Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Inmarsat joins LEO space race with Orchestra satellite network

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Thursday 29 July 21

The UK-based satellite operator will combine geosynchronous (GEO) satellites with new low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and terrestrial 5G, forming an integrated, high-performance solution

Inmarsat has today announced that it will join the likes of SpaceX in launching its own light-weight,  LEO satellites to provide broadband connectivity.  Currently, the UK-based satellite operator owns and operators 14 GEO satellites, which circle the globe around 35,786km above the Earth. Operating primarily in the L-band (1–2GHz) and Ka-band (26.5–40 GHz) ranges, these satellites offer global coverage and typically provide services to aviation…

Inmarsat has today announced that it will join the likes of SpaceX in launching its own light-weight,  LEO satellites to provide broadband connectivity. 

Currently, the UK-based satellite operator owns and operators 14 GEO satellites, which circle the globe around 35,786km above the Earth. Operating primarily in the L-band (1–2GHz) and Ka-band (26.5–40 GHz) ranges, these satellites offer global coverage and typically provide services to aviation, maritime, and government organisations.

Now, however, it has announced plans to launch 150–175 LEO satellites to augment its existing satellite portfolio, allowing the company to offer increased capacity and expand more directly into supporting terrestrial 5G services. 

This new network, which will combine both LEO and GEO satellites, has been dubbed Orchestra. 

“An orchestra brings different instruments together, each supporting the other and playing its role in the masterpiece. We’re building Orchestra on the same concept,” said Rajeev Suri, CEO of Inmarsat. “By combining the distinct qualities of GEO, LEO and 5G into a single network, we will deliver a service that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Our customers will benefit from dramatically expanded high throughput services around the world. This is the future of connectivity and Inmarsat is perfectly positioned to bring it to the world with its proven technology expertise, right base of customers and partners, and financial strength.”

Around $100 million will be spent on the initial phase of the Orchestra project, which will last around five years. The planned LEO satellites are not expected to be launched until the second half of this decade. 

It would be easy to see this move as Inmarsat throwing down the gauntlet to the likes of Starlink, who are also targeting global coverage and intend to deliver commercial services to consumers worldwide. However, it appears that Inmarsat view the Orchestra project more as an augmentation of their existing services, allowing them create an even more compelling mobility offer to their key markets, such as shipping.

“Orchestra ensures Inmarsat is well positioned to deliver long-term, profitable growth by delivering new services to existing customers, targeting near-adjacent market segments, and maintaining a strong competitive position,” said Suri. “We have a record of adopting the right technology at the right time. We plan to focus initially on delivering the Orchestra terrestrial network, while preparing for a future LEO constellation in the range of 150-175 satellites. This is a highly cost-effective approach that leverages Inmarsat’s leading GEO satellite networks as part of Orchestra’s unique multi-layer architecture.”

The operator is already upgrading its existing GEO satellite fleet, having already announced plans to launch additional GEO devices.

Back in March, the company was selected by the UK Space Agency to help develop an in-orbed telemetry relay service for rockets, using their satellites to help alleviate the burden on terrestrial monitoring systems.

 

Is satellite broadband connectivity finally getting its time in the sun? Find out what the experts think of this rapidly developing connectivity option at this year’s Total Telecom Congress

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