ESA/Inmarsat agreement to improve satellite mobile phone and data services

Inmarsat I-4 satellite
Inmarsat I-4 satellite
16 December 2003

An agreement signed by ESA and Inmarsat brings the reality of reliable mobile broadband communications services a step closer. For the first time, global mobile broadband services will be available for those at sea, in a plane or travelling on land virtually anywhere in the world.

This agreement marks the first collaboration between ESA and Inmarsat on system engineering activities and will extend the capabilities of the new Broadband Global Area Network System (BGAN) to be offered by the Inmarsat I-4 satellite constellation.

Following the launch of the first of the fourth generation Inmarsat satellites in 2004, BGAN is expected to become operational for land services in 2005. BGAN is designed to meet the growing demand from business and private users for high-speed internet access and multimedia connectivity, and a wide range of tele-services, including tele-working and distance learning. Applications will include internet and intranet access, video on demand, web TV, videoconferencing, fax, email and LAN access at speeds of up to 432 kbit/s to notebook-sized terminals almost anywhere in the world.

This BGAN extension project will establish the specification and definition for directional as well as omni-directional BGAN platforms and services for maritime, aeronautical and land mobile applications. Definitions for the land portable BGAN platform are already in place, but the technical challenges of developing service specifications for truly mobile platforms are considerable, and need to address issues such as availability and quality of service under mobility and propagation dynamics.

The BGAN system has been designed to support point-to-point telecommunication services on portable and semi-fixed land mobile platforms with low to medium gain directional non-tracking antennas. The project also aims to diversify the BGAN service portfolio by the development of multicast service capability, thereby exploiting the natural satellite strength in delivering multicast services at the global level.

The BGAN system will be compatible with third-generation (3G) cellular terrestrial systems. The project will adopt an ‘Open Standards’ approach and the results will be presented in a number of standardisation forums including ITU, ETSI and IETF, to encourage wide industrial participation.

Under the terms of the agreement, ESA has agreed to fund 50% of the project and to provide technical support.

Work begins

Now that the agreement has been signed, work will begin on assessing the suitability of the present baseline BGAN system to provide the services required and making any modifications necessary. The key challenges are: to develop the new user terminals, perform the required modifications to the baseline BGAN system in order to support the new platforms, to develop a multicast system architecture and to establish protocols that can meet multicast service requirements while complying with the constraints imposed by the BGAN system architecture.

A number of companies, apart from Inmarsat, will be involved in this agreement. EMS Satcom Ltd. (UK) is in charge of developing the aeronautical mobile platforms, Logica CMG (UK) will mainly be involved on multicast service-centre development, and the Norwegian company NERA ASA will be responsible for developing maritime platforms. In addition, the University of Surrey (UK) will also be working on the BGAN multicast performance analysis.

Said Claudio Mastracci, Director of Applications at ESA: "This award reflects the value that the European Space Agency sees in Inmarsat BGAN, a crucial and highly advanced future mobile satellite service. This investment, under the ESA's Mobility programme line, will help European mobile satellite services retain a position of global strength. The specification work to be carried out under this award is a crucial foundation for advanced commercial applications that will further the reputation of the European satellite communications industry."

Gene Jilg, VP of Advance Programmes at Inmarsat, said of the agreement: "The size of the ESA's strategic investment in the BGAN extension project is testament to the value Inmarsat's BGAN service will bring to both the European satellite and communications industry, and to European businesses more generally. We are delighted to have secured this award through ESA, which will help us to extend the benefits of BGAN to a wide scope of industries and applications."

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