The present company originates from the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT), a non-profit intergovernmental organization established in 1979 at the behest of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—the United Nations' maritime body—and pursuant to the Convention on the International Maritime Satellite Organization, signed by 28 countries in 1976. The organisation was created to establish and operate a satellite communications network for the maritime community. In coordination with the International Civil Aviation Organization in the 1980s, the convention governing INMARSAT was amended to include improvements to aeronautical communications, notably for public safety. The member states owned varying shares of the operational business. The main offices were originally located in the Euston Tower, Euston Road, London.
In the mid-1990s, many member states were unwilling to invest in improvements to INMARSAT's network, especially owing to the competitive nature of the satellite communications industry, while many recognized the need to maintain the organization's older systems and the need for an intergovernmental organization to oversee public safety aspects of satellite communication networks. In 1998, an agreement was reached to modify INMARSAT's mission as an intergovernmental organization and separate and privatize the organization's operational business, with public safety obligations attached to the sale.
In April 1999, INMARSAT was succeeded by the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) as an intergovernmental regulatory body for satellite communications, while INMARSAT's operational unit was separated and became the UK-based company Inmarsat Ltd. The IMSO and Inmarsat Ltd. signed an agreement imposing public safety obligations on the new company. Inmarsat was the first international satellite organization that was privatized.
Inmarsat at first provided services using Marisat and MARECS, which were launched by the US Navy and ESA respectively. In the early 1990s Inmarsat launched its first dedicated satellite constellation, Inmarsat-2. These satellites provided the Inmarsat-A service for maritime uses. Between 1996 and 1998 Inmarsat's second constellation, Inmarsat-3, was launched. Consisting of 5 geostationary L-band satellites the constellation provides the Inmarsat-B and Inmarsat-C services, primarily providing low bandwidth communications and safety services for global shipping. Following privatization in 1999 Inmarsat developed and launched the first satellite communications system offering global coverage, BGAN. This service was provided initially through the three Inmarsat-4 satellite launched between 2005 and 2008, and was then extended with the addition of Alphasat in 2013. In the 2010s Inmarsat began development of the High Throughput Satellite (HTS) constellation Global Xpress, operating in the Ka band portion of the spectrum. Global Xpress, launched in 2015, offers global satellite capacity to various markets including shipping and aviation. Global Xpress also marks a significant expansion of Inmarsat's commercial operations in the aviation markets. In 2017 Inmarsat launched its first S-band satellite, intended to provide (in association with an LTE ground network) inflight internet access across Europe. In March 2018, Inmarsat partnered with Isotropic Systems to develop a state-of-the-art, all electronic scanning antenna intended to be used with the Global Xpress network.
On 20 September 2018, Inmarsat announced its strategic collaboration with Panasonic Avionics Corporation for an initial ten-year period, to provide in-flight broadband for commercial airlines. Inmarsat will be the exclusive provider of Panasonic for connectivity using the Ka-band satellite signal. Inmarsat will now be offering Panasonic's portfolio of services to its commercial aviation customers.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
In March 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 passengers and crew en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. After turning away from its planned path and disappearing from radar coverage, the aircraft's satellite data unit remained in contact with Inmarsat's ground station in Perth via the IOR satellite (Indian Ocean Region, 64° East). The aircraft used Inmarsat's Classic Aero satellite phone service. Analysis of these communications by Inmarsat and independently by other agencies determined that the aircraft flew into the southern Indian Ocean and was used to guide the search for the aircraft.
In March 2019 the company's board agreed to recommend a takeover offer of $3.4 billion from Connect Bidco, a consortium consisting of Apax Partners, Warburg Pincus, the CPP Investment Board and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. On 9 October 2019, Bloomberg reported that the UK government was set to approve the takeover with the final consultation for the deal set to conclude on 24 October. In November 2019, Inmarsat rejected an eleventh-hour effort to derail its $6bn sale to a private equity consortium in which it was accused of ignoring a potential boost to the company's value. Oaktree argued that the recommended offer for Inmarsat failed to take account of the potential value of spectrum assets used by Inmarsat’s US partner Ligado. Inmarsat delisted from London Stock Exchange, as the private equity funds took control of the company, on 5 December 2019; at the time, Inmarsat was operating 14 geostationary communications satellites.
Services include traditional voice calls, low-level data tracking systems, and high-speed Internet and other data services as well as distress and safety services. The BGAN network provides GPRS-type services at up to 800 kbit/s at a latency of 900-1100ms via an IP satellite modem the size of a notebook computer, while the Global Xpress network offers up to 50 Mbit/s at a latency of 700ms via antennas as small as 60 cm. Other services provide mobile Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services used by the media for live reporting on world events via videophone, and inflight Internet access via the European Aviation Network.
The price of a call via Inmarsat has now dropped to a level where they are comparable to, and in many cases lower than, international roaming costs, or hotel phone calls. Voice call charges are the same for any location in the world where the service is used. Tariffs for calls to Inmarsat country codes vary, depending on the country in which they are placed. Inmarsat primarily uses country code 870 (see below). Newer Inmarsat services use an IP technology that features an always-on capability where the users are only charged for the amount of data they send and receive, rather than the length of time they are connected. In addition to its own satellites, Inmarsat has a collaboration agreement with ACeS regarding handheld voice services.
Inmarsat Global HQ at 99 City Road, London. (January 2006)
Each satellite is equipped with a single global beam that covers up to one-third of the Earth's surface, apart from the poles. Overall, global beam coverage extends from latitudes of −82 to +82 degrees regardless of longitude.
Regional spot beam coverage
Each regional beam covers a fraction of the area covered by a global beam, but collectively all of the regional beams offer virtually the same coverage as the global beams. Use of regional beams allow user terminals (also called mobile earth stations) to operate with significantly smaller antennas. Regional beams were introduced with the I-3 satellites. Each I-3 satellite provides four to six spot beams; each I-4 satellite provides 19 regional beams.
Narrow spot beam coverage
Narrow beams are offered by the three Inmarsat-4 satellites. Narrow beams vary in size, tend to be several hundred kilometres across. The narrow beams, while much smaller than the global or regional beams, are far more numerous and hence offer the same global coverage. Narrow spot beams allow yet smaller antennas and much higher data rates. They form the backbone of Inmarsat's handheld (GSPS) and broadband services (BGAN). This coverage was introduced with the I-4 satellites. Each I-4 satellite provides around 200 narrow spot beams.
Global Xpress (I-5)
The Inmarsat I-5 satellites provide global coverage using four geostationary satellites. Each satellite supports 89 beams, giving a total coverage of approximately one-third of the Earth's surface per satellite. In addition, 6 steerable beams are available per satellite, which may be moved to provide higher capacity to selected locations.
On 26 November 2019, the first satellite to extend the original 4 satellite first generation Global Xpress constellation was launched from Guiana Space Centre by an Ariane 5 rocket.
The 870 number is an automatic locator; it is not necessary to know to which satellite the destination Inmarsat terminal is logged-in. SNAC is now usable by all Inmarsat services.
Country codes phased out on 31 December 2008 were
871 Atlantic Ocean Region – East (AOR-E)
872 Pacific Ocean Region (POR)
873 Indian Ocean Region (IOR)
874 Atlantic Ocean Region – West (AOR-W)
Inmarsat-3 satellite locations
Inmarsat has developed a series of networks providing certain sets of services (most networks support multiple services). They are grouped into two sets, existing and evolved services, and advanced services. Existing and evolved services are offered through land earth stations which are not owned nor operated by Inmarsat, but through companies which have a commercial agreement with Inmarsat. Advanced services are provided via distribution partners but the satellite gateways are owned and operated by Inmarsat directly.
High Throughput Services
Global Xpress: Since 2015 Inmarsat has offered high throughput services through the Global Xpress network. This service provides an IP based global service of up to 50 Mbit/s downlink and 5 Mbit/s uplink at a latency of 700ms. Services are provided for maritime, aviation, government and enterprise markets. Global Xpress is supported by the existing BGAN L-band network, and services are offered using a combination of the two networks to increase availability and reliability. In March 2018, Inmarsat partnered with Isotropic Systems to develop all-electronic scanning antenna intended to be used with the Global Xpress network.
European Aviation Network: Inmarsat is also planning to offer aviation services through the European Aviation Network, developed in partnership with Deutsche Telekom. The European Aviation Network uses a ground-based LTE network and an Inmarsat S-band satellite to provide 50Gbit/s capacity to aircraft in European airspace. The project faces a number of legal and regulatory challenges. In March 2018, Inmarsat stated that commercial service would begin in 2018.
The "BGAN Family" is a set of IP-based shared-carrier services, as follows:
BGAN: Broadband Global Area Network for use on land. BGAN uses the I-4 satellites to offer a shared-channel IP packet-switched service of up to 800 kbit/s (uplink and downlink speeds may differ and depend on terminal model) and a streaming-IP service from 32 kbit/s up to X-Stream data rate (services depend on terminal model). Most terminals also offer circuit-switched Mobile ISDN services at 64 kbit/s and even low speed (4.8 kbit/s) voice etc. services. BGAN service is available globally on all I4 satellites.
FleetBroadband (FB): A maritime service, FleetBroadband is based on BGAN technology, offering similar services and using the same infrastructure as BGAN. A range of Fleet Broadband user terminals are available, designed for fitting on ships.
SwiftBroadband (SB): An aeronautical service, SwiftBroadband is based on BGAN technology and offers similar services. SB terminals are specifically designed for use aboard commercial, private, and military aircraft.
The "BGAN M2M Family" is a set of IP-based services designed for long-term machine-to-machine management of fixed assets, as follows:
BGAN M2M: Which was launched at the beginning of January 2012, will deliver a global, IP-based low-data rate service, for users needing high levels of data availability and performance in permanently unmanned environments. Ideally suited for high-frequency, very low-latency data reporting, BGAN M2M will prove extremely attractive for monitoring fixed assets such as pipelines and oil well heads, or backhauling electricity consumption data within a utility.
IsatM2M: IsatM2M is a global, short burst data, store and forward service that will deliver messages of 10.5 or 25.5 bytes in the send direction, to 100 bytes in the receive direction. The service is delivered to market via two partners - SkyWave Mobile Communications and Honeywell Global Tracking.
IsatData Pro: IsatData Pro is a global satellite data service designed for two-way text and data communications with remote assets and has the capability to exchange large amounts of data quickly (To mobile: 10kBytes / From mobile: 6.4kBytes with typical delivery time at 15 sec.) This service is used in mission-critical applications and is used in everything from managing trucks, fishing vessels and oil & gas and heavy equipment, to text message remote workers and security applications. It is provided by SkyWave Mobile Communications Inc, now part of Orbcomm.
Global voice services
The company offers portable and fixed phone services as follows:
IsatPhone 2: IsatPhone 2 is Inmarsat's own-designed and manufactured robust mobile satellite phone, offering clear voice telephony. It also comes with a variety of data capabilities, including SMS, short message emailing and GPS look-up-and-send, as well as supporting a data service of up to 20kbit/s.
IsatPhone Link: IsatPhone Link is a low-cost, fixed, global satellite phone service. It provides essential voice connectivity for those working or living in areas without cellular coverage and also comes with a variety of data capabilities.
FleetPhone: Inmarsat's FleetPhone service is a fixed phone service ideal for use on smaller vessels where voice communications is the primary requirement or on vessels where additional voice lines are needed. It provides a low-cost, global satellite phone service option for those working or sailing outside cellular coverage.
Existing and evolved services
They are based on older technologies, as follows:
Aeronautical (Classic Aero): provides analog voice/fax/data services for aircraft. Three levels of terminals, Aero-L (Low Gain Antenna) primarily for packet data including ACARS and ADS, Aero-H (High Gain Antenna) for medium quality voice and fax/data at up to 9600 bit/s, and Aero-I (Intermediate Gain Antenna) for low quality voice and fax/data at up to 2400 bit/s. Note, there are also aircraft rated versions of Inmarsat-C and mini-M/M4. The aircraft version of GAN is called Swift 64 (see below).
Inmarsat-B: service was retired on 30 December 2016. It provided digital voice services, telex services, medium speed fax/data services at 9.6 kbit/s and high speed data services at 56, 64 or 128 kbit/s. There was also a 'leased' mode for Inmarsat-B available on the spare Inmarsat satellites.
Inmarsat-C: effectively this is a "satellite telex" terminal with low-speed all-digital (transmission bit rate 1200bit/s and information bit rate of 600 bit/s) store-and-forward, polling etc. capabilities. Certain models of Inmarsat-C terminals are also approved for usage in the global maritime distress and safety services (GMDSS) system, equipped with GPS.
Inmarsat-M: provides voice services at 4.8 kbit/s and medium speed fax/data services at 2.4 kbit/s. It paved the way towards Inmarsat-Mini-M. Service has been closed.
Mini-M: provides voice services at 4.8 kbit/s and medium speed fax/data services at 2.4 kbit/s. One 2.4kbit/s channel takes up 4.8kbit/s on the satellite. Service was closed early January 2017
GAN (Global Area Network): provides a selection of low speed services like voice at 4.8 kbit/s, fax & data at 2.4 kbit/s, ISDN like services at 64 kbit/s (called Mobile ISDN) and shared-channel IP packet-switched data services at 64 kbit/s (called Mobile Packet Data Service or MPDS, formerly Inmarsat Packet Data Service – IPDS). GAN is also known as "M4". Service was closed early in January 2017.
Fleet: actually a family of networks that includes the Inmarsat-Fleet77, Inmarsat-Fleet55 and Inmarsat-Fleet33 members (The numbers 77, 55 and 33 come from the diameter of the antenna in centimeters). Much like GAN, it provides a selection of low speed services like voice at 4.8 kbit/s, fax/data at 2.4 kbit/s, medium speed services like fax/data at 9.6 kbit/s, ISDN like services at 64 kbit/s (called Mobile ISDN) and shared-channel IP packet-switched data services at 64 kbit/s (called Mobile Packet Data Service or MPDS - see below). However, not all these services are available with all members of the family. The latest service to be supported is Mobile ISDN at 128 kbit/s on Inmarsat-Fleet77 terminals.
Swift 64: Similar to GAN, providing voice, low rate fax/data, 64kbit/s ISDN, and MPDS services, for private, business, and commercial aircraft. Swift 64 is often sold in a multi-channel version, to support several times 64kbit/s.
Inmarsat D/D+/IsatM2M: Inmarsat's version of a pager, although much larger than terrestrial versions. Some units are equipped with GPS. The original Inmarsat-D terminals were one-way (to mobile) pagers. The newer Inmarsat-D+ terminals are the equivalent of a two-way pager. The main use of this technology nowadays is in tracking trucks and buoys and SCADA applications.
MPDS (Mobile Packet Data Service): Previously known as IPDS, this is an IP-based data service in which several users share a 64kbit/s carrier in a manner similar to ADSL. MPDS-specific terminals are not sold; rather, this is a service which comes with most terminals that are designed for GAN, Fleet, and Swift64.
IsatPhone: provides voice services at 4.8 kbit/s and medium speed fax/data services at 2.4 kbit/s. This service emerged from a collaboration agreement with ACeS, and is available in the EMEA and APAC satellite regions. Coverage is available in Africa, the Middle-East, Asia and Europe, as well as in maritime areas of the EMEA and APAC coverage.
New projects underway
European Aviation Network
On 30 June 2008, the European Parliament and the Council adopted the European's Decision to establish a single selection and authorisation process (ESAP – European S-band Application Process) to ensure a coordinated introduction of mobile satellite services (MSS) in Europe. The selection process was launched in August 2008 and attracted four applications by prospective operators (ICO, Inmarsat, Solaris Mobile (now EchoStar Mobile), TerreStar).
In May 2009, the European Commission selected two operators, Inmarsat Ventures and Solaris Mobile, giving these operators "the right to use the specific radio frequencies identified in the Commission's decision and the right to operate their respective mobile satellite systems". EU Member States now have to ensure that the two operators have the right to use the specific radio frequencies identified in the Commission's decision and the right to operate their respective mobile satellite systems for 18 years from the selection decision. The operators are compelled to start operations within 24 months (May 2011) from the selection decision.
Inmarsat's S-band satellite programme will deliver mobile multimedia broadcast, mobile two-way broadband telecommunications and next-generation MSS services across all member states of the European Union and as far east as Moscow and Ankara by means of a hybrid satellite/terrestrial network. It was built by Thales Alenia Space and launched in 2017. The complementary ground network consists of around 300 LTE base stations constructed by Deutsche Telekom.
The European Aviation Network faces a number of legal challenges. This includes a challenge from Viasat alleging unfair bidding practices and a misuse of spectrum and a ruling by the Belgian telecommunications regulator revoking permission for the use of the ground network in Belgium.
Global Xpress Expansion
Inmarsat ordered a fifth Global Xpress satellite from Thales Group. The satellite launched 26 November 2019 from Guiana Space Centre aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. The satellite has been described as a 'very high throughput satellite', and provides services to the Middle East, India and Europe. CEO Rupert Pearce has also indicated that Inmarsat is planning further expansion of the Global Xpress network in the future. Trials of new technologies have demonstrated bandwidths of 330 Mbit/s over the existing Global Xpress network, far in excess of the currently marketed 50 Mbit/s.
To provide GX coverage to the growing number of users in the Arctic region, Inmarsat plans to improve GlobalXpress connectivity to above 65° North.
Two high-capacity, multi-beam payloads GX-10A and GX-10B will be placed in Highly Elliptical Orbits (HEO) to ensure reliable coverage. Inmarsat is working in partnership with Space Norway HEOSAT in the Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission. The satellites carrying the Inmarsat payload plan to be manufactured by Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. Launch for GX-10A and 10B are scheduled for 2022.
At the end of 2015 Inmarsat ordered two sixth generation satellites from Airbus. These satellites will offer both Ka and L band payloads and will provide additional capacity to the existing BGAN and Global Xpress networks. In 2017 it was announced that the first of these satellites will be launched by MHI in 2020.
IRIS and ICE
Inmarsat is participating in two ESA ARTES programs, IRIS and ICE:
IRIS is a project to improve tracking of aircraft, and to improve communications between aircraft and air traffic controllers. Inmarsat will provide high capacity satellite communications links for aircraft, and improve detection of aircraft locations in time and space.
ICE (Inmarsat Communications Evolution) is a partnership with industrial partners intended to identify innovative technologies that can expand and enhance the capabilities of the next generation of satellite communications.
INMARSAT and Iridium frequency bands abut each other at 1626.5 MHz thus each satcom radio has the ability to interfere with the other. Usually, the far more powerful INMARSAT radio disrupts the Iridium radio up to 10–800 m (33–2,600 ft) away.
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