It is no secret that Inmarsat would like to see manufacturers come down on pricing on the hardware that supports its SwiftBroadband aeronautical service.
Indeed, a Cobham executive recently divulged that Inmarsat's equipment cost target for end users of its new SwiftBroadband 200 (SB200) service for small aircraft is $25,000. And, he said, "We're seriously looking at ways to achieve it."
Inmarsat has not confirmed these figures, but Inmarsat head of aeronautical marketing business Lars Ringertz says: "From an Inmarsat perspective, we expect SB200 to provide smaller equipment and better value for the end user."
SB200, which will provide standard IP data up to 200 kbps, circuit-switched voice telephony, and streaming IP data up to 16kbps, means that the little guys - like the Embraer Phenoms and Bombardier Dash 8 turboprops - can finally play in the higher-bandwidth connectivity space.
The first kits to support SB200 are shortly coming to market, and it's logical to assume that these won't be nearly as cheap as Inmarsat would like. That should change down the road, however, as suppliers build systems to fulfill Inmarsat's spec for SB200.
But if Cobham and others - Thrane & Thrane and Aircell, for instance - ultimately succeed in driving the price WAY DOWN, what does this mean for Iridium's future prospects?
Iridium is like the scrappy runt of the puppy litter. He can't jump quite as high or bark quite as loud as his brothers and sisters, but he can wag his tail from one corner of the pen to the other and doesn't cost near as much as his high-priced siblings (and cost can be a showstopper sometimes).
Sure, Iridium's current data capability of 2.4 kbps doesn't garner much mainstream attention. But the firm has recently been scoring some headlines with OpenPort, a 128 kbps service originally engineered for the maritime market that is being adapted by JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV to provide airlines with a cost-effective, pay-per-megabyte plan called Kiteline World.
And Iridium's second-generation satellite constellation, called Iridium NEXT, is expected to provide data rates of up to 1.0 mbps. This opens up the possibility of supplying airlines with higher-speed service than currently on offer from the company, while retaining low costs, according to Iridium.
Iridium is targeting 2014 for initial launch of Iridium NEXT. But if cheaper and smaller SwiftBroadband kits come available - and if Inmarsat manages to keep pricing levels the same with these said kits - should Iridium bother?
The following chart arranged by an industry stakeholder, and obtained by RWG in the midst of a perfect storm, will give you a better idea of the weight and cost associated with the different connectivity solutions on offer today. Let me hear it now, E to the G to the A to the D to the S!
(Photo of dogs above from Jimmy Coupe's Flickr photo stream)