Intelsat’s latest announcement of a new HTS platform (EPIC) for, among others, mobility services is a sure sign that the focus on higher capacity has taken hold of the mobile satellite market. What does this mean for the industry and customers, and how will other operators such as Inmarsat react?
The introduction of the EPIC platform by Intelsat is a signal that FSS operators are more and more convinced that the mobility market is ripe for broadband solutions at a cheaper cost per bit. But HTS capacity, which has been mostly aimed at broadband consumer markets, is not necessarily designed to be a hit in all markets, even in the mobility segment.
As noted in the recently released Mobile Satellite Services 8th Edition report, NSR sees a developing trend in defining HTS for the mobility segment by taking a more in-depth look at region-by-region traffic to fine-tune the coverage where users are most likely to be found. In targeting specific maritime and aeronautical corridors with Intelsat-29e in particular, the EPIC platform refines the thinking that Inmarsat introduced in the mobility market with Global Xpress by picking coverage over high-travel routes. For example, the North Atlantic corridor coverage of IS-29e is a key area for aeronautical connectivity going forward, and Intelsat could easily convince both Panasonic and Row44 (for example) to use it for their long-haul passenger airline customers.
Furthermore, with the first Ku-band HTS payload aimed at mobility, Intelsat will offer backward compatibility at a higher throughput. This is not the case for Inmarsat, which has planned a comprehensive (and perhaps costly) migration path from L- and Ku-band to its Ka-band HTS. Inmarsat’s 5th generation network coverage will bear a striking resemblance to its 4th generation network, with HTS capacity covering the globe, and aimed at as many current Inmarsat subscribers as possible.
With a few thousand Ku-band customers, Inmarsat has a far broader scope and reach with its next fleet but also more ‘ground’ to cover to reach and attract its current user base to high-capacity services. Thus its marketing efforts will likely be more intense, and the fact that Inmarsat will be operational before Intelsat’s HTS platform gives them a leg up. But NSR also believes that users, especially in the more traditional maritime market, will initially prefer to stay with what they have (L-band or Ku-band) rather than switch to a new and unproven technology, even if it still sees a transition taking place later in the decade as some HTS applications become more successful.
As for other operators such as Eutelsat, Viasat and Telenor that offer mobility within their HTS offering, they will be somewhat impacted by the Intelsat announcement, but to a lesser extent as their core focus is not currently on mobile users, and even then, it is aimed at specific applications and markets such as satellite newsgathering (SNG) for Eutelsat, maritime and oil and gas for Telenor, and continental air travel for Viasat.
The mobile satellite market will experience more competition in the high capacity business, with more operators selling HTS bandwidth across a range of frequencies. However, most operators with an HTS mobility solution will continue to fine tune their coverage to target high traffic areas and to transition customers to higher capacity services.