Concerns over Inmarsat LEO fleet

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London-based Inmarsat says it is looking at launching its own low Earth orbiting (LEO) constellation of satellites. But there are concerns whether the company has the satellite frequencies needed to place satellites into orbit.

Inmarsat is calling the new project Orchestra and is carrying out a market assessment of likely demand but says a fleet of 150-175 broadband satellites are in its scheme.

Inmarsat says Orchestra will be a ‘first of its kind’ mesh network that brings together “unprecedented new services” for its global mobility customers.

However, therein lies a few problems. It is understood that Inmarsat does not yet have global frequencies available for such a network. The LEO satellites would – presumably – have to carry L-band frequencies but also to talk to Inmarsat’s existing Geostationary satellites in its existing GX fleet and which are Ka-band.

It lists four specific target markets:

  • Urban Air Mobility: Complete command and control and secure air traffic management capabilities for the safe operation of autonomous flying taxis and personal air transport.
  • Industrial IoT: Secure, device-neutral, private networks for large scale IoT deployments that can integrate, manage and monitor disparate sensors and devices via a single cloud environment.
  • Smart Cruise Ships: High speed, low latency passenger, crew and operational connectivity solutions for ferries and cruise ships, enabled through global satcom and on-board 5G networks.
  • Tactical Private Networks: Bespoke, high-speed, local area, temporary ‘sovereign’ networks to connect international aid, forces or government agencies in the field while securely relaying critical data home for analysis.

The operator adds that Orchestra’s timeline reflects the scope of the vision and Inmarsat’s commitment to delivering innovative, high-performance technology that meets customer requirements. “Our investment plan will be regularly assessed based on customer demand and technological developments. Initial implementation will include delivery of the terrestrial network, terminals for aviation and maritime deployment, and LEO test satellites. Initial terrestrial deployment is expected from late 2022; early tests of the new technologies are progressing positively.”

However, CTO Peter Hadinger also says that Inmarsat’s terrestrial connectivity wireless network will likely be first by several years, and ahead of the LEO fleet. If correct, this will put Inmarsat well behind the existing LEO schemes from Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and the UK/Bharti OneWeb system. It will also be competing with the SES O3b/mPower fleet of satellites which will be entirely in place by 2022.


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