Just as passengers were getting used to surfing the Web in flight over the Swift64 satellite datalink, Inmarsat spelled out plans for the next generation of high-speed datalink services for aircraft, to be known as SwiftBroadband. Inmarsat is now building the I4 satellites to support SwiftBroadband services in Toulouse, France, and plans to launch the first two next year. A third satellite over the Pacific Ocean will offer worldwide SwiftBroadband coverage by mid-2006, when the service is expected to be available to aviation users. A single channel of SwiftBroadband will allow users to connect to the Internet at speeds of 432 kbps per channel, compared with the 64-kbps channel rate of Swift64.
SwiftBroadband is designed to operate with existing Swift64 hardware, meaning buyers of current high-speed-data satcom receivers and antennas will need only software updates to access the faster data service when it becomes available.
Avionics manufacturers are already planning multi-channel SwiftBroadband upgrades that will allow passengers to bond two channels for a combined data rate as high as 864 kbps.
Most of the technology needed to make the higher data rates possible resides in the I4 satellites, which are much larger (about the size of a city bus) than Inmarsat’s current I3 satellites and feature bigger power supplies and digital signal processors. Unique to SwiftBroadband will be 228 individual spot beams per satellite, which can be turned on and off as aircraft enter each beam.
Pricing for SwiftBroadband service has yet to be announced.