Inmarsat goes Ka-band for Global Xpress

Inmarsat is aiming to start operations in 2014 with a new fifth-generation satellite constellation operating in the Ka band. Aeronautical users are among those expected to benefit from promised transmission speeds of up to 50 megabits per second (Mbps).

The satellite operator has contracted Boeing to build the three 702HP Ka-band satellites that will make up the new Inmarsat-5 (I-5) constellation. The I-5s will support a next generation global service, Global Xpress, which will target what Inmarsat says is a $1.4 billion incremental market for very small aperture terminal (VSAT) services in the maritime, energy and government sectors, with further growth potential in developing markets such as the aeronautical sector.

Under a separate arrangement, Boeing has agreed to become a distribution partner for Inmarsat’s Ka-band and L-band services, and has committed to capacity purchases representing more than 10 per cent of Inmarsat’s target Ka-band revenues in the first five years after launch.

Inmarsat estimates the total cost of the I-5s, including additional ground network infrastructure, product development, launch services and insurance and Global Xpress at US$1.2 billion over four and a half years.

"This is a new investment for growth," says Inmarsat chairman and chief executive Andrew Sukawaty. "With the Global Xpress network, we will be the first operator to offer global broadband coverage, offering unparalleled speeds and bandwidth to customers in remote locations around the world."

Global Xpress will be faster and less expensive than current Ku-band market offerings, Sukawaty says: "It will be delivered to smaller and cheaper terminals and will be the first offered on a seamless, global, end-to-end basis with high-quality of service. Picture 50Mbps services to a ship or aircraft, and 10Mbps to an antenna the size of an iPad (20cm).

"The Inmarsat-5s will also complement our existing global L-band services, allowing us to offer unique hybrid packages using both networks, giving users unprecedented levels of resilience and reliability in remote and harsh environments."

Boeing says the fixed-price contract, with options, calls for three 702HP commercial spacecraft with 89 Ka-band beams that will operate in geosynchronous orbit with flexible global coverage. The manufacturer says it has produced more than 175 commercial communications satellites and has extensive expertise in Ka-band satellite communications systems.

"Boeing has produced more Ka-band satellite communication systems than any other manufacturer," says Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems. "We are currently producing the Wideband Global Satcom satellite series, which is the primary Ka-band system for the US government."

The satellites will provide Inmarsat with the ability to adapt to shifting subscriber usage patterns of high data rates, specialised applications and evolving demographics over a projected 15-year lifetime, Boeing adds. Inmarsat will procure launch services for the I-5s, which will be compatible with the Ariane, Sea Launch, Proton and Atlas launch vehicles.

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