Inmarsat‘s European Aviation Network took a major step forward this week as French authorities approved operation of the ground component related to that network. France is one of a handful of countries where that approval was still pending. Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom are nearing entry-in-service for the system, fitting the first aircraft with antennae and the other on-board networking kit.
The authorization granted to Inmarsat enables it, as part of its European Aviation Network (EAN) project, to offer Internet access services in aircraft thanks to dual connectivity: via satellite and through the complementary use of relay antennas on the ground, authorized by the decision published today.
The approval from France comes in the face of significant legal opposition from Inmarsat’s competitors, including Paris-based Eutelsat. That company, along with Viasat, are protesting the dependence on the terrestrial network as the primary data traffic channel rather than as a secondary or backup service. The authorization from the European Community allows for “ground stations used at specific points to increase the availability of the mobile-satellite service in the geographical areas inside the footprint of the system’s satellite (s), where communications with one or several space stations can not be provided with the required quality.” Given limited radio spectrum on the satellite this means either very limited total capacity to the network or that the complimentary ground component must carry the bulk of the traffic. Inmarsat chose the latter and is defending that position well against the protests.
There are some limitations on the terrestrial deployment in France, though from a practical standpoint they should not impact the performance of the network. Rather than the full 60 MHz of spectrum Inmarsat is allocated for the S-Band satellite connection the terrestrial component is limited to only 15 MHz each for upstream and downstream connections. The network is also limited to only 50 cell sites. That does potentially limit total network capacity and future growth of the EAN service within France but for the initial deployment neither of those limitations should be considered significant.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) February 26, 2018
The license for service is valid through May 2027. It also includes a note that if Decision No. 2014-1257 of the Regulatory Authority for Electronic Communications is revoked then this authorization will also be invalid. Such a revocation seems incredibly unlikely. The legal challenges remain in process, though it does not appear that they will impede the initial launch of the service.