Panasonic Avionics is poised to make a “huge” financial investment in a new Ku-band satellite network that promises to provide high throughput spot beam capability in the Ku frequency, and compete with Inmarsat’s Ka-band Global Xpress network.
The new network will overlay with Panasonic’s existing Ku network (developed under multiple partnerships with satellite operators), and will provide an “immense amount of new capacity” designed to provide the “maximum amount of capability where airplanes fly”, says Panasonic VP, global communications David Bruner.
Expected to go live in 2015, the new network will be best in market, according to Bruner, “from the standpoint of maximum bandwidth and lowest cost”; it will be priced 20 or 30 per cent less than current Ku service.
Panasonic will also continue to be able to support global IPTV for live news and sports. “Some of the services…coming out would not support the IPTV service,” notes Bruner.
The first satellite, which will be launched over the North Atlantic, will cover heavily trafficked United States, Canada, North Atlantic and Europe “all in one shot with a massive amount of capacity”.
Panasonic has stayed mum about its would-be partner in the new network, but satellite industry consultant Tim Farrar recently reported the company is apparently in line to become the anchor aeronautical tenant for a global Ku network launched by Intelsat. Bruner says Farrar’s announcement was “premature”, but notes that he is “a pretty savvy guy”.
What is clear is that Panasonic intends to make a sizeable investment in the new network. The outlay “will probably exceed anyone else in the aeronautical space”, Bruner said during the recent Satellite 2012 conference in Washington DC. He later said, during a press briefing at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, that a “huge monetary amount of money [is] associated with the agreement so we have to be very careful how we go about this”.
Panasonic’s investment is not limited to the network, however. The company, which has inflight connectivity commitments covering over 1,300 aircraft, admits it subsidises the hardware for airlines in some instances. “We try not to go crazy on it, like others have in the past, but we still dabble in it,” says Bruner.
Inmarsat has publicly pinned its investment in Global Xpress at $1.2 billion, though this sum will also be leveraged into adjacent networks for land and sea. Global Xpress partners, meanwhile, are “making very substantial investments alongside that to develop applications and services”, equating to a total investment figure in the $2 billion range, says Global Xpress managing director Leo Mondale.
ViaSat puts its investment into regional Ka service at $1 billion, though its ViaSat-1 satellite over the United States – which will support inflight connectivity for JetBlue Airways’ fleet and over 200 United-Continental aircraft – also provides residential services.
Panasonic is fitting the rest of United-Continental’s mainline fleet with Ku.
Bruner claims that Panasonic’s global Ku network will be “way better in actually every respect” over the competition. “You’ve always heard me say, ‘I wish I had ViaSat’s capacity and Inmarsat’s footprint’, so that’s what we have.”
A video of Bruner’s press briefing in Hamburg is below.