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Global Xpress launch timetable updated

Inmarsat has unveiled the updated schedule for the commercial start of its Global Xpress service, and explained further details about how it plans to allow for dynamic bandwidth allocation on the network.

The first of the Ka-band satellites was scheduled to be launched on a Proton rocket from Baikonur in the fourth quarter of this year, but a similar rocket exploded this summer during an unrelated launch and prompted a review of the programme – and a subsequent delay in this first planned launch, though this has been described as not being "operationally significant."

At a conference in London on Wednesday, Inmarsat reiterated its timetable for Global Xpress (GX).

The first satellite, covering the Indian Ocean region, is now expected to be launched at the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014, with the second satellite, over the Atlantic Ocean, set to be launched a few months after that.

The third satellite, covering the Pacific Ocean region, is expected to be placed into orbit by the end of 2014 enabling the constellation to provide global coverage in early 2015.

Shane Rossbacher, director of maritime market development at Inmarsat, said that the Ka-band system would be able to support maximum transmission speeds of 4-5 Mbps up (ship to shore) and 45-50 Mbps down (shore to ship) via a 60cm antenna. With a 1m antenna, upload speeds could reach 6-7 Mbps and download speeds 60-70 Mbps.

While these bandwidth speeds may be technically possible, in reality individual airtime packages for the maritime market will use a fraction of that capability – for example, current customers of Inmarsat’s XpressLink product operating on 512 kbps (download) will see themselves moved on to a 1 Mbps package once the service is launched.

Perhaps more important than these speed capabilities is the fact that Inmarsat is devising a system whereby GX will allow applications to automatically request additional bandwidth when needed – in these cases the ship owner will not be billed for that traffic, but the application provider will.

“Inmarsat has partnered with Cisco and iDirect to create the Service Enablement Platform (SEP), which introduces some very innovative bandwidth management capabilities,” Mr Rossbacher told Digital Ship.

“In today’s model, the ship owner purchases a bandwidth package from their satellite provider, and then uses this bandwidth to serve voice, e-mail, browsing and various applications. However, this model has not worked well for applications that require high bandwidth on an infrequent basis.”

“One example is CCTV video surveillance. When a security event occurs, these applications require high bandwidth to allow the shipping company to review security logs and watch live video feeds. For the security solution to work properly, the owner has been required to upgrade their monthly satellite subscription.”

“Owners resist this operational cost increase, and therefore the adoption of these types of applications has been slowed, even with VSAT broadband connections.”

Mr Rossbacher believes that Global Xpress may help to change this reluctance to adopt new applications by removing unpredictable additional airtime costs from the equation – the cost of the application would include the airtime needed to run it, therefore passing the risk back to the developer.

“Through the partnership with Cisco and iDirect, GX makes it possible for the shipboard security application to dynamically request additional bandwidth on demand,” he said.

“During a security event, the application opens more bandwidth capacity to allow video and data feeds to flow, with no impact on other business traffic. When the incident is resolved, bandwidth is returned to normal levels.”

“The additional airtime used is actually charged to the application provider, not the ship owner, and is included in the price of the application itself. This allows the application developers to sell the benefits of their solutions without needing to ask the shipping company to increase their monthly satellite airtime plans.”

Telemedicine was another kind of application Mr Rossbacher mentioned as an example of how GX might be applied in this manner.

Editor's note - this story was amended on 19/09/2013 to reflect changes related to a misunderstanding over 'satellite launch dates' and 'service launch dates' during the original interview.

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