Insight | I-6: the Aviation advantages


I-6: the Aviation advantages


Inmarsat’s highly advanced I-6 satellites will bring new levels of connectivity to airlines, business aviation and UAVs.

The countdown is well underway for our two state-of-the-art Inmarsat-6 (I-6) satellites to enter service next year. As Inmarsat’s first hybrid geostationary earth orbit (GEO) satellites, featuring both L-band (ELERA) and Ka-band (Global Xpress) payloads, the I-6s are the largest and most sophisticated commercial communications satellites ever built and their impact on the global aviation industry will be significant. 

The first in this pair of satellites (I-6 F1) has already launched and has a geostationary orbital slot over the Indian Ocean, while the second (I-6 F2) will launch in Q1 2023 and will be placed over the Atlantic. The ‘identical twin’ satellites play a key role in our visionary and fully-funded technology roadmap, which includes a total of seven new satellite launches and a major ground network expansion by 2025. 

Flexible capacity to meet aviation needs

“In terms of Ka-band, our first four GX satellites established a base layer of global coverage and any additional satellites introduced into the network after that add flexible capacity. This means we can boost coverage to specific areas as needed by our airline and business aviation customers, ensuring they have the best digital passenger experience,” explains Niels Steenstrup, President of Inmarsat Aviation. ”So for example, the fifth GX satellite was launched in 2019 and provides specific capacity for Europe, the Middle East and into India. Everything else moving forward, including the Ka-band payloads on our I-6s, will be steerable capacity, so we can move capacity to where it’s needed – and fast.”

This is extremely important for the aviation industry because aircraft often move along the same busy routes, but at different times of the day. It’s vital that the needs of all aircraft are served by moving capacity as required. The I-6 satellites are the first satellites where the full payloads are completely steerable, bringing new levels of flexibility. “We can put capacity into airline hubs or switch to cover unusually busy routes,” adds Steenstrup. “Basically, we can increase capacity wherever needed. We don't need to add satellites for a global base layer anymore, we've done that. Now we just need to fill capacity in hotspots as required and the I-6s do exactly that.”

And as the future Inmarsat satellites are launched – from the next-generation GX7, 8 & 9 satellites to GX10A & 10B, which will offer inflight connectivity for aircraft flying in higher elevations and across the Arctic – they will follow the same strategy, although with different technology each time. “For everything going forward, we need to be able to have high amounts of capacity that we can move anywhere we want as quickly as we want,” reinforces Steenstrup. “And our technology roadmap shows how we are anticipating and catering for the world’s future mobility connectivity needs, and that we have those covered well into the 2040s.”

This extra capacity is key when passenger usage rates are growing at record levels, with an increase of 25-30% post-COVID alone, the highest they have ever been. This upward trend in demand was also highlighted in our most recent Passenger Confidence Tracker, the largest and most comprehensive global survey of its kind since the pandemic began, which found that out of the 10,000 respondents, 41% believed inflight Wi-Fi had increased even further in importance after the pandemic.

Advancing aviation connectivity

“In terms of how our I-6 L-band payloads will benefit the aviation industry, these two new satellites bring a lot more processing power, a lot more capability and a lot more bandwidth to our global ELERA network, allowing more terminals to connect at higher speeds,” continues Steenstrup. “This is great news for our SwiftBroadband business aviation customers who are yet to upgrade to Jet ConneX on the Ka-band side. Or customers using our Classic Aero and SB-S services for operations and safety, especially as the aviation industry moves cockpit communications to an IP-based protocol.”

A prime example of this transition towards IP-based protocols is our Iris programme with the European Space Agency (ESA), which is transforming the quality and security of cockpit communication and information shared between pilots, air traffic controllers and airlines using our consistent and secure global L-band coverage. With airspace congestion constantly growing in Europe and throughout the world, alongside the need for increased data security, Iris is providing the next generation of air traffic management services through Inmarsat’s SB-S service and the I-6s will ensure these needs are catered well into the future. 

I-6 F1

Discover more about the launch of the world's most advanced commercial communications satellite

New opportunities for UAVs 

The additional L-band capacity provided by the I-6s to our ELERA network will also open up significant possibilities for uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs). Both satellites deliver 50% more capacity per beam compared to Inmarsat’s fourth generation satellites, allowing much more data to be carried over the same geographical area, in addition to unlimited beam routing flexibility and connectivity down to sea level in all weathers. This extra moveable capacity and processing power, combined with high reliability and availability, will be vital to reliably utilise UAVs for innovative new purposes, such as emergency services, disaster relief, urban air transport, commercial and industrial cargo deliveries, and environmental inspection and monitoring.

A key role in our ORCHESTRA revolution

Importantly, the I-6s will play a key role in the GEO infrastructure of ORCHESTRA, our unique, multi-dimensional and dynamic mesh network. ORCHESTRA is the world’s first global network to combine GEO, low earth orbit (LEO) and terrestrial 5G into one harmonious solution and will provide a revolutionary layered approach to meet the world’s increasing demand for connectivity into the future. ORCHESTRA will offer the highest capacity for mobility connectivity worldwide and at hot spots, as well as the fastest average speeds and the lowest average latency of any network yet and it all starts with the I-6 satellites. 

So, while the advantages of the I-6 satellites for aviation are clear, what’s harder to define is all of the possibilities that these new capabilities will bring in the future. One thing to be sure of is that Inmarsat is ready for those possibilities, no matter what they are.


Discover the communications network of the future that will enable ground-breaking new services, in new places, for global mobility customers.