Inmarsat: A Fixture on the Bridge

Inmarsat is a fixture on ship bridges for dedicated communications lines through the company’s satellites.

Its current Fleet Broadband solution operates on the L-band, allowing ships to communicate in rough weather, according to Frank August, director of business development for the Americas.

The service allows for a data pipeline up to 432 kb/s, with various antenna sizes available, according to August.

“We are valuable to the bridge on the navigation side of things, keeping the bridge connected,” August said, noting that ships could use Inmarsat for a primary bridge communications system or have it as a backup.

Current Inmarsat satellites in orbit have a useful life into the 2020s, explained August, “and when they get old, we will replace them,” meaning technology installed or retrofitted today will remain relevant.  

The package allows for telemetry streaming back to cruise lines’ operations centers and third parties, such as engine and propulsion suppliers.

Inmarsat was launched in 1981 as the first satellite communications company in the world, and following the Achille Lauro incident, created a prioritizing function for ship communications, which allowed for “marked” calls to go to the front of the line during an emergency.

August told Cruise Industry News that when the Achille Lauro was hijacked, calls for help went out, but calls couldn’t get in due to the system being “busy.” Inmarsat technology takes away that problem, allowing prioritized communications to pass through.

Besides owning 11 satellites, Inmarsat has ambitious expansion plans to launch three more in 2014. A $1.2 billion investment called Global Express, according to August, will operate on the KA-band, meaning transfer speeds up to 50 megabytes/second as Inmarsat starts to think about attacking the hotel side of the cruise industry.

While the KA-band does not have the same weather-dodging power the L-band provides, it does allow for incredibly faster transfer speeds, and August said Inmarsat will be the only company in the world that will be able to offer both communication bands.

Originally a dedicated maritime satellite communications company, Inmarsat now derives just 50 percent of business from the marine sector. The company provides data and voice solutions for yachts and private aircraft.

Additionally, the London-based firm is launching a global satellite phone, which will retail for roughly $600 and feature airtime rates under $1/minute.

Major broadcast networks like CNN make use of Inmarsat satellite equipment shooting on location when a satellite truck is not available.

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