Expanded Global Xpress constellation will bolster maritime connectivity, but compete with regional coverage from Telenor and ViaSat
New constellations of geostationary satellites are boosting bandwidth capacity for shipping as owners invest in internet of things for vessel monitoring and crew welfare.
Inmarsat is increasing Ka-band output by expanding its Global Xpress (GX) constellation from four satellites in 2019 to 12 by 2024 in one of its biggest investment programmes to date.
Inmarsat’s latest addition, GX5, was launched in November 2019 and positioned to cover Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It is being commissioned this year to augment existing Ka-band communications to ships from the existing four fifth-generation GX satellites.
GX5 will deliver twice the capacity of the entire existing GX fleet of four spacecraft combined, says Inmarsat Maritime president Ronald Spithout.
Other GX satellites will be installed into geostationary orbit to raise capacity in Asia/Pacific and the Americas, and two payloads will be commissioned to provide Ka-band coverage over the Arctic.
Inmarsat’s next satellite launch (GX6A) is scheduled for later this year, with another (GX6B) planned for 2021. These were ordered as part of Inmarsat’s sixth-generation geostationary constellation, part of the GX 2.0 constellation with Ka-band communications, plus huge L-band payloads to bolster FleetBroadband.
After these are commissioned, there will be a gap in launches as Airbus Defence & Space manufactures three more geostationary satellites. GX7, GX8 and GX9 are scheduled to be set into orbit from H1 2023.
These will be followed by two GX payloads (GX10A and GX10B) on Space Norway’s Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission satellites, manufactured by Northup Grumman Innovation Systems. These will also be launched into elliptical orbit in 2023, extending GX into higher latitudes for Arctic maritime communications.
Mr Spithout says more than 8,000 vessels are using GX connectivity on its Fleet Xpress services. “It is much more than a VSAT connectivity pipe,” he says. “Due to fast-growing value-added services such as Fleet Data, Fleet Edge and Fleet Secure, and the rapid development of our application provider ecosystem.”
To grow regional Ka-band coverage for maritime applications, Telenor Satellite has bolstered its connectivity through its 2015-commissioned Thor 7 satellite. Its footprint for maritime is from Svalbard, Norway and over the Barents, Norwegian, North and Kara seas. This stretches over the north Atlantic, west of Iceland to south Greenland and to Newfoundland and down to the Mediterranean.
Telenor uses this coverage and Newtec Dialog technology to offer up to 150 Mps downlink and 50 Mbps uplink for high-end users of Anker Ka services.
During 2019, Telenor increased its Ka-band terminal installations by 112% and had stable demand for its Ku-band services. It services around 700 terminals of both bands, mostly on fishing vessels and workboats, while passenger vessels use more than 50% of Telenor’s overall capacity.
There is competition on northern transatlantic routes after successful tests in 2019 with new maritime terminals and Ka-band communications over the ViaSat-2 satellite.
This geostationary satellite, commissioned in 2017 with total network capacity of 260 Gbps, has coverage over North and Central America, Caribbean and North Atlantic.
Tests using a Cobham Satcom antenna on a yacht demonstrated broadband speeds of up to 100 Mbps.
More capacity will be coming in the next three years, as the ViaSat-3 platform will be implemented. This will involve three satellites, each will around 1,000 Gbps capacity. One will be pointed over the Americas, a second with a footprint over Europe, Middle East and Africa and a third over Asia-Pacific.