EMS Satcom challenging Iridium with free calls

EBACE Convention News » 2008
May 21, 2008, 2:25 AM

In a move aimed at winning back market share from Iridium, EMS Satcom (Booth No. 709) Tuesday introduced two new SwiftBroadband satcom systems intended for midsize and larger jets that offer per-minute voice calling pricing that can’t be beat. That’s because phone calls placed through the system are free.

Called the “Freedom of Speech” plan, the service is part of Satcom Direct’s Flightdeck Freedom bundled aviation communications offering. Customers who buy and install EMS Satcom’s new System 6 or System 7 SwiftBroadband-compatible receiver and antenna system and sign up for data service through Satcom Direct benefit from free calling anywhere the Inmarsart service is available.

SwiftBroadband data through the service costs about $10 per megabyte, a price that breaks down to around 11 cents per e-mail message sent from any Wi-Fi-capable laptop, BlackBerry or Apple iPhone, said Steve Newell, vice president of satcom sales for EMS Satcom. “We have designed System 6 and System 7 to appeal to business jet users who demand a complete worldwide office capability at an affordable price,” he said. The names correspond to the Class 6 and Class 7 designation for Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband service, available now in two of three oceanic regions.

System 6 supplies data at rates between 200 and 300 kilobits per second through an eNfusion HSD-467 high-speed-data terminal and AMT-3800 high-gain antenna. System 7 is capable of data downloads between 100 and 200 kbps using the HSD-467 terminal and a smaller AMT-3500 intermediate-gain antenna and CCU-200 communications convergence unit.

The products will be available this summer, Newell said. The first installation will be on a Falcon 20. The AMT-3500 antenna can fit on a range of business jets down to the size of the Falcon, Learjet 45 and midsize Citations. In the past only operators of larger airplanes could install the Inmarsat data satcom gear because of antenna size limitations.

The cost saving benefits of Satcom Direct’s Freedom of Speech plan could be significant considering that Inmarsat calls normally cost about $1.50 per minute. Iridium calls can be made anywhere in the world for lower prices, but broadband data access is not offered through the low-earth-orbit network. Built-in Wi-Fi capability of the EMS hardware will allow passengers to use their Wi-Fi BlackBerrys without the need for any additional setup, something customers have long been asking for, Newell said. “Now passengers can pull out their mobile device and start using it just like they do on the ground,” he said. “They’ve been asking for the capability for years.”

Inmarsat is preparing for the launch of its third and final I-4 communications satellite allowing it to complete the global SwiftBroadband network. The final satellite will be positioned over the Pacific Ocean region, leaving only coverage gaps at the poles. Inmarsat has an agreement with International Launch Services to place the satellite into orbit, but it is awaiting the results of a launch failure board review, convened after the premature shutdown of a Russian Breeze M rocket caused by a ruptured exhaust gas duct in March. This was the third failure of this type of rocket since 2006, although a government board in Moscow has already said there is no particular flaw with the rocket design. Lars Ringertz, head of aeronautical marketing for Inmarsat, said the third I-4 satellite is planned to be launched by ILS from Kazakhstan this summer.

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