Honeywell and Inmarsat have completed an exclusive agreement for Honeywell to develop onboard hardware to connect to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress high-speed satcom system. The Global Xpress agreement, said Carl Esposito, Honeywell Aerospace vice president of marketing and product management, “validates the strategy of [last year’s EMS Technologies] acquisition and the focus of global connectivity.”
The Global Xpress network will consist of three geostationary Ka-band Boeing 702 HP satellites that will cover most of the world except remote polar regions with broadband connections of up to 5 Mbps uplink and 50 Mbps downlink. “Up to about 70 to 75 degrees north and south you’ve got virtually complete coverage,” said Global Xpress managing director Leo Mondale. “There are some parts of the world that simply do not have enough activity, even aviation or maritime activity, to warrant permanent coverage.”
Global Xpress airtime cost is expected to be lower than current Ku-band broadband satcom systems. But more significant is the greater capacity of the Ka-band satellites. “One of the main differences between that and Ku-band is the susceptibility to forming smaller and more sharply defined spot beams from up in space,” he explained. “Our system will operate with a far greater focus of the energy than the Ku-band beam, which is typically kind of continental-size. We’ll have more like 21 beams serving the Latin American content, to give an example. Those two combine to give more bang for the buck.”
The first Ka-band satellite is to launch in mid-2013. “It will take between four and five months to check the satellite out and the ground components and verify that the network is performing as planned,” Mondale said. The first Global Xpress satellite should begin commercial service by the end of 2013 for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and a large part of Asia. The other two are to begin service 12 months later.
“The exclusive portion [of the Honeywell agreement] relates to air transport and business aviation and covers a large part of the equipment that supports the ecosystem,” he said. “We expect Honeywell to be our partner in pretty much every aspect of aviation, whether it’s specifically exclusive or not, but the exclusive portion is very substantial.”
Rockwell Collins Bows Out
Inmarsat had announced in 2011 that Rockwell Collins signed an agreement in principle be the exclusive airborne hardware provider for Global Xpress. That agreement was supposed to be negotiated and finalized by the end of that year, but according to Mondale, “We couldn’t get to closure on some of the key aspects of the relationship. It wasn’t because Rockwell Collins was incapable of developing a terminal. What we were looking for was a partner to build an ecosystem and a business in a very tough and specialized environment.”
By late November, when Inmarsat was free from the exclusivity clauses of its agreement with Rockwell Collins, it started negotiating with Honeywell and others. Earlier this year Rockwell Collins (Stand 436) confirmed that it “recently discontinued negotiations on an agreement to develop a joint global Ka broadband solution for the aviation industry” and indicated that it will now pursue other options for providing broadband connectivity.
Honeywell (Stand 463) is currently developing airborne Global Xpress hardware, including two antenna systems, a fuselage-mounted antenna for air transport jets and one that will fit on tails of business jets. “We’re working on all of that plus a few other system components that go into the overall aircraft package,” said Esposito.
It’s too early to say how much Global Xpress equipment will weigh compared to other satcom systems. “We’re well experienced in packaging the airborne equipment very compactly,” Esposito said, “and we’re focused on how to keep that installation simple for the operators.”
In addition to serving mobile-device-toting passengers, Honeywell “is looking at how we can provide aircraft-level information, like remote maintenance, diagnostics and health monitoring, utilizing the Ka-band system,” said Esposito. “That high bandwidth capability lets us look at not only the avionics, but also the mechanical and maintenance systems that we have onboard the aircraft and how we can make them much more connected and have more real-time data about the status of the aircraft.”