Imarsat launches satellite dedicated to in-flight wifi

Communications satellite company Inmarsat has confirmed the successful launch of its S-band satellite, which is designed to provide in-flight wifi across Europe.

The satellite will form a critical component of Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network, which the company claims is ‘the world’s first dedicated aviation connectivity solution to integrate space-based and ground-based networks to deliver a seamless wifi experience for airline passengers throughout Europe.’

The ground part of the equation is taken care of by Deutsche Telekom, with hand-off between that and the satellite part intended to provide this seamless experience. S-band is in the 2-4 GHz range and its use for this purpose is contested by rival comms satellite player ViaSat, which earlier this year insisted the S-band license was not granted with that in mind.

ViaSat called on the European Commission to intervene which, as it reminded us this week, it’s not shy about doing. This launch implies Inmarsat isn’t worried about the EC, although the threat will always exist for it to act retrospectively. There seems to be a fair bit of commercial interest in this, with IAG (which includes British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling) revealed as the launch partner. Which expects to have 90% of its short-haul fleet equipped to use Inmarsat in-flight connectivity (IFC) by 2019.

“Inmarsat and its partners have been making very strong progress in the IFC market and the successful launch of our S-band satellite means that the start of our revolutionary European Aviation Network is now just months away,” said Rupert Pearce, CEO, Inmarsat.

“It is a testament to the continued support of European Institutions and national regulatory authorities, the hard work of multiple teams across Inmarsat and the commitment of our vital strategic partners, including Deutsche Telekom, Thales Alenia Space, Thales Aviation, Cobham and Arianespace, that we now stand on the threshold of a new aviation wifi service that will transform the experience of passengers flying throughout Europe.”

From a consumer point of view this seems like a positive development, although if Inmarsat has a European IFC monopoly the pricing is likely to be high. Given the ability for people to take tablets and laptops on board with movies, etc, saved the real money might be in connectivity for business people who just can’t afford to be parted from their inboxes for even one second.

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