Mobile satcoms operator Iridium is aiming to launch a competitor for Inmarsat’s new SwiftBroadband 432kbit/sec data service within the next 18 months.
Executive VP Greg Ewert said here yesterday that the US company would roll out a 56-150kbit/sec service for the maritime market early next year, following up with similar land-mobile and aeronautical offerings in the second half of 2008. “We’re going after SwiftBroadband,” he says.

The move reflects Iridium’s growing penetration of the aviation market. The company says its total of aeronautical subscribers grew 60% in the past year, compared with an average of 24% growth over all the sectors it serves.
“Commercial carriers are moving to Iridium for cost-effective automatic flight-following as well as voice and data communications,” says Ewert. “And we are now developing the ability to support total pipeline transparency for air cargo shipments.”

The company is responding to growing demand from shippers for real-time information on the location and status of their consignments. It has developed two products – the compact data-only SBD-9601 terminal and the voice-plus-data LBT-9522 – and is working to set up the necessary partnerships. “We’re talking to a number of cargo airlines, and one or two are close to committing,” says Ewert.

Business aviation has been a mainstay of Iridium’s aero business for the last few years, and some of the leading airframe manufacturers are offering its equipment in standard factory-installed avionics packages.
Gulfstream Aerospace has announced plans to install Iridium dual-channel voice, fax and data communications terminals as standard equipment on the new G150 business jet. Bombardier’s Challenger 605s are to be similarly equipped, and Eclipse Aviation is offering Iridium as a standard option on the Eclipse 500 very light jet.

New Constellation

Earlier this year the company announced its Iridium NEXT initiative to define and develop a new satellite constellation. The operator envisages an IP-based broadband network to enter service in 2016.
It plans to finance the new constellation with a combination of internal funds, equity and debt. “We’ll use all the customary vehicles,” said Ewert. “Based on the cash flow we are enjoying now, we think that we will have enough money of our own to make the required contribution to paying for NEXT. The only thing that could derail us is a major technical problem with the present constellation, and we see no sign of that at present.”

Iridium remains wedded to using its present low-Earth-orbit configuration for the new constellation. “We are the only mobile satellite operator able to offer the global coverage required for the polar routes,” says Ewert. “LEO sets us apart from the others, so we’re going to stick to it.” Internet protocol is central to the plan – “It will allow backward compatibility and reduce our time to service” – as is a drive to introduce new and improved back-office functions based on best practice from ground cellular operators.

Source: Flight Daily News