Inmarsat announces ‘network of the future’ and China SB-S test by Shenzhen Airlines

ORCHESTRA will enable new services in new places for global mobility customers in maritime, aviation, government and enterprise. System will integrate GEO, LEO and terrestrial 5G into one system.


Inmarsat unveiled plans for ORCHESTRA, which the company is calling “the communications network of the future”. The satellite communications company said the new network is the “largest ever transformation of its current world-class services” and will bring together existing geosynchronous (GEO) satellites with low earth orbit satellites (LEO) and terrestrial 5G into an integrated, high-performance solution. “Whether for a ship in a crowded port, an aircraft preparing to land at LAX, or a defence force deployed in a remote location, ORCHESTRA is designed to meet evolving connectivity needs in the mobility market with a service unmatched by any competitor offering, planned or in existence,” the company said.

“An orchestra brings different instruments together, each supporting the other and playing its role in the masterpiece. We’re building ORCHESTRA on the same concept,” said Rajeev Suri, CEO of Inmarsat. “By combining the distinct qualities of GEO, LEO and 5G into a single network, we will deliver a service that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Our customers will benefit from dramatically expanded high throughput services around the world. This is the future of connectivity and Inmarsat is perfectly positioned to bring it to the world with its proven technology expertise, right base of customers and partners, and financial strength.”

ORCHESTRA will open up a host of new and previously unattainable possibilities for industries across the world. New services include close-shore navigation for autonomous vessels, next-generation emergency safety services for maritime crews, secure and tactical private networks for governments and direct-to-cloud connections for airlines. New segments set to benefit from ORCHESTRA include energy rigs and drilling platforms, mid-market business aircraft, coastal vessels, smart passenger ships and urban air mobility.

Inmarsat’s existing GEO satellites – both GX and L-band – will continue to provide global coverage, high performance, security and resilience. Terrestrial 5G adds ultra-high capacity in busy ‘hot spots’, such as ports, airports, and sea canals. A small constellation of LEO satellites will layer additional high capacity over further high-demand areas such as oceanic flight corridors. As a result, the network will offer the highest capacity for mobility users worldwide, and at ‘hot spots’. The network will benefit from ‘dynamic mesh’ technology, which allows individual customer terminals to direct traffic to and from other customer terminals. This means that a ship within reach of a 5G ground station can receive ample capacity for its own needs as well as route capacity onwards to other vessels beyond terrestrial reach. This effectively creates a mobile web of terminals that extend the network’s reach and improve its performance and resilience.

The new approach means that Inmarsat can easily boost capacity in high-density areas such as ports and airports, ensuring customer needs continue to be met well into the future with capacity scaled directly to match their requirements. The initial five-year (2021-2026) total investment for ORCHESTRA is expected to be in the order of US$100 million.

Shenzhen Airlines tests SB-S connectivity
Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications, announced that its SB-S connectivity platform for aviation operations and safety has successfully powered the first ever test of a digital cockpit application on a Boeing 737 aircraft within Chinese domestic civil aviation. The tests were conducted by Shenzhen Airlines, in partnership with Inmarsat and China Transport Telecommunication Information Group Company Limited (CTTIC), during a number of flights between Beijing and Chongqing. SB-S provided a two-way communication channel between Aircraft Operations Centre (AOC) flight dispatchers and airline crew, allowing multiple different activities to be demonstrated, such as text message verification, video communication, voice messages and 6D position tracking. In addition, flight dispatchers were able to send the crew uploads of meteorological radar pictures in real time, while the crew sent pictures of cockpit equipment and conducted video calls mid-flight.

(PHOTO: Inmarsat)

SB-S, winner of the Jane’s Air Traffic Control (ATC) Technology Award, combines cutting-edge satellite technology with secure IP connectivity to meet the needs of aviation data communications in the digital age. As the world’s first and only global, secure broadband platform for aviation operations and safety, it provides airlines with capabilities and benefits no other satellite communications provider can deliver.

Zhang Yi, Inmarsat’s China Managing Director, said: “Our SB-S connectivity platform has already been retrofitted on more than 130 Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft from the Shenzhen Airlines fleet, in partnership with CTTIC. The success of these recent test flights are not only a significant milestone in our continued rollout of SB-S with Shenzhen Airlines, but also supports China’s 14th Five-Year Plan, which sets out ambitious targets to develop and advance the country’s civil aviation industry. We look forward to building on the positive momentum of these flights and exploring how SB-S can be used to advance integrated cockpit communication with Shenzhen Airlines.”

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