Connecting the world

Fast inflight broadband is now a reality, thanks to the Global Xpress network

Breakthroughs in the adoption of technology have often been unlocked by a new combination of existing elements. Skyscrapers and the benefits of city living only make sense once the elevator is created. Subterranean railways were a smoke-filled endurance test before their electrification.

When airline executives experienced Inmarsat’s GX Aviation’s high-speed broadband during test flights, it felt like a breakthrough.

This is because Global Xpress is the world’s first truly global Ka-band satellite network. Rather than being a make-do solution of borrowed technology from other industries, Global Xpress is designed by Inmarsat to provide an all-in-one solution.

The Global Xpress network will power both GX Aviation, connecting passengers for airlines, while coverage for business jets will come via Jet ConneX.

So what is the combination of technologies that means Global Xpress can provide airline-shaped broadband?

The world’s first truly global Ka-band satellite network

Global Xpress provides worldwide coverage with a constellation of three, geostationary, Ka-band satellites. The first satellite covers Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the second the Americas and the Atlantic region with a third providing for the Pacific Ocean region. Inmarsat’s fourth Global Xpress satellite is be launched in the near future, adding additional redundancy and regional depth of capacity over one third of the network. 

Global Xpress satellites

  • I-5 F1 – launched on 6 December 2013 to deliver regional GX services for Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia
  • I-5 F2 – launched on 1 February 2015 to deliver regional GX services for the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean region
  • I-5 F3 – launched on 28 August 2015 to deliver regional GX services for the Pacific Ocean region

Fully redundant ground network

The Global Xpress network is supported by a fully redundant ground infrastructure, ensuring network availability of 95% or greater. Each satellite is paired with twin regional Satellite Access Stations, Meet-Me-Points (in New York, Amsterdam and Sydney), and the Network Operations Centre in London (backed up by its twin in Barum, Netherlands), all owned and operated exclusively by Inmarsat.

Inmarsat has the control to deliver outstanding levels of service, optimised and designed for our customers. 

Engineered for aviation

Global Xpress is designed for airline-shaped broadband. Key to the consistent, reliable, high quality connection is the satellite network’s combination of spot and steerable rather than wide beams.

Each of its three, I-5 satellites operates 89 highly efficient Ka-band spot beams creating a foundation layer of worldwide coverage. Capacity is supplemented by the network’s unique steerable beams – six additional high capacity beams that can direct 150Mbps and redirect a further 150Mbps capacity precisely where airlines need it most.

This means that  the busiest flight routes and airline hubs are always covered, even during peak periods.

As a result, GX Aviation can offer a guaranteed data rate globally. And as data requirements rise, upgradeable bandwidth gives customers the flexibility to adapt to changing needs and maximise the return on their investment.

Spot beam efficiency

Until recently, aviation connectivity has mostly been provided through a patchwork of leased capacity via Ku-band wide beams. Wide beams’ throughput is often inconsistent, especially near the edge of their footprint, delivering a frustratingly inconsistent service for mobile users.

As aircraft pass from different operator beams they experience inconsistency and dropouts. Many aircraft in each wide beam have to share the capacity. In comparison, because spot beams ‘reuse the frequency’ the capacity is concentrated across a smaller geographical area, meaning fewer aircraft have to share the powerful Global Xpress spot beams. This helps them receive consistent connectivity.

GX Aviation hardware has the added advantage of twin terminal receivers for ‘make before you break’ connections.

Spot beams use the available frequency more effectively, with less capacity being wasted across a wide footprint. This makes spot beams more efficient with a lower cost per megabit of connectivity delivered to your aircraft. 

Ka-band superiority

Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellites operate in the Ka-band at 26-40GHZ, a higher frequency than the more commonly used Ku-band at 12-18Ghz. This higher frequency enables up to 10x higher throughput. As a result, for any given area, Global Xpress can deliver higher bandwidth per aircraft.

There’s also only so much space, in space. To be in geostationary orbit, satellites must occupy a specific geostationary arc, approximately 35,900 kilometres over the equator. And to avoid each satellite interfering with transmissions, each needs to be a minimum of 2° apart.

There are a lot of Ku-band satellites already in this arc (over 200), and few new orbital slots remain. It’s a congested space. By comparison there only around 50 Ka-band satellites in orbit, so there’s no potential for interference, even as more satellites enter the arc. As it’s relatively under-used, the Ka-band also benefits from greater spectrum availability than Ku per se.

As a result Ka-band has much greater potential to support the ever-growing customer demand for bandwidth.

A future-proofed partner

Inmarsat Aviation has the financial scale and commitment to deliver continual improvement in performance and network economics. Boeing has already built our fourth Global Xpress satellite (I-5 F4), which will be launching in the near future.

Inmarsat is also planning the next generation of I-6 satellites, scheduled for 2020 to provide further regional depth of capacity anticipating global growth in air travel and rising demand for connectivity.

The revolution that is currently taking place above the clouds has the ability to transform the aviation industry. Exciting benefits include enhanced passenger services, operational efficiency and aircraft safety.

Inmarsat’s heritage, expertise and dedication to the aviation industry ensure that Global Xpress is the ideal network to bring high-speed broadband to the skies.