03 November 2020: Inmarsat has an unrivalled, 40-year track record as an innovator and investor in space technology.
Critical to the way we successfully meet the world’s connectivity demands – both now and in the future – is a fully-funded technology roadmap, which lays down why, when, and on what technological foundations we will meet our goals.
For Inmarsat, the roadmap is an essential baseline plan that everyone can work to in order to deliver on our promise of seamless, global, end-to-end connectivity. For our customers, it demonstrates that the decision they make to invest in Inmarsat services today will be sustained and improved for many years to come.
There’s a flurry of milestones coming up, as counted off by Inmarsat Chief Technology Officer Peter Hadinger: “Our newest and most powerful Global Xpress satellite, GX5, will begin full commercial service before the end of the year, meeting growing demand across Europe and the Middle East, in particular for aviation Wi-Fi and commercial maritime services.
“In parallel we will be demonstrating the first next-generation GX terminals, designed to take advantage of the much higher bandwidth of GX5 as well as being backward compatible with our earlier satellites.
“Shortly afterwards we will commission a new GX gateway in India, bringing global mobile broadband services to that country.”
The focus is not just on our Ka-band network. Our commitment to L-band services is evident in our investment in our Inmarsat-6 satellite fleet, which will support a new generation of capabilities for the 5G era and enhanced global safety services into the 2040s. The two L-band satellites will be the first to host Ka-band payloads, known as GX6, to add further depth to GX coverage. The first spacecraft is currently undergoing rigorous environmental testing ahead of its scheduled launch next year.
Artist impression of I-6 satellite
Here too, customers will see improvements in future satellite terminals, but the benefits aren’t limited to new buyers. “As new satellites are deployed – both L-band and GX – even existing terminals will work better. This is because we will be adding capacity to the hotspots where congestion is most likely,” said Peter.
“The next generation of terminals will focus on optimising what each service is best at – in the case of GX they will allow much higher sustained rates when used on GX5 and later satellites, and in the case of L-band they will be smaller, lighter and less expensive in delivering essential low-to-medium data rate services with high reliability.
“Behind all of this is an ever more integrated network – increasingly hosted in the cloud – making it easier to offer services and applications that seamlessly reach across our networks to leverage the best qualities of each. This will allow us to reduce costs even as we increase capacity and features.”
Complementing a growing fleet in space is an even bigger expansion on Earth. Six additional gateways – the ground stations that transmit satellite traffic to and from terminal users – were commissioned in 2020 to support GX5, Spread across Europe, two of these will be redundant, purely there as backup and to offer the high assurance synonymous with Inmarsat. Another new gateway has been completed to begin service in India in early 2021 and a further seven gateways will be commissioned by 2022 to support regional and global connectivity of the Inmarsat-6 satellites.
Underpinning all of this activity is the company’s consistently held strategy to go global first, then overlay capacity as demand builds. The result has been that Inmarsat is fastest to market, most nimble in deployment and most resilient in delivering critical global infrastructure.
“Since oceans cover about 70% of the Earth’s surface, it only made sense that when Inmarsat started out as the first maritime satellite operator it would cover the globe,” said Peter.
“While others have focused their satellites on areas of high user density, Inmarsat has differentiated by covering some of the least dense areas of the planet. While much of our mobility traffic is also near large ports and airports, our ability to seamlessly connect users in the vast spaces en-route is what counts to our globally mobile customers.
“Although the Pacific Ocean Region satellites have always been our most lightly loaded, I’ve often referred to them as our biggest discriminator – nobody else puts the same kind of capacity and services into the Pacific that Inmarsat does. Whether you are a big shipping line or Air New Zealand, that enormous ocean is a critical part of your route map and Inmarsat is the go-to supplier.
“Once we have covered the world – and captured the most important global customers – we can then choose to augment capacity in the most popular regions as demand builds. This means that our satellites have higher and higher utilisation with each generation, while others who start with high demand areas find themselves with lower and lower average utilisation as they broaden their coverage – especially as the high-value market has already gone with Inmarsat.”
The desire for ubiquitous connectivity in today’s society was brought into sharp focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw millions of people around the world forced to stay at home. Domestic networks saw an explosion in demand for high data video applications for work, entertainment and keeping in touch. This was replicated at sea, when hundreds of thousands of mariners were left stranded on vessels, unable to go ashore, and the need for a satellite link had never been greater. Satellite connectivity also helped support the Covid-impacted global supply chain and the work of humanitarian organisations.
Everything that is coming to fruition in the technology roadmap in the coming months is just the start. Inmarsat is promising a transformation not just in capacity but in capability and agility as the Global Xpress fleet grows even more over the next three years.
Our GX7, 8 & 9 satellites will each deliver around twice the total capacity of the entire GX1-6 network, and will employ dynamic beam forming to simultaneously create thousands of independent beams of different sizes, bandwidth and power that can be reconfigured and repositioned across the globe in real time.
Following that, two HEO (highly elliptical orbit) payloads, GX10A & 10B, will be launched to extend coverage into the Arctic region.
It is this last development that excites Peter the most. “While every corner of Inmarsat’s technology roadmap challenges us to be the best in the world at mobility, our addition of the Arctic to our definition of “global” is an especially novel effort.
“Besides opening new markets with high Inmarsat differentiation, we are using non-geostationary satellites and sharing them with two national governments as a trusted partner, adding new technical and security challenges to everything from the terminals and infrastructure to regulatory and contracts.
“Inmarsat hasn’t covered a new part of the globe since the 1980s and with the Arctic becoming increasingly important economically and strategically, it is a great time to be bringing that part of the world into the Inmarsat global network.”