MIAMI, FLORIDA: There was no mistaking the two key messages at last week’s annual Inmarsat Aviation Conference: Global Xpress (Inmarsat’s Ka-band aeronautical service) will be globally in service as scheduled in 2015 and SwiftBroadband’s (SBB) commercial life will extend beyond 2023.
Inmarsat’s CEO Rupert Pearce says Global Xpress (GX) “future-proofs and super-charges our MSS [mobile satellite services] business, allows us to diversify into new growth markets and reaffirms Inmarsat as the world’s leading aviation satcoms provider”.
Pearce was keen to stress on a number of occasions during his keynote speech that despite the launch of the GX development there would be continued growth in Inmarsat-4 SBB services and that the introduction of SBB Safety Services, High Data Rate (HDR) and SB200 were all integral parts of that growth.
With 10 L-band satellites currently in geostationary earth orbit (GEO) orbit (i.e. the legacy I-2, I-3 as well as I-4 satellites), Pearce confirmed that they foresee global L-band commercial life extending beyond 2023 and that they are even considering launching I-6 L-band satellites in the 2020+ timeframe.
Supporting the GX service will be three Ka-band satellites, which are currently under construction for launch in 2013-2014, with their commercial life expected to last beyond 2028. Pearce says, “Inmarsat is a fully funded company, having $1.4B of available liquidity and that they have already committed to spending $3B on next generation technology.”
Inmarsat’s GX senior product manager Mark Plecity details some of the key benefits that their design brings to the market, “adaptive modulation and coding to optimise link efficiency; dynamic adaptive TDMA to balance user demand and seamless handover between beams.”
Something, which didn’t ring true with many in the audience, was Inmarsat’s announcement that the GX system will not be operational below an altitude of 10,000 feet. With the steadily increasing public demand to remain ever connected to the Internet via their smartphones and/or tablets some attendees questioned whether this wasn’t somewhat short sighted. Plecity says, “this was a requirement driven by national regulatory bodies to avoid high frequency RF transmissions on (or near to) the ground.”
Each GX satellite will carry 3 payloads: a Global Service Beam payload, a High Capacity Commercial payload (6 beams) and a High Capacity Military payload (8 beams) – with each beam being steered on an as needed basis depending on capacity demand. Each satellite features 89 spot beams (with 72 active at any one time) – each having an effective capacity of 32 MHz.
The Honeywell EMS produced GX terminals will be derived from Ku-band terminals and will be compliant to ARINC 791 concepts (mandated on the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft). Plecity says, “it’s foreseen that the first terminals will be available for a global entry into service in Q1/2015.”
Honeywell EMS is developing both fuselage-mounted GX antennae for the commercial air transport market and tail-mounted GX antennae for the business aviation market. Focusing on antenna performance Plecity announced that the fuselage-mounted antenna for commercial air transport will have a max/min forward (to the aircraft) data rate of 42 Mbps/18 Mbps and a max/min return (from the aircraft) data rate of 3.8 Mbps/400 Kbps respectively.
NOTE: Please see below Peter Lemme’s illustration from the recent APEX technology committee meeting in Burbank, California, which helps to clarify some of the Satcom nomenclature used.
SBB and legacy Satcom services
In 2011 aviation made up only 14% of Inmarsat global MSS revenue through the 13,900 terminals in service. However, whilst aviation remains the smallest of Inmarsat’s three principal sectors (the other two being maritime and land/mobile), revenue growth of 28% for Aviation (CAGR 2005-2011) has far outstripped the growth of the other sectors by a factor of over 5. It is also interesting to note that 65-70% of the Inmarsat aviation business is comes from government accounts. As an illustration of this growth Inmarsat stated that their net SBB subscriber growth in Q1 2012 was for over 300 terminals.
Commenting on their legacy Satcom services Inmarsat’s VP Aviation David Coiley says that, “Classic Aero I would be supported until at least the end of 2018; Classic Aero H (as already announced) would cease operation at the end of 2016; Classic Aero H+ would migrate from I-3 to I-4 and continue beyond the end of 2018 and Swift 64 would be supported to at least the end of 2018 with users migrating steadily to SBB or GX.”
SBB Safety Services
Speaking about SBB oceanic safety services Inmarsat’s head of aviation product management Dale Irish confirms that, “we are aiming to achieve RCP240 reliability requirements [0.9999] so that SBB will provide better performance than today’s Classic Aero with an accompanying 30% cost reduction. SBB Safety will provide an ACARS data link, prioritised IP data of speeds up to 432kbps and 2 channels of voice (one Circuit Switched (CS) AMBE+2 and one Packet Switched VoIP). Four classes of terminal will be available for SBB safety Services: HGA, IGA, ELGA and an HGA with Classic backup – all of which will function down to 5 degrees elevation.”
Irish says, “The SBB Safety Services FANS evaluation (involving the trial installation and operation on 6 Business Aviation and 12 Air Transport aircraft) is scheduled to start in Q2/2013 with full operational service expected to begin in Q1/2015. Inmarsat stated that they are looking for airlines/operators who are keen to be early adopters in order for the FANS evaluation flight trials to commence.” Both Thrane & Thrane and Cobham are developing ARINC 781 compliant terminals for SBB Safety Services.
Based on market feedback Inmarsat’s aero product manager George Nicola provided some further clarity on Inmarsat’s SBB multi-channel policy saying, “In all cases a maximum of two full channels may be used for streaming IP services at any time. This leaves one channel available for multi-voice services (4 voice lines for the standard service or 9 voice lines for the enhanced service per channel) and another for Safety Services.
Illustrating the continued growth in SBB installations, All-Nippon Airways (ANA) yesterday announced that as from summer 2013, Wi-Fi will be available on its international routes. This OnAir provided service will initially be made available on the Boeing 777-300ER and 767-300ER fleets serving ANA’s international network.