The Inmarsat network just got a lot larger. The satellite connectivity provider is teaming with Hughes to bring the JUPITER High Throughput Satellite Ka-band constellation into the GX Aviation network, a major boost to capacity as the company seeks to capture more of the North American market. Dubbed GX+ North America, the service is actively being marketed to airlines today.
We are very confident that this game-changing collaboration with Hughes, combining their market-leading depth of capacity with Inmarsat’s award-winning passenger connectivity solution, delivers for the first time, inflight broadband that is consistently superior regardless of the number of passengers using the service or where they are travelling. It is truly a ‘no compromise’ solution for airlines that no other service provider can offer.– Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce
The new offering takes advantage Inmarsat’s history with the Global Xpress (GX) network in service on a global scale and addresses its largest shortcoming over North America: limited capacity. Inmarsat plans to launch seven more satellites in the coming years, delivering capacity in multiple regions including the first high-speed polar coverage. But none of that capacity is online today. And the North America market holds too much potential for Inmarsat to wait longer. Leveraging the Hughes satellites give Inmarsat immediate entry into the highly competitive space.
Customers of the GX+ North America offering will be able to “roam” on to other Inmarsat GX Aviation satellites if they leave the Hughes footprint. Existing GX customers, however, will not roam in to the JUPITER network if their aircraft enter the satellite coverage area.
The GX+ North America offering include an additional partner for the antenna system. Inmarsat and Hughes tapped ThinKom and its ThinAir Ka2517 system for the new solution.
The new solution will be provided and managed end-to-end by Inmarsat. The company is actively working with potential airline customers in the sales refresh cycle. Prototype flights are expected to start later this year with commercial availability scheduled for 2021.
That timeline is aggressive for a new inflight connectivity solution, but also one that Inmarsat Aviation President Philip Balaam sees it as “good test to see how we fare, a baptism by fire” as airlines make decisions in this cycle.
A good time to upgrade
Airlines are in a coma right now, desperately holding on to whatever cash they have rather than spending money on major new systems. Yet Balaam believes the hardware refresh in North American is coming to hundreds, if not thousands, of aircraft in the near future. Contracts signed this year or next will see delivery in the years to follow, allowing the airlines to afford the moves and to only invest in the aircraft that will remain in service longer term. Balaam explains, “It unlocks the potential for North American carriers that we know are looking at, ‘How do we go next generation? How do we deliver the next suites of services to passengers who are fed up with clunky legacy capacity constrained systems?’ And this just brings it in a lot sooner than other systems.”
Balaam also expects that, beyond the aircraft refresh cycle, that the industry will (finally) realize the business model refresh long promised. The latter dictates that connectivity must “generate money now, generate value somewhere.” Airlines may finally be ready to demand that of the systems. And this new offering, with the increased capacity and new cost structure, is one that Balaam believes will deliver on that need.
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