the Arctic payloads are launched, the Inmarsat fleet will consist of a total of 12 satellites.

Another in a string of firsts for Emirates

Emirates holds the crown for being the first airline to install seatback screens in every seat back in 1992. In 2008, it became the first carrier to allow mobile phone usage throughout the flight, and today its ‘ice’ IFE system has one of the most comprehensive selections of entertainment in the sky.

Emirates ice
The Emirates ice system is regarded as one of the most comprehensive IFE systems in the sky. Photo: Emirates

The Gulf airline already offers WiFi on all their aircraft, with 20MB of data and unlimited messaging in all cabin classes for up to two hours. Emirates state that more than a million WiFi connections are made in-flight in an average month.

The carrier states that the additional Inmarsat payloads will eliminate a WiFi blackspot over the polar region, which can leave some flights without connectivity for up to four hours. As well as internet access, the new satellites will provide Live TV broadcast on select Emirates aircraft, including the Boeing 777 and some Airbus A380s.

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