INMARSAT ROLLS OUT BROADBAND SATELLITE FOR AFRICA

Internet

Inmarsat Group Ltd. Last week prepared to launch the first of three satellites that will make up the company's Internet-based, high-speed wireless network for people working in remote places around the world.

The London-based company, which started a quarter century ago providing voice communications to ships at sea, planned to launch the Inmarsat 4-F1 satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 4:42 p.m. Eastern time. "At the moment, there's less than a 20 percent chance for a weather hold up, which is about as good as it gets," company spokesman Chris McLaughlin said from Cape Canaveral. "We're delighted."

The I 4-F1 is part of a $1.5 billion investment the satellite operator is making in building a global broadband network that is expected to be used primarily by governments, military, relief organizations and news agencies.

At six tons, the I 4-F1 is believed to be the heaviest commercial satellite ever launched, McLaughlin said. An Atlas V rocket with three solid-fuel boosters will carry the satellite into space, where it will provide data services up to 432KB per second to Asia, Africa and Europe.

Inmarsat currently provides data services through a nine-satellite fleet using older technology that delivers from 56KB per second to a maximum of 128KB per second. The new satellites are expected to be 20 times more powerful than the older technology, McLaughlin said. Data services, which accounted for 15 percent of the closely held company's revenue five years ago, makes up 70 percent of the company's revenue today, McLaughlin said.

"(Moving to an IP network) represents a logical progression for Inmarsat," McLaughlin said. "We're moving with our customers, and following their needs."

Inmarsat sells its service through resellers. To access the IP network, users would need to plug a laptop or other device into a BGAN modem for high-speed data. BGAN stands for broadband global area network.

The IP modem, which is about the size of a laptop, must be pointed to the satellite in order to connect to the network. The device, which sells for between USD500 and a USD1,000, includes visual and sound software tools for making the connection. Users pay resellers separately for airtime.

About 350,000 terminals have been sold for connecting to Inmarsat's older network, McLaughlin said. Users of the devices today include the U.S. Navy , relief organizations at the tsunami disaster in South Asia and the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The service also is used by news agencies covering events in countries with poor telecommunications.