The method by which governments across the world operate their satellite communication services is changing at a rapid pace. In the early days of Global Satcom governments would build large secure facilities housing the required communications systems and large static dishes to receive traffic from all over the world. Small dishes and communications-on-the move was a distant dream! These systems and their accompanying satellites or ‘birds’ as they are called, would have been procured after a long and rigorous procumbent process costing billions of dollars for a set of birds, which in those days would only have an expected life of a maximum of seven to fourteen years; then the process would start again.
The UK’s Skynet 5 procurement process, won by Astrium, now Airbus, by PFI, rather than outright purchase, was unique and visionary at the time. This procurement process pioneered by DE&S at Abbey Wood now forms the current framework for satellite system procurement by major Western governments. The US Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) system used a similarly innovative procurement strategy although the birds were purchased by the US Government and then sub-let to Australia, Canada, Holland, Denmark and New Zealand as partners.
Both Skynet and WGS concentrate on the military’s coveted ‘X’ Band spectrum, because of its unique characteristics which include, interference resilience, rain resilience, terminal size, data rates, remote coverage and of course the fact that it is solely reserved for Governmental use.
Visit to Inmarsat
To find out more about Inmarsat, the Editor visited its Headquarters building at City Road, London in January. The large imposing office block on the Old Street Roundabout conceals the fact that the building houses one of the most modern satellite communications systems Control Room in the world, of which more later.
The Editor was met by Andy Start, President of Inmarsat Global Government Services, Andy Titcomb, Offer Development Director, Global Government Services and PR supremo Katie Potts.
History of Inmarsat
We started the tour with a brief history of Inmarsat and its products.
The company was originally founded in 1979 as the International Maritime Satellite Organization (Inmarsat), a not-for-profit international organization, set up at the behest of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body, for the purpose of establishing a satellite communications network for the maritime community. The first Director General was appointed in January 1980. Olof Lundberg, who had previously managed and developed mobile and specialized services at Swedish Telecom (now Telia), served as Director General and CEO until 1995. Originally, the model was that of Intelsat, an international consortium which provided satellite communications among the member countries. The founding member of Intelsat, and the USA member, was Communications Satellite Corporation (COMSAT). Comsat also took the lead in the founding of Inmarsat. Inmarsat began trading in 1982. From the beginning, the acronym ‘Inmarsat’ was used. The intent was to create a self-financing body which would improve safety of life at sea.
The name was changed to ‘International Mobile Satellite Organization’ when it began to provide services to aircraft and portable users, but the acronym ‘Inmarsat’ was kept. When the organisation was converted into a private company in 1999, the business was split into two parts: The bulk of the organisation was converted into the commercial company, ultimately becoming Inmarsat plc, and a small group became the regulatory body, IMSO. Inmarsat was the first international satellite organization that was privatized. In 2003 Apax Partners and Permira bought shares in the company. The company then listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2005. In March 2008 it was disclosed that U.S. hedge fund Harbinger Capital owned 28% of the company. In July 2009, Inmarsat completed the acquisition of a 19-per-cent stake in SkyWave Mobile Communications Inc., a provider of Inmarsat D+/IsatM2M network services which in turn purchased the GlobalWave business from TransCore. On 15 April 2009, Inmarsat completed the acquisition of satellite communications provider Stratos Global Corporation (Stratos).
“Inmarsat is developing new initiatives for funding and operating satcom systems for its customers and is making a major push with its new Global Xpress (GX), the world’s first, global high-speed broadband Ka-band network provided by one operator, which is scheduled for global commercial service introduction early in the second half of 2015. As part of GX, Inmarsat will offer a unique MIL-Ka-band service to its NATO and 5-eyes subscribers.” Andy Start said.
“Can you give me an idea of the size of the business?”
“We have approximately 1600 employees at our facilities across the world, our London Headquarters has about 500. We have around one million users right across the spectrum from government & military, marine air and land in eighty countries.”
To underline the continuing success of the business, Inmarsat plc (LSE: ISAT.L), announced an impressive set of figures on November 6th last year for the three months ended 30 September 2014. Total revenues $300.6m (2013: $306.9m) with Maritime up $15.2m to $147.6m (+11.5%); underlying growth (excl. acquisition) +2.0% , although reflecting the ending of the Afghan War, Government was down $17.8m to $76.3m (-18.9%) , Enterprise down $12.1m to $40.9m (-22.8%); underlying growth (excl. disposal) +17.6% whilst Aviation up $2.5m to $20.7m (+13.7%), Global Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) revenues $192.0m, up 2.3% (2013: $187.6m) with $9.1m payment received from LightSquared a spectrum partner which is currently in liquidation, total EBITDA1 $166.0m (2013: $168.7m) and Profit before tax $104.1m (2013: $23.5m)
Rupert Pearce, Inmarsat’s Chief Executive Officer, commented, “Inmarsat continued to make good progress in the third quarter, delivering core business growth and moving ahead towards completion of the Global Xpress constellation. Global Xpress service from our first Inmarsat-5 satellite was launched at the start of the quarter and is delivering operational performance ahead of expectations. Following Proton’s return to flight in the quarter, and a second successful launch in October, we currently expect our two remaining I-5 satellites to launch in early 2015. This puts us on track for global introduction of GX services early in the second half of 2015 and we remain confident that we will deliver our 2014–16 MSS revenue growth target of 8-12%, and generate annual GX revenues of $500m by the fifth anniversary of the launch of global GX services. All of our businesses performed in line with our expectations during the quarter. Underlying revenue growth continued in Maritime, Enterprise and Aviation (excluding the impact of acquisitions and disposals) driven by customer growth and higher ARPU across many of our product ranges. In Government we saw the continuing revenue impact of budgetary pressures and reduced operational requirements, partially offset by encouraging developments in the newer markets we are targeting.”
Inmarsat’s longer-term expectations remain unchanged since the Half-Year results. The company continues to expect Global MSS revenues to fall within the 8% to 12% CAGR growth range for 2014-16, and it expects annual GX revenues of $500m by the fifth anniversary of the launch of global GX services.
“How do you fund development of your networks and GX in particular?”
“INMARSAT has a very similar business model to the mobile phone companies. We see demand in an area and look to the markets for the funding of the satellites and the supporting network. For instance the GX Network required capital of $1.6 billion which we raised through additional competitively priced finance arrangements prior to the launch of the first of the four satellites with a designed life of 15 years and expected life of up to 20 years, this provides a long-term investment payback profile will pay off this investment giving Inmarsat a good return on top of the start-up costs.”
“How do you procure the satellite receivers and ground stations?”
“Inmarsat’s mandate includes the provision of services to moving systems such as aircraft, where we are installed on 80% of all transoceanic aircraft and the vast majority of head of state aircraft; ships, where we have the world’s fleets and navies and vehicles where many armies such as Australia use them to operate in remote and inaccessible areas. To that end we tailor our systems to meet the needs of our customers and source these from companies as Cobham (which now includes Thrane & Thrane), Spectra, Hughes, L-3 and Addvalue being the main ones. A good example is the Royal Australian Coastguard which uses a small dish from Cobham on its Ribs connecting to the larger vessel which gives instant satcom to Ribs operating over the horizon from their mother ship”
Spectra launches SlingShot with Inmarsat.
Spectra, the UK satellite system specialist announced the launch of its unique SlingShot UHF appliqué system at the Global MilSatcom Conference in London last November. (See: BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.16 ISSUE 45, 10 November 2014)
Using expertise from the creation and operational deployment of its SlingShot UHF appliqué Spectra Group UK will launch a commercial VHF variant this autumn. SlingShot consists of an adapter kit with a small converter and antenna and is already being used by militaries around the world to link in-service tactical radios to Inmarsat’s L-TAC satellite. By accessing the commercial satellite network the SlingShot enabled radios avoid terrestrial radio bandwidth issues whilst maintaining secure global communication. Terrestrial bandwidths are either non-existent or have over the years become ever-more congested, with a conflict between military and civilian users. First line responders operating in areas with complex logistics or limited existing infrastructure have, out of necessity relied on bulky sat-phones, adding more weight and equipment to units tasked with deploying rapidly and effectively. Search and Rescue teams travelling to disaster hit areas need to travel light and quickly while maintaining communications with HQ. SlingShot enables just that. Emergency services would also benefit from SlingShot in times of civil unrest or national emergency. The 7/7 bombings in London saw emergency services and military responders trying to unite to manage the crisis, and communications was an issue. SlingShot VHF and UHF systems are interoperable, and would have provided a solution to communication between agencies. SlingShot is small, lightweight and simple to use. It uses the same batteries as existing tactical radios and converts conventional short range tactical networks into satellite enabled secure communications devices capable of communicating with headquarters or logistical control rooms anywhere in the world.
“Your services were given particular recognition during the Afghan War, why was this?”
“Afghanistan gave the military and its satcom users a number of particular problems. One was the remoteness of the country and lack of infrastructure, secondly the mountainous terrain required standard radio networks to have repeater stations on outlying areas which were prone to attack, thirdly as the Afghan conflict used mobile forces to attack and defend outlying Forward Operating Bases (FoBs), these armies required communications-on-the move which only services such as ours can provide. Lastly there was the added problem of the IED detection systems which, to achieve full operations effectives, required the VHF and UHF radio systems to be turned off. With the arrival of the GX service we can additionally give our military customers a further dimension of increased bandwidth for such services as Video Conferencing and more capacity. In addition, working with such companies as Spectra, we can now provide the military with seamless communications from their VHF radios to the global satellite network using a new small modem.”
“GX is obviously key to Inmarsat’s future, could you give me an outline of the project.”
“GX is the world’s first worldwide Ka-band mobile satellite system which is available through one operator. The first satellite – Inmarsat-5 F1 – entered commercial service on 1 July 2014. The satellites operate with a combination of fixed narrow spot beams that enable us to deliver higher speeds through more compact terminals, plus steerable beams so additional capacity can be directed in real-time to where it’s needed. Global Xpress delivers consistent high-speed throughput broadband connectivity on land, at sea and in the air. This will be the first time a commercial operator has utilised Ka-band radio frequencies to deliver a global satellite service. GX will deliver high-throughput broadband connectivity on land, at sea and in the air; provided by a single operator with seamless access anywhere in the world. It will also offer the only worldwide commercial satellite network that is interoperable with government military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) Ka-band systems.”
In November 2014 Inmarsat completed construction of the final four satellite access stations (SAS) for its GX fleet. This represents a significant milestone in the rollout of GX, which is scheduled for global commercial service introduction early in the second half of 2015.
The new GX stations are located in Lino Lakes in Minnesota, USA; Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada; with two sites near Auckland, New Zealand. Two further stations – in Fucino, Italy and Nemea, Greece – are already operational. All six GX SAS will act as gateways between the broadband traffic routed via the three Inmarsat-5 (I-5) satellites and terrestrial fixed networks. Each SAS delivers full ground segment redundancy for GX services enabling Inmarsat to deliver highest quality resiliency, reliability and availability, for example at times of adverse weather, and offering a powerful differentiator to traditional regional Ku-band networks.
In December 2014 Inmarsat confirmed that its second GX satellite – Inmarsat-5 F2 – had arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, in anticipation of its launch early in 2015. The satellite left the Boeing El Segundo facility on 16th December, and was flown from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Kazakhstan in an Antonov AN-124 heavy transporter.
Inmarsat-5 F2 is the second of three satellites that will form Inmarsat’s initial GX fleet, providing seamless, globally available, high-speed broadband services on land, sea and in the air. When in orbit, Inmarsat-5 F2 will cover the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean region.
The first GX satellite – Inmarsat-5 F1 – was launched at the end of 2013 and began delivering regional commercial services over Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia in July 2014.
The third GX satellite – Inmarsat-5 F3 – has completed its final testing and is on track for launch early in 2015. F3 will complete the initial Global Xpress constellation by providing coverage over the Pacific Ocean Region.
GX is scheduled to commence global commercial services early in the second half of 2015.
“Can you give us more detail of your unique L-TAC military service?”
“Inmarsat expanded the availability of mobile tactical Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLOS) communications to actively deployed U.S. and coalition forces through the skills of its partners and the capabilities of its powerful Inmarsat-4 satellite constellation. The company’s innovative L-band Tactical Satellite (L-TAC) service delivers a highly resilient ‘Ultra High Frequency (UHF)-like’ tactical satellite capability to existing military and commercial radios used by the U.S. government. L-TAC uses the significant spectrum resources of the Inmarsat-4 constellation to seamlessly augment UHF capacity on military satellites. It fully enables interoperable SATCOM using existing radios, waveforms and cryptography. Besides adding much needed channels where UHF SATCOM is restricted, degraded or unavailable, L-TAC can also be used with very small antennas. This allows the service to support secure BLOS Push-to-Talk voice and data networks for both encrypted and non-encrypted terminals, whether man-portable or installed in vehicles, helicopters, ships or other mobile platforms.”
“How do you access L-TAC?”
“To access the L-TAC service, users require only an easy-to-install antenna adaptor for their existing tactical radios. With the simple addition of this applique, no additional training, certification or infrastructure is needed. The L-TAC antenna is also significantly smaller than most UHF satcom antennae, providing the added benefit of a lower profile terminal. This interoperable augmentation capability allows tactical users to meet their security and reliability requirements affordably and cost-effectively through L-band spectrum leases for durations as short as one month. In addition to the U.S. military and defense agencies, L-TAC will also support the civil government market for activities such as emergency response and border protection. By enabling interoperability between UHF and VHF radios on the same network, federal agencies, National Guard units and civilian personnel will be able to coordinate more effectively in the event of a major incident or civil emergency. This capability can create major savings for government by instantly lighting up nationwide mutual aid networks – covering large areas cost-effectively with existing equipment, while permitting extended reach for new public safety networks now in design.”
The Heart of Inmarsat
“Inmarsat, by its very nature is a high tech communications company,” Andy Start said. “To that end we have to ensure seamless connectivity and a 24/7 service to our customers right across the globe from the mountains of Afghanistan thru the remotest marine location to aircraft travelling over oceans.”
The Editor was taken to the heart of Inmarsat’s Global Operations its Control Rooms.
“Inmarsat’s operations are split across two adjacent control rooms; one for satellite flight-control and the other for networks. The control system itself is highly automated and under normal circumstances the satellites can be operated by a small team.”
The huge screens in the control room show how many terminals were in any one spot and how many calls and data connections were being made by Inmarsat’s customers.
“We know exactly what is going on anywhere in the world at any one time, and can react accordingly by giving an expected trouble spot more bandwidth by directing more steerable beams to that spot. Sadly the events happening in Paris were reflected with the intense green colour over Paris and surrounding countries.” Andy Titcomb said.
We then went next door to an equally quiet and serene Control Room where four operators controlled 12 birds which include two operated for another satellite operator, directing commands from their terminals via a huge fibre optic network to space using hydrazine or ion thrusters to keep the birds on station or move them when required.
As we went to press Inmarsat Government announced that it had executed a service provider agreement with Globecomm Systems Inc. to supply Inmarsat Global Xpress service in support of U.S. government customers.
“We are pleased to add Global Xpress to our service offerings, as it will greatly benefit our current and future U.S. government customers operating in various theaters around the world.”
Globecomm Systems Inc. is a leading global communication solutions provider. For the U.S. government, Globecomm provides expertise in designing and integrating mission-critical networks for disaster response, airborne communications, Communications-on-the-Move, Communications-on-the-Pause, Morale, Welfare & Recreation communications as well as Command & Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance requirements. Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band service, designed to seamlessly complement the U.S. government’s military Ka-band Wideband Global Satellite (WGS) system, offers an unprecedented high-throughput wideband data service.
The first Inmarsat-5 satellite offering Global Xpress is already serving U.S. government customers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southwestern Asia, and worldwide coverage is anticipated to be available early in the second half of 2015.
“Globecomm and Inmarsat Government are proven communication providers to the U.S. government, and we are delighted to have them as a trusted partner. Together, while MILSATCOM will remain a top priority to our government customers, we’ll offer worldwide seamless Ka-band services that can augment systems like WGS.” said Susan Miller, president and CEO of Inmarsat Government.
“Global Xpress provides an unmatched level of global seamless IP connectivity enhancing overall performance, security, mobility and ease-of-use for our customers,” said Dwight Hunsicker, senior vice president and general manager, Globecomm Systems Inc., Government Solutions. “We are pleased to add Global Xpress to our service offerings, as it will greatly benefit our current and future U.S. government customers operating in various theaters around the world.”