Inmarsat is combining a new constellation of Ka-band satellites with long-term evolution 4G technology to boost broadband communications for shipowners
Arianespace has launched Inmarsat’s GX5 satellite, the first of its second-generation constellation for Global Xpress (GX) on 26 November.
Ariane 5 launch vehicle placed GX5 into geostationary orbit from the Ariane Launch Complex 3 in Kourou, French Guiana.
This Thales Alenia Space-built satellite will augment Ka-band communications already provided to shipping through the existing GX1-GX4 network, which was the fifth Inmarsat satellite constellation.
Inmarsat provides ship connectivity through Fleet Xpress (FX), combining GX with L-band backup from its Fleet Broadband service.
GX5 is the first of a new generation of GX satellites that will represent a sixth constellation. Inmarsat intends to launch another seven advanced GX payloads in the next four years for global coverage of high throughput Ka-band.
Inmarsat chief executive Rupert Pearce says GX5’s launch “marks the first of eight launches in the coming four years that will grow our services to meet rapidly expanding demand.”
Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout says second-generation GX will enable ships to boost their connectivity capabilities four-fold.
Fast-growing demand for digitalised services has led to a ship’s data consumption reaching 270 GB per month in mid-2019, compared to 5 GB five years ago, says Mr Spithout.
“As data use and demand for vessel and crew applications continues to grow, we are already seeing data volumes of more than 1 terabyte [1,000 GB] per month per ship,” he explains. “Launching GX5 heralds a major step forward in meeting that demand with capacity for shipping in one of our main markets and the next step in Inmarsat’s commitment to the future of maritime connectivity,” Mr Spithout adds.
For offshore support vessels, Inmarsat has co-operated with wireless communications specialist Tampnet to combine GX with LTE communications in the North and Norwegian Seas.
Fleet LTE uses FX and Tampnet North Sea LTE network of high-speed 4G wireless communications. Tampnet built this network with base stations on multiple oil and gas production platforms connected to shore through a 3,000-km network of subsea fibre optic cables.
Vessels using Fleet LTE will need Ka-band and L-band satellite terminals and a dedicated LTE access point. They can then seamlessly migrate between wireless and VSAT communications.
Tampnet chief executive Per Helge Svensson says this LTE service could be expanded to other regions where there are fibre networks and LTE base stations.
“The North Sea is a natural starting point, but we are also keen to explore how we can work with Inmarsat in other regions where Tampnet is present, such as the Gulf of Mexico,” he explains.
FX management portal
Shipping companies using Fleet Xpress can use a dedicated portal to view network data. Marlink introduced its FX Portal in December 2019 to help managers access previously unavailable network and service information in real-time. This is enabled by Marlink’s onboard communications management device, XChange FX.
FX Portal delivers information on bandwidth performance and traffic statistics, and live information on which carrier is being used, whether Ka-band or L-band.
Marlink president for maritime Tore Morten Olsen says this portal adds tangible value through its functionality. “XChange FX enables low-cost voice calling and our portfolio of business-critical solutions,” he says. “FX Portal goes one step further by providing our customers with data so they can leverage the full power and flexibility of FX.”