Inmarsat strikes gold with Swift64 services

 - July 30, 2008, 7:24 AM

Inmarsat, which last year rolled out its Swift64 airborne satellite Internet service, is seeing its voice and data mix changing as it expands its high-speed data capabilities. And the global mobile satellite communications provider reported there is “significant and continuing demand” for its services arising from global security concerns.

The company is pleased with the response to its launch of Swift64, which provides secure, reliable data communications at speeds up to 64 kbps, allowing quick and easy access to e-mail, the Web and company networks. At the same time, the cockpit crew can interface with ground-based information systems and, eventually, ATC services.

While the performance of Swift64 is based on the communications capabilities of Inmarsat’s current Inmarsat 3 satellites, the growing demand for mobile broadband services is prompting the company to develop a fourth-generation constellation that is currently scheduled for operation next year.

Paul Griffith, v-p of portfolio development and marketing for Inmarsat, said the company’s revenues last year were $463 million, up 5 percent from the previous year. The company estimates that data services accounted for 55 percent of revenues by the end of the fourth quarter of last year, compared with 45 percent for voice services.

Speaking at the 2003 Inmarsat Aeronautical Conference near Wash- ington, D.C., last month, Griffith said that among the company’s objectives for this year are double-digit revenue growth, increasing income from data services while protecting its core voice revenues, and consolidating services it launched last year.

Simon Tudge, Inmarsat’s marketing manager for aeronautical business, told the gathering that while air transport represents an “interesting market,” business aviation– despite being hit by the worldwide economy–holds “strong, latent demand for these services.” Swift64 is focused on business aviation and medium-term air-transport markets, he said.

Acceptance of Swift64 will be event and public-relations driven, said Tudge, linked back to Inmarsat’s partners providing value-added services. He added that the company has had “great success” in raising awareness of the new broadband service. The avionics units needed for Swift64 will work through the high-gain antennas already installed on large numbers of airliners and corporate aircraft to support Aero-H services.

Inmarsat said that based on experience with its earlier aeronautical services, it expects Swift64 to be retrofitted on existing aircraft and increasingly specified by operators buying new aircraft or installed as standard by the OEMs.

Tudge said type approval has been granted for new Swift64 avionics and new antenna systems, and the company will continue to support its partners’ marketing and technical initiatives. Inmarsat also wants to increase the use of its satellites for air traffic services, he added.

One of the company’s biggest areas of growth is government markets, due to the global political climate and the wider range of applications through Swift64. The Australians are using Swift64 in their Australian Coastwatch, while the U.S. Navy is already the largest single user of Inmarsat. And Major Gen. Robert Dickson (Ret.), deputy for military space for the U.S. Air Force, told conference attendees that all branches of the U.S. armed forces used Inmarsat during the recent war in Iraq.

Todd McDonnell, CEO of TC Communications, said his Inmarsat-based Eye in the Sky system allows multimedia data to be transmitted live from a moving aircraft. The company claims to be the leading developer and supplier of satellite-based wireless data solutions in the Southeast Asia region.

Using both 64-kbps channels to make a full 128-kbps circuit–good enough for live video surveillance– the system dials directly back into the standard ISDN network or other Inmarsat systems in use by the government. It includes a full-duplex speech circuit to direct information gathered by observers aboard the aircraft.

McDonnell told the conference that TC’s Eye in the Sky allows one aircraft to carry out more tasks and provides immediate feedback to operational leaders on those tasks in one sortie. Swift64 satellite airtime consumed by the system can be provided at a lower cost than the additional flying hour required when TC’s system is not used, he said.

Eye in the Sky can take data inputs from most surveillance aircraft sensors to deliver live video, captured MPEG video, captured JPEG images, radar images, FLIR imagery and full-duplex voice between the aircraft and the ground.

Australian Coastwatch, a division of the Australian Customs Service, uses 16 aircraft fitted with various sensors to patrol almost 16,010 miles of coastline and nearly three million square miles of land. The TC system recently provided pivotal situational awareness in one of the nation’s largest and riskiest drug raids and has been used for other functions such as firefighting.

Dickson said that Inmarsat aided in the late-March attack on Saddam Hussein’s bunker in Baghdad.