Airlines operating over high-traffic North Atlantic routes will be able to access “the highest possible bandwidth” for their passengers following a decision by Panasonic Avionics to contract Intelsat for up to 1 Gbps of capacity on the satellite operator’s planned new ‘Epic’ satellite platform, according to the two firms.
Inked after months of speculation in the marketplace and representing a culmination of six years of work, the multi-year agreement will see Panasonic’s Ku-band-supported Global Communications Suite (GCS) complemented by high throughput Ku-band capacity on Intelsat 29e, the first Intelsat Epic satellite, when the platform launches in 2015.
Having previously sealed multiple partnerships with Ku-band satellite operators that provide broad beam coverage, including Intelsat, Panasonic has been rolling out GCS on a number of carriers, including Lufthansa, Gulf Air and Turkish Airlines. Some 1,500 aircraft in total have been earmarked for GCS equipage.
However, the specialised spot beams of Intelsat 29e will enable Panasonic “to balance the spectrum and power to where the traffic is at any given time” on any GCS-equipped aircraft flying over the territory spanning the United States and North Atlantic, Intelsat VP, global accounts and strategic sales Jay Yass tells the APEX editor’s blog.
Up to 80 Mbps per aircraft and 200 Mbps per spot beam will be available for use on what are the busiest long-haul flight corridors in the world, says Panasonic, and the firm will be able to tailor capacity to the routes where they need it most.
The agreement, of which financial terms have not been disclosed, also includes Intelsat 29e service on a wide Ku-band overlay beam “for efficient broadcast of live television to Panasonic’s airline customers in North America and across the North Atlantic”, says Panasonic.
The red area pictured below represents the Intelsat Epic spot beams, while the blue area represents the overlay of broad beams available to Panasonic. Indeed, in advance of Epic’s launch, Panasonic’s services will be expanded by using capacity on two satellites within Intelsat’s current Ku-band global broadband mobility platform.
Meanwhile, a second Intelsat Epic satellite is expected to launch “very early” in 2016 and will provide coverage to “all the populated regions in the world” so the likes of “Singapore and Dubai and all those air routes going from those busy airports” will be covered, says Intelsat’s Yass.
These two satellites will cover “85 per cent of our air traffic requirements”, notes Panasonic Avionics VP, global communications David Bruner. He believes that, with this architecture in place, competing Ka-band services will have “no fundamental advantages over Ku-band for mobile satellite services”.
“Ku-band is available today and forthcoming Ku-band satellites will offer equivalent or better performance,” claims Bruner.
Inmarsat has been developing a global Ka-band service called Global Xpress; the first satellite is expected to launch by the end of next year with global coverage slated for 2015. Unsurprisingly, rival Intelsat believes its offering will be superior. “Based on the numbers they have released about throughput and their beams, we definitely have more throughput capability on Epic,” says an Intelsat spokesman.
Intelsat has plans for future satellites on the Epic platform but has not yet revealed further details. However, says Yass, “The reason why Intelsat was the preferred partner for this is because we’re taking a global approach. It’s not just [for] the busiest traffic route for North Atlantic, it will be the global geography. This will continue to build out a global capability, similar to our current mobility beams.”
Whilst Epic combines Intelsat’s spectral rights in the C, Ku and Ka bands, Panasonic’s arrangement is oriented around Ku coverage. “We believe Ku is the sweet spot for mobility market whether aero or maritime,” says Yass.
He confirms that Intelsat is open to entering discussions with other Ku-band inflight connectivity providers such as Row 44 and Gogo.