Exclusive: Inmarsat eyes US telcos for future in-flight partnerships

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

After announcing a joint in-flight connectivity partnership with Deutsche Telekom in Europe, satellite firm Inmarsat is targeting the US for a future launch, according to its CEO

Global satellite operator Inmarsat is set to target US telecoms operators in order to launch in-flight connectivity services in the region – but not until after the FCC carries out its 14GHz spectrum auction.

The move would mirror a similar joint-venture with Deutsche Telekom, launched earlier this year, which sees DT provide a terrestrial network supported by Inmarsat’s satellites.

The European Aviation Network (EAN) has been a “natural fit” for Inmarsat, according to CEO Rupert Pearce, with International Airlines Group (IAG), whose subsidiaries include British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia, already signed up.

He told GTB that the technology could be exported globally, with the United States a prime market for Inmarsat to compete in.

“We’ve taken the reach and uniqueness of satellite allied with brute force and surgical focus of terrestrial. It is a very efficient use of spectrum, which couldn’t be auctioned anyway, and it gives us maximum innovation in Europe.

“Inmarsat, Thales, Cobham Wireless, Nokia, Airbus and DT in an alliance to do something really innovative across Europe that we can export globally, including in the US – so look out Viasat in your home country!”

Pearce said the global market for connectivity on aircrafts is set to see a huge surge in growth, with 500 million users connected last year, and this set to double by next year. “That’s a billion people who can work, play, buy service, and sell services.”

However, there won’t be any deals struck this year, as the satellite operator plans to wait until after the 14GHz spectrum auction, a band optimised for air-to-ground services, which Pearce says Inmarsat will likely bid.

Inmarsat petitioned the Federal Communications Commission back in 2015 over the proposed spectrum auction, saying “passengers are increasingly interested in in-flight broadband”.

Pearce added: “We’d look for partners in the US with the 14GHz auction coming up in the next year. We’d look to get involved in that and it would give us a unique air to ground network, which we could supplement with our own technology

“Our relationship with Deutsche Telekom is proving to be a really strong, they are proving to be a powerful collegiate partner. They have forgotten more about building air to ground networks than we will ever know. So why not do the same in North America, where you can take a partner – someone like Verizon – who have a tremendous reputation? We’re not there – once the auction happens, we’ll see.”