A giant leap forward for aviation connectivity

11 June 2019

Phil Balaam, President, Inmarsat Aviation

  • aviation

  • global-xpress

In the fast-expanding world of inflight connectivity (IFC), change is constant and progress is essential. If a company fails to continuously develop, they risk being left behind. Inmarsat has already led the way with the development of our market-leading Global Xpress (GX) network, which powers the award-winning GX Aviation and Jet ConneX IFC services for airlines and the business aviation market.

When the network entered global commercial service in 2015, with three satellites that spanned the world, it marked a genuine step-change for our industry. For the first time, a single operator could provide high-speed inflight broadband with seamless and reliable global coverage.

The market response has been overwhelming. Leading airlines such as Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic have all selected GX Aviation. In business aviation too, more than 500 Jet ConneX installations have already been completed. As a result of this success, Inmarsat has been crowned the ‘World’s Leading Inflight Internet Service Provider’ for two consecutive years.

But our journey is not complete. On the contrary, we have only just begun. A fourth satellite has already joined the network and we have three more on the way, launching in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

What’s more, we have just hit the headlines after signing a landmark agreement with Airbus Defence & Space (Airbus) to develop a transformative new generation of GX satellites, which utilise the very latest cutting-edge technology. The three satellites – GX7, GX8 & GX9 – are part of a long-term strategy to develop the most agile, flexible, diverse and cost-effective constellation ever conceived. And the impact on IFC will be profound.

The key features of these new satellites have all been designed to meet the unique requirements of our customers. For example, they have been optimised for real-time mobility and feature thousands of dynamic beams that direct ultra-high-power capacity with laser-like precision over high-demand areas. As a result, we can immediately relocate capacity in line with real-time flight patterns and seasonal demand surges across the globe. At a time when global airspace continues to expand exponentially – IATA predicts current passenger numbers could double by 2037 – this is truly welcome news.

Once launched, GX7, 8 & 9 can be repositioned in orbit and upgraded remotely to ensure they remain at the cutting-edge of innovation. And with backward compatibility, existing customers will benefit from the network’s even greater capabilities.

Additional satellites can also be added to the network quickly, as production is much faster than our industry’s traditional timelines. Plus, with reductions in size and weight compared to current generation satellites, we have the flexibility to launch multiple satellites on a single vehicle if we wanted, which minimises cost and keeps us more competitive in a price challenging market.

We are not only innovating in space either. This latest GX evolution includes major enhancements to our ground network, which will deliver full integration of all existing and upcoming GX satellites to form a highly-secure, inter-operable network. GX7, 8 & 9 can also connect to any Inmarsat ground station, so instead of being tied to a particular one, they can reposition capacity wherever it’s needed.

This next evolution of GX builds upon our 40-year heritage and is only possible thanks to our continued investment in infrastructure that has specifically been built for robust and secure mobility – not only satellites, but also ground stations, hardware, software and an industry-leading cybersecurity framework.

All of these different aspects combine to produce an unbeatable end-to-end solution that is unique to Inmarsat and supported by our unrivalled partner ecosystem. This keep us at the forefront of industry innovation and demonstrates once again that we have the strategic vision, expertise and financial commitment to stay ahead of competitors.

And finally, it assures airline and business aviation customers that their requirements will continue to be met, not only today, but into the next decade and beyond. As a result, they can continue into invest in IFC services that passengers not only hope for, but have come to expect, as our annual Inflight Connectivity Surveys highlights.

We are on the brink of the next giant step in aviation satellite communication and I’m terrifically excited to be part of it.


About the author

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As President of Inmarsat Aviation, Philip Balaam is spearheading the company’s efforts to transform the global aviation industry by bringing complete connectivity to every aircraft and flight path in the world. He was appointed as Inmarsat Aviation’s President in September 2017, having previously served as Inmarsat’s Chief Strategy Officer.

Before joining Inmarsat, Phil was responsible for international sales, strategy and business development at AsiaSat in Hong Kong. Prior to this, he was with Arianespace for 13 years, including the role of sales director based in Paris, and subsequently as sales and marketing director for Asia Pacific based in Singapore. Phil has a First Class degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the University of Southampton, a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Pennsylvania State University and an MBA from the Open University.