MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Let me begin by expressing hope that all of you are safe and well. As you probably already know we have had to cancel our annual conference and exhibition for the second year because of the difficulties with international travel and quarantining. But fear not, we will continue to offer our industry renowned, bi-monthly Webinars for the rest of the year and plan to continue them in 2022.
This month our magazine is focused on In-Flight Connectivity (IFC). This is an application made for satellites, and it is developing into a significant growth area for our industry as it enables a wide variety of in-flight applications – from entertainment and passenger/flight deck broadband connectivity to real time monitoring of aircraft systems.
How big is the market? According to Joseph Ibeh of NSR, there were over 54,000 IFC units in service in 2020, generating over US$1.35B in retail revenue that year. NSR projects that will more than double to reach about 115,000 units by 2030, with a CAGR of 7.7%, generating US$6.36B in annual retail revenue! Here in Asia-Pacific we had over 10,800 units in service by the end of 2020 with annual retail revenue of US$284M and set to grow to US$1.6B by 2030 at a 19% CAGR. Bandwidth is on the increase, rising from a mere 5-15Mbps per aircraft to an average of 50Mbps, and on the way to 100Mbps. Moreover, as capacity grows, the IFC market is transitioning from a ‘pay-per-megabyte’ option to an ‘all-you-can-eat’ arrangement combined with a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) culture, with ad-supported content sponsors often covering the costs.
According to Vishal Patil of Euroconsult, more than half of the total connected aircraft have been using Ku-band, but Ka-band is expected to surpass this by 2030. Patil writes that Asia-Pacific is the second-largest market, behind North America, and it is expected to gain 27-29% market share by 2030 compared to just 15.5% at YE 2020.
We present an interview with John Wade, the President of Intelsat’s Commercial Aviation Division, who joined the company with its acquisition of Gogo in 2020. John discusses how Intelsat is investing in software-defined architecture and multiple-orbit technologies to provide 100% global coverage and solve for a variety of density needs which will play a key role in shaping the connected aircraft experience of the future.
Finally, Rajeev Suri, the new Chief Executive Officer of Inmarsat, explains their recently announced project ORCHESTRA, a hybrid terrestrial 5G mesh network combined with a LEO constellation of 150-175 satellites. The project is focused exclusively on mobile applications, and Inmarsat is developing it to eliminate the industry-wide challenge of network congestion at high-demand hotspots. Suri argues that Inmarsat’s new and enhanced capabilities will enable airlines to offer “full, fast and free” Wi-Fi to every passenger. And the low latency will serve as a catalyst for un-crewed aviation for the safe operation of autonomous flying taxis and other forms of personal urban air transport!
So, check out our excellent articles which flesh out these and other issues, and provide a growth and success story for the satellite industry. Meanwhile, APSCC wishes all of you a healthy and safe holiday season!
In-Flight Connectivity Market Poised on Growth as Aviation Industry Recovers Globally
Vishal Patil, Consultant, Euroconsult
2020 was an unprecedented year for the entire aviation industry. It grounded almost all commercial passenger flights for at least three months globally. Even after more than a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, the world is still fighting against the virus and its many variants. The sanitary restrictions are still applied in several countries impacting air travel, domestically and internationally. Some countries have eased travel restrictions and some others are easing them progressively depending on the sanitary situation. The ramped-up vaccination drives taken at the country level have certainly helped partial recovery for at least the domestic air travel markets. In countries like Russia and China, the domestic air traffic has already surpassed the pre-COVID levels. All in all, the recovery of the global aviation industry, and therefore of the In-Flight Connectivity market in general, is currently not expected before 2022 with disparities between domestic and international markets as stated in the last edition of In-flight Entertainment connectivity report from Euroconsult.
The historic drop in traffic has created a financial crisis for most airlines globally. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airlines were losing money as they have been continuously experiencing a negative Earnings Before Interest and Taxation (EBIT) margin greater than 35% on average since the first quarter of 2020. Following the differences in market dynamics as described previously, an improvement of the financial situation is likely to occur initially for airlines with little exposure to international travel. Therefore, in the short-term, airlines might apply reverse thrusters on the investments related to the In-Flight Connectivity solutions (IFC). In 2020, approximately ten airlines signed a new contract for IFC as compared to nearly twenty airlines that signed IFC contracts in the year before.
Many airlines in the world have either ceased their operations, scrapped their old aircraft, or sent their aircraft (mainly widebody) to long-term storage to face the crisis most efficiently. Despite the hindrance of the pandemic, the penetration of IFC solutions for commercial aircraft are estimated to have reached almost 34% at YE 2020 and could still reach around 50% by 2030. Owing to the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, it is anticipated that the total number of connected aircraft could grow from 4% to 5.5% CAGR over the next decade. In comparison, between 2014 and 2019, the market grew at 7.5% CAGR. It is currently estimated that the crisis impact on the In-Flight Connectivity market would be a loss of two years of growth.
In terms of regional distribution, the Asia-Pacific market was the second-largest market at YE 2020 while North America, where In-Flight Connectivity is a mature market, remained the largest IFC market. By 2030, the IFC market in Asia-Pacific is expected to gain 27% to 29% market share as compared to 15.5% at YE 2020. This growth is restricted to a certain extent due to the pandemic as the financial health of airlines remains at risk as they struggle to reach back profitability. As In-Flight Connectivity can represent a financial burden for airlines in the current scenario, the airlines are actively looking at alternate business models to benefit from the IFC. As a result, some airlines, in the short term, have put their IFC plans on the backburner and are desperately looking to generate cash.
Total connected aircraft by region (YE 2020 vs. YE 2030)
The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the reshaping of the service providers’ ecosystem. The pandemic acted as a catalyst. The roles are being redistributed as some global service providers are being restructured after a bankruptcy procedure and some others have sold part of their IFC activities. For example, Gogo sold its commercial aviation division to Intelsat and will now focus only on business & general aviation market. The IFC market is moving slowly towards being more vertically integrated as the line between satellite operators and service providers is diminishing, creating acute competition. Euroconsult estimates that the service revenues, after experiencing the slump in 2020, are set to increase 5 times in the next decade at ~18% CAGR over the decade. China and India, the two largest aviation markets in Asia-Pacific, have recently eased restriction on the use of IFC leaving the possibilities to venture into the new territory for existing, as well as new-comer local and global service providers. Global service providers are actively signing partnership agreements with the local providers to establish a firm base in these countries. One such example is Panasonic, a leading global IFC service provider, which signed an agreement with Nelco, a local service provider in India, to provide IFC service onboard Vistara Airline of India.
Similarly, the satellite operators’ market is also expected to become more competitive with the massive increase of the capacity supply in the next five years through constantly progressing technologies, especially with upcoming Non-Geo Stationary Orbit (NGSO) constellations and flexible satellites. Hence, the average cost of satellite capacity is likely to decrease drastically Ultimately, a better and more affordable broadband experience is expected in the coming years. The impact of new systems, such as the NGSO constellations is yet to be confirmed. However, the second half of 2020 and the first half of 2021 saw a few announcements and projects confirmations. Competition in this sector is expected to be harsh and a market consolidation could occur in the mid-term. Recently, a quantum shift is observed as satellite operators are planning to launch IFC-dedicated satellites in the future.
On the technology front, the commercial aviation segment is currently dominated by VSAT technology. Ku-band has a lion’s market share as more than half of the total connected aircraft were connected via Ku-band solution. The Ka-band solution is expected to surpass the Ku-band market share by 2030 as more Ka-band capacity will be made available for IFC in the next decade globally. The Air-to-ground (ATG) solution market will also see a slight increase in the total connected aircraft and this growth is expected to be sustained by the implementation of the European Aviation Network (EAN) solution in Europe and China. China is actively developing and testing its indigenous ATG network and is expected to launch soon.
In conclusion, the In-Flight Connectivity market evolution heavily depends on the aviation industry. As most of the new aircraft deliveries are expected to go to the Asia-Pacific region in the next decade or two, combined with the opening of main Asian markets such as China and India, are expected to drive the demand for IFEC in this region. The passengers are increasingly demanding access to the internet, even when they are 35,000 ft above in the sky as their appetite to be able to stay connected to the world and not to have any blackouts is constantly increasing. Some passengers feel safe and can keep their anxiety at bay, especially flying in pandemic times. The efforts are being taken by each stakeholder of the IFC value chain to make the most of the IFC technology and provide a comfortable and secure atmosphere to passengers, which can help build their confidence in return. In this regard, the upcoming years will be crucial for every stakeholder in the In-Flight Connectivity value chain.
Vishal Patil is a Consultant at Euroconsult, based in Paris, France. He has expertise in the satellite communications sector related to the mobility market, with particular focus on aero connectivity. Vishal is a major contributor to Euroconsult’s strategic research report “Prospect for Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity”. He has been actively involved in organizing the SmartPlane Summit, company’s annual flagship event and dedicated to in-flight entertainment and connectivity. He has represented Euroconsult at various IFEC industry-related events internationally.
Next Frontier of Inflight Connectivity
Joseph Ibeh, Consultant, NSR
Over a decade and a half since the shutdown of Connexion by Boeing, the industry pioneer, inflight connectivity has taken off and is now widely adopted in the global aviation market. In fact, NSR’s Aeronautical Satcom Market Report, 9th Edition, shows that 82 of the 290 IATA-registered airline operators in 2020 have inflight connectivity units on their commercial aircraft. The geographical composition of these IFC-fitted carriers spans all regional markets, which indicate how widespread onboard WiFi has become.
Unlike during the Connexion by Boeing era, contemporary IFC evolution mirrors broader trends in technology and consumer habits. For example, the timing for the second wave of IFC services follows the launch of the iPhone in 2007, which is symbolic of a new era in consumer technology habits. As the capabilities of smartphones have advanced, IFC providers have sought to improve onboard WiFi experience over the past decade from spotty and expensive internet plans that supported texting and basic surfing experience to meeting seamless and sophisticated expectations of passengers and crew members on board. But, how far along are service providers meeting the passenger and crew expectations?
The Current State of IFC.
First, let us look at the broader state of the market in 2020. Even though global aviation was one of the hardest-hit sectors by the COVID19 pandemic, the inflight connectivity market showed some resilience in the business aviation segment and is fast recovering in commercial aviation in most regions. According to NSR’s Aeronautical Satcom Market Report, 9th Edition, there were 54,225 IFC in-service units in 2020 which generated a total of $1.36 billion in retail revenue during the year. NSR projects the number of in-service units is expected to more than double to 114,367 units by 2030 at a CAGR of 7.7%, generating $6.36 billion in annual retail revenue.
In the Asia-Pacific region, IFC in-service units have grown significantly over the last decade to a little over 10,800 units at the end of 2020, generating an annual total retail revenue of $284 million. The market is set to grow to $1.6 billion annual retail revenue by 2030 at a 19% CAGR, driven significantly by the expected growth in in-service units, passenger take-rates and the exponential increase in capacity utilization per aircraft.
IFC VSAT (FSS Ku-Band & HTS) Penetration Rate
Beneath the forecast numbers, the quest to offer passengers an equivalent at-home internet experience at no or minimal cost drives the IFC market. Even though onboard WiFi offering is yet to match the on-the-ground user experience, the industry has made significant progress over the past five years from what used to be a completely unreliable and spotty experience at the beginning of the decade. As a result, the industry recorded a 19% IFC VSAT penetration rate for commercial passenger aircraft in 2020 and is on track to reach a short-term tip-off point by 2023, following recovery from the pandemic and expected intrinsic price effect of competitive onslaught from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation operators.
Leading IFC providers in the market currently offer varying degrees of services from a “close-to-seamless” internet texting and browsing experience to sophisticated packages that include video streaming, cloud applications, e-commerce and digital payments, and connected cabin and cockpit operations. This progress in user experience builds on both advances in the underlying connectivity technologies and the optionality in business models that have emerged in recent times.
Historically, airlines have faced the option of paying the upfront cost of equipment installation (CAPEX) and monthly recurring cost (MRC) in an airline-directed business model while charging passengers for service fees on a bandwidth-sized basis. However, considering how exorbitant MRCs can be, airlines are forced to charge high prices, which directly lowers take rates and keeps monthly capacity utilization per aircraft low. Alternatively, service providers “rent a space” per aircraft in an SP-directed retail model, subsidizing CAPEX for the airline and agreeing to a revenue share model. The downside to both models is that IFC take rates have historically remained low, between 4-8% for legacy FSS and ATG systems and 12-15% for new generation HTS systems. This constraint is partly due to the rationing of $ per megabits per passenger or per throughput allocated per aircraft in legacy IFC offerings. So how is the market evolving to address the challenge?
A glimpse at IFC 3.0
IFC Business Model by Region
NSR sees that the IFC market has sailed from the meagre 5-15 Mbps throughput allocated per aircraft at the beginning of IFC 2.0 to the north of 50 Mbps. In fact, some providers claim to offer 100+ Mbps with plans to more than double the number with new capacity coming on board and some equipment upgrades. However, the ultimate direction of the market in IFC 3.0 is a non-caped throughput where service level agreement (SLA) is set at passenger/crew experience level, thereby setting the on-air experience on a path similar to coffee shops or hotel WiFi. Put differently, the IFC market is transitioning from a ‘pay-per-megabyte’ contract option to an “eat-all-you-can” arrangement. In essence, as airlines continue to encourage the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture, it only makes sense for IFC solutions to match demand from personal devices onboard.
The contract optionality is driving a new business model known as the hybrid model, which allows airlines more flexibility to encourage passenger take-rates and bandwidth utilization without directly inflating cost per megabyte utilized. The hybrid model is rising in North America, where three large airline groups have already adopted the model. Examples include American and JetBlue on a Viasat service and Delta with Intelsat (formerly Gogo CA) as the service provider. In Asia-Pacific, Australia-based Qantas adopted a hybrid model with Viasat as the service provider, which allowed the airline to sign on content sponsors such as Foxtel, Netflix and Spotify. NSR expects more hybrid contract options to emerge in Asia, given that most of the low-cost carriers would need a unique IFC business model to meet the growing free/freemium onboard WiFi trends.
The transition to IFC 3.0 not only unlocks a quality experience for passengers but also allows airlines more flexibility to adapt unique business models that help offset the cost of that experience. Unlike the historical business models dependent on $ per megabyte, the next frontier of IFC opens up opportunities for optimizing various elements of the onboard WiFi experience, ranging from ad-supported user portals to sponsored content and other partner deals. For example, American Airlines recently announced free 30-minutes access to sensational video platform Tiktok for passengers on Viasat-equipped narrowbody aeroplanes. NSR expects the hybrid business model to grow as airlines – no longer directly constrained by $ per megabyte – race to offer a competitive connectivity experience while minimizing operational costs.
Beyond internet access for passengers, IFC 3.0 allows more onboard use cases ranging from crew communication to personalized passenger hospitality experience and cockpit operations, providing real-time weather and traffic updates.
How is technology evolving to support IFC 3.0?
Aero Satcom Capacity Demand, 2020 – 2030
Inflight connectivity technologies continue to evolve both on the satellite and onboard equipment fronts. While the promise of sophisticated, low-cost and lightweight terminals appears not to be too far away into the future, the latest generation of satellite networks already shows significant improvement from previous systems. As a result, the IFC market is witnessing an accelerated migration to high throughput satellite (HTS) networks, indicating a rapid decline in FSS offering for aircraft WiFi. To illustrate the capacity shift, major GEO service providers have either a primarily HTS network or are transitioning to an HTS-first system. For example, on 3 February 2021, Panasonic announced intentions to migrate 2,544 aircraft installed with its connectivity service to its Gen-3 network. Gen-3 is Panasonic’s latest generation network for IFC, its third-generation system primarily powered by Ku-band HTS GEO capacity. Leveraging leased HTS spot and wide beams from SES and Telesat, and more recently, utilizing XTS Ku-band payload onboard APSTAR 6D satellite, Panasonic is upgrading its network to reflect the broader industry trend.
Anuvu, another global IFC service provider, has invested in the next generation constellation of eight micro-GEO satellites in partnership with Silicon Valley-based Astranis. The first two microsatellites planned for launch by early 2023 are dedicated to Anuvu’s aviation and maritime customers in North America and the Caribbean.
In the future, IFC offerings from LEO constellation operators such as SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat, among others, will become commercially available with the capability for low-latency applications and coverage for the polar regions; two of the last remaining challenges for IFC on the capacity side. In addition, low-latency capacity will unlock a new frontier inflight connectivity which will seamlessly power cloud-native applications such as real-time collaboration tools and gaming experiences.
Overall, NSR projects that HTS capacity demand will skyrocket post-market recovery from COVID19, most likely resonating with the massive capacity supply timeline. The capacity demand will grow from 12 Gbps in 2020 to 924 Gbps in 2030. Capacity price declines and free onboard WiFi will be the key factors in unlocking the IFC market potential.
How is the regional outlook?
Aeronautical Satcom In-Service Units
North America continues to lead the rest of the regions in terms of the total number of in-service units and revenues, mainly driven by large airline groups including American, United, Delta, Southwest, Alaska and Air Canada.
The Asian market poses a unique outlook due to its largely untapped potential. Initially constrained by regulations in China and India, but with the relaxation of inflight connectivity rules in both markets, local and global service providers have developed a keen interest in the region. Although IFC in Asia is considerably early compared to NAM or Europe, NSR’s Aeronautical Satcom Market Report, 9th, Edition, identifies 30 airlines headquartered in Asia that have adopted inflight connectivity.
This emerging market situation creates a competitive field for service providers in maturing NAM and growing EU markets to compete with regional providers in Asia. Meanwhile, Pansonic remains the regional leader with a 61% market share of inflight connectivity in Asia. Inmarsat, Viasat and other service providers continue to contend in the region either directly or through partnerships with local satellite operators/telecoms. Interestingly, the mid to long-term will become more competitive as service providers complete the deployment of new satellites, providing dedicated coverage over the region; even more intense when LEO constellation operators begin commercialization of their IFC offering post-2023.
The Bottom Line
- IFC 3.0 reveals the ongoing transition to optimize inflight connectivity for quality passenger experience and other connected aircraft operations.
- It only makes sense for airlines to shift from pay-per-megabyte contract options that inflate MRC or intentionally dissuade passenger adoption to keep MRC low. Given the potential of growth in take-rates, airlines will be forced to develop unique business models to offset some onboard WiFi costs.
- The market is currently seeing bandwidth-heavy use cases such as video streaming, which is expected to grow. However, the final frontier, beginning in the second half of the next decade, will feature regular utilization of low-latency cloud-native applications ranging from real-time collaboration tools to mobile gaming.
- Asia is a regional market to watch as local and global service providers compete to capture market share.
Joseph Ibeh is the lead analyst covering the Aeronautical Satcom market vertical and Satcom Finance research at NSR. He began Consulting for NSR in 2020, utilizing his expertise in satellite communications, newspace industry landscape, and national space programs in emerging regions. Mr Ibeh has over three years of experience in market research and consulting, focusing on the space industry. Before joining NSR, Mr Ibeh was a Senior Analyst at Space in Africa, where he covered all segments of the African commercial space industry and national space programs. He co-authored the African Space Industry Annual Reports and the NewSpace Africa Industry Reports and provided business advisory to global space companies looking to enter the African market.
Inmarsat Ground Breaking ORCHESTRA Network Set to Transform Global Communications
Rajeev Suri, Chief Executive Officer, Inmarsat
Imagine a time for global, mobile connectivity when network bandwidth congestion is consigned to history. Where hotspots for airlines and ships at major hubs and along the busiest routes are eliminated entirely.
That prospect is now becoming a reality. Inmarsat’s newly announced ORCHESTRA, a first-of-its kind, multi-dimensional, dynamic mesh network, will see initial deployments starting in late 2022. It will deliver unprecedented performance and enable ground breaking new services in new locations, redefining high performance connectivity for global mobility customers.
The impact will be profound. For decades, aviation, maritime, governments and more recently multinationals and other enterprises have relied on terrestrial and satellite communications to coordinate their operations worldwide. Rising demand for bandwidth has been an ever-present and growing trend throughout. Then, more recently, COVID-19 has been an accelerator.
According to the OECD, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for broadband services has soared, with some operators experiencing as much as a 60% increase in internet traffic compared to the situation pre-COVID-19. This has created more congestion and hotspots around the world, putting pressure on the systems used by aviation, maritime and government. And with demand showing no signs of slowing, these pressures are only set to increase.
Inmarsat satellite GX5 that entered into service in 2020
ORCHESTRA’s first 5-year phase
Inmarsat is the world’s number one mobile satellite communications provider. We focus on the commercial mobility, government and Internet of Things (IoT) market segments and have been both market and technology leaders in this arena for many years. What that time has brought us is a unique understanding of the demands of mobility customers and a unique respect for the technology challenges of securely and reliably connecting devices on the move. What it has not done is to dampen our passion for innovation and we are undertaking the largest and most comprehensive investment programme in our history – all focused on the current and future demands of our customers.
By seamlessly integrating our proven and expanding geosynchronous (GEO) satellite networks with a small low earth orbit (LEO) constellation and a terrestrial 5G layer underpinned by dynamic mesh technologies, ORCHESTRA will eliminate the longstanding, industry-wide challenge of network congestion at high demand hotspots. ORCHESTRA will draw on the unique attributes of each component to offer customers a low-risk transition to next generation service capabilities, enabling new business models and use cases well into the future.
Our initial five-year programme investment of around US$100 million in ORCHESTRA will include a terrestrial network for usage hotspots, such as ports and airports, terminals for the aviation and maritime sectors, vessel deployment and low earth orbit (LEO) test satellites. We expect to start deployments of the terrestrial layer from late next year, with the new LEO space layer coming from 2026. LEO satellite building and launch costs to cover extended hotspots, such as oceanic air corridors, will arrive towards the end of the initial phase. This complements and integrates with our existing technology roadmap out to 2024, which sees five geosynchronous and two highly elliptical orbit satellites for the Arctic launched alongside a step change in the ground station network to support them. Included within these previously announced launches will be the first of our second-generation GX satellites, each delivering more capacity that whole current GX network combined.
ORCHESTRA will deliver the highest capacity worldwide for global mobility customers, along with the fastest average speeds, unique resilience for mission-critical applications and the lowest average latency of any network, planned or in existence. The network is designed to meet the accelerating bandwidth requirements of more diverse, demanding and ever more widely adopted applications in the commercial and government mobility markets.
At the same time, it will bring transformational new capabilities to existing customers, including secure, tactical, private networks to support government, emergency and humanitarian deployments. Its unique, cloud-based application ecosystems will serve the maritime and aviation sectors, while its bespoke, segregated, mobile VPN will support aircraft, vessel operators and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).
Inmarsat ELERA satellite I-6F1 in testing prior to late 2021 launch from Japan
(credit: Inmarsat / Airbus Defence and Space)
Integrating GEO, LEO and 5G
What differentiates ORCHESTRA from other existing or planned solutions is its fusion of different network components into a single, seamless solution for customers, leveraging the benefits of each element.
Terrestrial solutions have the highest bandwidth but lack the coverage or range to support global mobility. LEO solutions, which are primarily designed for the consumer mass market, have longer range but only modest bandwidth and, alone, are not suited to the demands of commercial and government-grade mobility customers.
GEOs have both global coverage and excellent hotspot bandwidth. Typically, however, terrestrial links can unload a very dense hotspot more efficiently, so additional satellite capacity can be left free to serve customers out of the range of the terrestrial layer.
The ORCHESTRA network will deliver the fastest average speeds and the lowest average latency of any other network, planned or existing. Speeds of the new network layers will notionally be up to ten times those seen in the Inmarsat network today and almost always higher than those delivered by any of the new standalone LEO constellations. The additional network layers deployed will similarly be very low latency and, with today’s smart routing protocols, traffic can be balanced across the layers depending upon availability, speed and latency, to ensure no congestion.
Inmarsat technology roadmap current and future satellite deployment to 2024
New network eliminates hotspot congestion
Tackling hotspot congestion is a key feature of ORCHESTRA. Hotspots are specific locations where demand for mobile capacity is at its highest due to the volume of concurrent local users, resulting in traffic congestion, notably at busy ports and airports, straits, shipping canals and some oceanic flight routes and coastlines. Hotspots can also arise unexpectedly due to an event such as a natural disaster, conflict or other emergency.
Hotspots put pressure on any satellite or terrestrial mobile network. Customers’ overall perception of performance is typically driven by how well the network manages to serve peak demand, which for mobility can change with location, time of day, day of the week and season. Despite growing demand among mobility users, Inmarsat has successfully been deploying additional GEO capacity ahead of the demand curve.
With each new generation of its GEO satellites, Inmarsat has always increased capacity and flexibility to ensure consistent performance for customers, even in hotspots. But as demand from bandwidth-hungry customers continues to spiral upwards, new solutions are required. ORCHESTRA has more capacity at hotspots than any network. It offers a lasting and scalable step-change to address the challenge, resolving the hotspot problem for good.
For customers not in hotspots, ORCHESTRA has the most capacity dedicated to mobility of any network. It means that customers investing in new terminals will see latency and bandwidth improvements worldwide. Even customers without new equipment will benefit as the impact of high demand in hotspots is reduced.
It is worth noting too that Inmarsat’s networks offer sector-leading redundancy. The new network layers will augment the existing, fully redundant foundation GEO networks Global Xpress and ELERA. As such, they can be designed efficiently without sacrificing robustness. In fact, the added layers will result in a more resilient capability than is currently the case.
Inmarsat’s core network today is built increasingly on 5G standards and for ORCHESTRA it will be likewise. What makes 5G different from its predecessors is that it incorporates a very wide range of technical standards and frequency bands to deliver a seamless, high-quality experience to customers.
Inmarsat Ground Station Evolution
Targeted LEO satellite constellation
With all communications networks, security is critically important. Inmarsat operates the world’s largest and most sophisticated, high-security, commercial satellite networks today, which serve critical government communication needs around the world. Terrestrial networks and LEO gateways add many more points of presence to the network, but by integrating them with ELERA (L-band) and Global Xpress(Ka-band), it is possible to limit those points to trusted locations yet still serve the globe. Inmarsat’s multi-dimensional routing also allows customers to select preferred routes for their connectivity based on their own security needs.
In terms of LEO satellites, the initial network design is based around a small, targeted LEO constellation of 150-175 satellites. The rationale is to add targeted LEO capability incrementally and cost-effectively in a way that is aligned to customer demand. Alongside that, GEO satellites already deliver high capacity worldwide reach.
Back on earth, Inmarsat is putting points of presence at key aviation and shipping hotspots to connect aircraft and vessels. When within range, individual users will seamlessly connect through the secure terrestrial network. These users can also act as relays to other, more distant users in a dynamic mesh network, allowing them ultra-high speed connections as well. This will utilise LTE and 5G solutions, although 5G protocols will be adopted in new network layers wherever possible.
The mesh network concept is not new. What is new is the unique multi-dimensional nature of the ORCHESTRA mesh network that integrates GEO, LEO and 5G into a single global solution. In the terrestrial component, a dynamic wireless mesh system enables individual terminals act as nodes to route traffic to and from other terminals. Though direct links are made where possible, it enables terminals to extend the range of links to ORCHESTRA to others who would otherwise be beyond the terrestrial 5G range.
In-flight VPNs and free Wi-Fi
Inmarsat’s core customer base lies in the aviation, maritime, government and enterprise sectors.
For customers in the aviation sector, the new and enhanced capabilities will include a reliable, always-on platform to enable them to offer ‘full, fast and free’ Wi-Fi to every passenger on every Inmarsat-equipped aircraft should the airline wish to do so. With this is the additional potential for secure, segregated, inflight virtual private networks for the airlines and OEMs. It also supports the rapid deployment of next generation, smart operations, crew and passenger applications through a unique cloud-native, digital ecosystem.
The exceptionally low latency could also serve as a catalyst for uncrewed aviation, with complete command and control capabilities for the safe operation of autonomous flying taxis and other forms of personal urban air transport in the world’s busiest cities.
In the maritime sector, the new network offers a complete, market leading, high-speed, low-latency passenger, crew and operational connectivity solution for smart ferries and cruise ships. Ship owners and manufacturers can now benefit from the same secure virtual private networks at sea as businesses can currently enjoy on land, along with support for rapid deployment of next generation, smart operations applications through a unique cloud-native, digital ecosystem.
Next generation maritime safety features
Inmarsat has long played a critical role in global maritime safety. ORCHESTRA will provide next generation emergency safety services including via our newly-announced enhanced L-band network ELERA. This will include enhanced real-time collaboration between vessels in distress and onshore and rescue teams, 24/7 monitoring of fleet-wide operations parameters and expanded data collection for accident and near miss investigations and safety audits.
ORCHESTRA will extend Inmarsat’s services for the first time to other new and near adjacent maritime sectors, including the small coastal vessel segment, offshore energy platforms and, at sea as in the air, remote operations for autonomous vessels.
For governments and their militaries, ORCHESTRA provides bespoke, high-speed, local area, temporary sovereign networks to connect remote forces and emergency aid teams in the field, while securely relaying critical data home for analysis. It includes high-speed, high-encryption, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) services based on customer-proprietary, frequency-hopping waveforms with exceptional random telegraph noise (RTN) throughputs.
Inmarsat HQ in London
Enabling large-scale industrial IoT solutions
Enterprise customers benefit because it enables large-scale industrial IoT solutions. ORCHESTRA will support dedicated, private, multi-dimensional networks for individual customers to connect and integrate large volumes of disparate sensors and devices – including those beyond cellular coverage.
With secure, tactical, private networks, ORCHESTRA can enable remote teams, such as international aid and emergency relief organisations, to rapidly set up and configure highly secure, high-speed, low-latency, local area temporary ‘sovereign’ networks. Satcoms plus terrestrial 5G, with the added power of dynamic mesh networking, uses ultra-small terminals to connect individuals, remote camps and environmental and personal sensor data, which can be sent via satellite direct to the team’s home country for review and analysis.
To benefit fully from ORCHESTRA, customers will need new terminals on which the company has already begun work. However, even without new equipment, existing Inmarsat customers will see benefits as hotspot demand is directed away from GEO capacity to ensure the best connectivity for all.
Finally, it is important to underline that Inmarsat’s existing GEO satellites form the fundamental framework around which ORCHESTRA will be built. They will continue to provide gold standard performance with global coverage in multiple bands. Our ELERA services will continue to deliver a critical layer of always-on connectivity with all-weather resilience, while Global Xpress provides reliable, high-speed bandwidth with unrivalled security and full redundancy. Terrestrial 5G adds ultra-high capacity at high demand hotspots. It will be supplemented by the power of dynamic wireless mesh networking to extend high performance reach. Meanwhile, the additional constellation of LEO satellites will layer further high capacity over further high-demand areas such as oceanic flight corridors.
Just a few years ago, such advances in communications technology were unimaginable. They will now soon be a reality.
Rajeev Suri was appointed as Inmarsat’s Chief Executive Officer in March 2021. He joined Inmarsat from Nokia, where he was most recently President and Chief Executive Officer. From 2009 to 2014 Rajeev was Chief Executive Officer of Nokia Solutions and Networks. During his tenure as CEO, he transformed Nokia into a top two telecommunications infrastructure company, led the consolidation of the sector from ten to three major players, positioned Nokia as a leader in a world connected by 5G and shaped by increasing digitalisation and automation. Under his leadership, Nokia acquired the networks businesses of Siemens, Motorola, Alcatel-Lucent, including the famed Bell Labs, successfully expanded into enterprise vertical markets, created the world’s leading standalone telecom software business, significantly grew the annual recurring revenue patent licensing business and engineered the return of the Nokia brand to mobile phones. Rajeev is an engineering graduate in Electronics and Communications who has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Manipal University.
Interview with John Wade, President, Commercial Aviation Division, Intelsat
What investments will you make to shape the future of inflight connectivity?
With a 50-year record of delivering seamless and secure coverage to government and industry leaders across 200+ countries, Intelsat is investing $2B initially to build a unified, global network that will support virtually any access technology, enabling the next generation of global mobility, IoT, and 5G services with unrivaled ubiquity, simplicity, and performance. Starting with our existing GEO satellites, we’re adding software-defined satellites to an already large fleet of 52 satellites. 5G standards and software defined architecture will unify the assets in our network as one. We’re adding additional layers of depth and capability with our multi-orbit; multi-layer strategy. Ultimately, we’ll provide 100% coverage bringing multiple orbit technologies as they apply to particular applications and solve for a variety of density needs which will play a key role in shaping the connected aircraft experience of the future.
Why are these important for inflight connectivity?
Passenger expectations are continuously evolving and will require more than just ubiquitous inflight internet coverage. Software-defined satellites, unified global networks and advanced airborne software platforms will provide passengers with:
- Reliable, seamless end-to-end connectivity
- Same internet usage experiences inflight as on the ground
- Inflight services that are individually personalized
- Efficient and effective internet coverage
- Free access
How will software-defined satellites deliver ubiquitous inflight internet coverage?
Software-defined satellites (SDS) will fundamentally change the game, delivering services when and where they are most needed and dynamically steering bandwidth as needed.
Figure 1 Intelsat is building the software-defined Unified Network of the future. Today.
What is your vision for the network of the future?
Intelsat is the world’s most trusted global integrated space and ground satellite network with a mission to make broadband more accessible worldwide and is creating the network of the future. This unified global ecosystem of integrated space and terrestrial technologies, networks, providers, and solutions and services will enable seamless, easy-to-deploy, end-to-end performance with the scale necessary to economically serve people, businesses, and communities wherever they are on the go. We are building unified global 5G network that will support virtually any access technology, enabling the next generation of global mobility, IoT, and 5G services. This will deliver a flying experience that keeps customers focused on travel versus technology through seamless device roaming—allowing the passenger to easily move from the ground to aircraft A, to airport, then aircraft B, with an automatic connection every step of the journey.
What are the benefits of a unified global network for airline operators?
- The Intelsat Unified Network offers airlines a more efficient, more profitable way of operating.
- Uniting multiple orbits and bands of today’s satellite and terrestrial networks in a single, software-defined 5G Unified Network will deliver ubiquitous coverage for passengers and crews.
- Building on an already strong foundation, Intelsat is investing over $2 billion in the first phase of this next generation network, with two software-defined satellites already in production.
How is Intelsat solving the commercial aviation challenges of today and tomorrow?
Today and in the future, Intelsat will continue to relentlessly focus on eliminating complex network management, gaps in coverage, and complicated, costly-to-maintain hardware. The connected experience of the future starts today with Intelsat’s powerful new software solutions.
They are designed to deliver efficiency through automated processes that offer a flexible, streamlined implementation and capabilities that can be quickly turned on or off at any time. These capabilities are enabled by our airborne software platform, which was designed for extensibility and provides airlines with much needed flexibility and scalability.
Figure 2 Onboard Experience (OX) Platform on ACPU-2
From an airline operations perspective, the connected experience of the future must be far less complex than it is today. Intelsat is already delivering powerful tools and services that simplify processes and reduce complexity. For example, our airborne software platform (Onboard Experience Platform) features built-in testing, software loading, and diagnostic capabilities that make it easier for technicians to troubleshoot and upgrade hardware and software. For Passenger Experience Managers, our new Content Management System makes it possible to customize and personalize the onboard portal based on brand and passenger preferences right from your laptop.
Figure 3 Passenger Toolkit standalone APIs makes it easy to customize the infight experience according to passenger preferences or stored profiles
How do current satellite access technologies fit into the experience of the future?
Current in-air access technologies will continue to benefit from improvements from the network, while new antennas and modems will enable airlines to upgrade as passenger and operational demands dictate.
How many software-defined satellites do you have in production?
There are two software-defined satellites (SDS) in production today (SDS-1 and SDS-2). The combination of these advanced satellites and global unified network will improve performance and efficiency faster than ever, enabling passengers to enjoy more inflight experiences than ever before.
Are there technology forward access technologies in the market today?
Yes, in fact our 2Ku satcom antenna is uniquely forward compatible with SDS/SDN and
low earth orbit and medium earth orbit (NGSO) constellations.
How will software-defined satellites deliver functionality, efficiency, and performance?
Our software-defined satellites rely on dynamic and predictive design to concentrate and allocate bandwidth to where it’s needed most to deliver exceptional performance while eliminating network bottlenecks. SDS concentrates bandwidth where usage demands are high, improving economics and delivering superior connections, especially over high-traffic areas and hub cities.
How is dynamic bandwidth different than what most satellites provide today?
Software-defined satellites feature follow-me beams that react to signals from the terminal and eliminate beam switching for uninterrupted passenger service.
You’ve mentioned that software-defined satellites will provide scalable capacity. What are the key advantages for airlines?
- More prescriptive capacity allocation
- Improved bandwidth (radio spectrum) allocation
- Reduced network bottlenecks via near real-time reallocation of higher concentration capacity
- Near real-time reporting and analytics help visualize network and application usage patterns
What are the passenger benefits of scalable capacity?
- Uninterrupted end-to-end connectivity
- Reduced latency
- Better interactive application performance
- Complete coverage of all routes
What is your vision for the future of inflight connectivity?
Our vision for the future is the ‘Everything-Connected’ passenger experience. As Intelsat lowers the costs of airborne connectivity, even more passengers will be seamlessly connected from curb to curb on more devices than ever. We imagine a fully curated cabin experience with customized options to enhance the passenger experience. Here are a few futuristic scenarios:
- Predictive catering and personalized recommendations provide passengers with the refreshments they expect
- Passengers can better pass the time with an expanse of digital and physical buy-on-board opportunities (concierge enablement)
- Forward-looking, integrated trip details including transit, car rental, hotel reservations and vacation packages giving passengers more spontaneity and peace of mind
For airlines who want to deliver the best possible passenger experience, you’re going to want to partner with a team that provides an end-to-end IFEC system that includes a unified global network capable of staying ahead of passenger and operational demands. Now is the time to evaluate your inflight system and software capabilities to determine whether and how to add to and upgrade your systems.
John Wade is President of Intelsat’s Commercial Aviation division. He is responsible for managing all aspects of the the Commercial Aviation business, including product, sales, account management, quality and product delivery. John joined Intelsat during the company’s acquisition of Gogo Commercial Aviation in 2020. He joined Gogo in 2008, serving as Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and General Manager of Gogo’s Business Aviation division before assuming his current role. John has more than 30 years of experience in the aviation industry, including numerous leadership positions in the avionics and inflight communications industry. Prior to joining Gogo, he served as Chief Technical Officer and General Manager of OnAir, an in-flight mobile phone and internet provider. He holds a First Class B Engineering Honors Degree in Electronic Engineering from the University of Brighton, U.K.