Inmarsat is introducing the Elera L-band satellite network and partnering with Honeywell to supply the associated airborne equipment for the SwiftJet satcom service. Elera expands Inmarsat’s L-band capability from its SwiftBroadband service, which was introduced in 2008 and now serves about 4,500 customers.
SwiftBroadband offers system speeds of up to 432 kbps, while SwiftJet-equipped aircraft will be able to tap into speeds of up to 2.6 Mbps, allowing full email, web browsing, and video streaming services. Like SwiftBroadband, Elera will also be safety services-certified, according to Kai Tang, Inmarsat's senior v-p and head of business and general aviation. “The move to megabits per second is a big move,” he added.
Existing SwiftBroadband customers will be able to upgrade their airborne equipment by replacing a circuit card or an avionics box without changing wiring or the satcom antenna, making SwiftJet installations far simpler and less costly. Inmarsat will continue to support SwiftBroadband users, Tang said.
Launch of Elera service is scheduled for 2023, and the network will be further enhanced as Inmarsat adds two I-6 satellites next year. These will support SwiftJet users through the 2030s, as well as be part of Inmarsat’s Orchestra dynamic mesh network. Orchestra taps into geosynchronous and low-earth-orbit satellites and terrestrial 5G cellular to provide communications services.
The 5G portion could be used, for example, to serve communications needs for maritime customers when ships are near shore, freeing up bandwidth on the satellite networks for airborne users. Orchestra will automatically switch between those networks to provide the optimal experience for users, according to Tang.
In the next few years, Inmarsat will launch a pair of satellites in highly elliptical orbits to provide full coverage over the earth’s polar regions.
Upcoming Inmarsat developments include faster speeds and more creative service plans for its JetConneX satcom, which is installed in 1,200 aircraft. “We’re testing at 130 to 140 Mbps,” Tang said.