Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Inmarsat Launches First Ka Spacecraft

In the race to dominate global mobile communications, the company with the most advanced technology usually comes out ahead.  Therefore, it should be no surprise that London-based Inmarsat was quite thrilled with the recent launch of their first satellite related to their new Ka-band project.  The spacecraft with the satellite on board was launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan late last week.

Inmarsat will have to launch at least two more satellites to complete its Ka-band Global Xpress system; a data communications system aimed squarely at mobile customers.  The marine and aviation industries will be the biggest winners when the £1 billion system is operational by late 2014 or early 2015.  For now however, the company is concentrating on making sure the I-five F1 satellite launched last week manoeuvres itself into the correct orbit.

The Emerging Ka-Band


At the heart of the Global Xpress system is data and telecommunications equipment that operate on the Ka-band.  Inmarsat has invested heavily in the band for two primary reasons, the first being that the L-band has just about reached its capacity.  According to company officials, there isn't a lot of space left in the spectrum to increase capacity in a way that would benefit the company's customers.

The second reason for choosing the Ka-band comes by way of its higher frequency.  That higher frequency allows for higher bandwidth connections and much faster throughput speeds.  Inmarsat estimates they will be able to deliver 50 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload speeds however, there is one problem: weather.

The Ka-band spectrum can suffer severe signal degradation in poor weather.  It is a condition known in the industry as ‘rain fade’. However, Inmarsat has been able to design and build a technology solution that allows its satellites to automatically switch between Ka and L-band in the event of bad weather.  The same technology has been adapted for use on ships linked to the system.

A specially designed router integrated into a ship's data communications system automatically chooses between the two bands, based on weather conditions and current throughput speeds.  As long as all of the equipment is functioning as intended, switching between the bands will be seamless from the customer's perspective.  This will ensure maximum uptime and the best speed possible regardless of weather.

Inmarsat plans to design and build a fourth satellite for backup purposes.  It will be available if the company experiences launch failures or problems obtaining orbit with the second and third satellites next year.  If the fourth machine is not needed as a backup, it likely will be eventually launched and added to the system for better performance.


In addition to the marine and aviation sectors, Inmarsat plan to make their communications system available to anyone who wants to participate.  It will allow for all sorts of communications including phone calls, high-speed communications between data centres and remote servers, managed services for mobile applications and so on.  The company hopes to make the Global Xpress system the standard in mobile satellite communications for years to come. 

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