Inmarsat is reportedly on the cusp of laying down a $1 billion investment with Boeing for four satellites that would operate in the Ka-band spectrum, in a move that would give the London-based firm the ability to support ultra-high-speed Internet on board aircraft.
Inmarsat, whose L-band satellites currently support aeronautical and maritime connectivity services (as well as keeping far flung journos in touch with mankind), recently hinted that it was headed in the Ka-band direction. But reports from Space News and the UK Sunday Times indicate that Inmarsat is now in advanced talks with Boeing to make it a reality.
"Inmarsat is expected to take delivery of three satellites to cover the globe and a fourth to be kept in reserve. They could be launched from 2014 onwards. The company was set up in 1979 as a not-for-profit organisation to create a satellite network for ships," reports the UK Sunday Times, noting that the new fleet "will operate at data speeds of up to 80 times faster than the Inmarsat-4 fleet, launched in 2005".
Inmarsat is the juggernaut in the world of connectivity. It's L-band-based SwiftBroadband (SBB) aeronautical service is being adopted by carriers worldwide, and airframers consider it a standard entry point into connectivity.
So, will Inmarsat's move to Ka threaten the company's SBB business? One has to wonder if Inmarsat can comfortably tout the benefits of SBB when it is pursuing Ka. Wasn't it a mere 10 months ago that Inmarsat said this about Ku and big bandwidth?
If you look at the usage, I'll bet you'll have one, two, three or four high-end users who will use loads of bandwidth, while others will do a couple of emails. You won't have a lot of people doing streaming video and Skype because very few people actually do that. If you're an airline, why would you bolt on that [Ku-band] solution if you're going to have three to five users?
At the same time, one wonders what Inmarsat's Ka adventure will mean for the Ku-band providers.
One skeptical industry insider, quoting my recent piece about Ku-band-based Row 44 not being a duck, but an Albatross, says:
"Maybe a passenger pigeon would be more appropriate - you see them everywhere and then unexpectedly they end up extinct."
Ouch! I think we need to remember who backs up Row 44 (i.e. no shrinking violet). Indeed, it is my understanding that Hughes Network Systems is about to get a little bit more vocal about Row 44.