Blog

Building the communications network of the future

July 29, 2021 Blog

A Blog by Peter Hadinger – Chief Technology Officer

orchestra

Inmarsat is nothing without innovation. We have always challenged ourselves to deliver breakthroughs on behalf of our customers, continually pushing what is possible. The outcome is the world-leading mobile communications networks we operate today for our global aviation, maritime, government and enterprise customers.

Central to this customer-focused approach is a forward-facing technology roadmap that ensures we continue to deliver leading services for decades to come. And with this in mind, we have recently announced our vision for Inmarsat ORCHESTRA, the communications network of the future.

Redefining high-performance connectivity for global mobility

ORCHESTRA will usher in the next era of communications mobility. The world’s first global, multi-dimensional, dynamic mesh network, it will deliver unprecedented performance and enable ground breaking new services for our customers.

In a revolutionary new layered approach, ORCHESTRA will be a seamless configuration of our L-band and GX networks with terrestrial 5G, targeted LEO, and dynamic mesh technologies, to create a single advanced solution for global mobility.

This integrated approach is designed to meet the accelerating bandwidth requirements of more diverse, demanding and ever more widely adopted applications in customer markets. By drawing on the unique capabilities of each component, we can deliver high performance connectivity everywhere, while eliminating the longstanding challenge of congested hot spots, like busy ports, airports, sea canals and flight corridors, for good.

ORCHESTRA will redefine connectivity at scale. It will offer the highest capacity for mobility, both worldwide and at hot spots, as well as the fastest average speeds and the lowest average latency of any global mobility network, now or in the future.

A service that exceeds the sum of its parts

To orchestrate is to arrange, organize or build up for special or maximum effect, and that same ethos underpins ORCHESTRA. Each component plays its part.

Our L-band services provide a critical layer of always-on connectivity with all-weather resilience for mission-critical applications. GX ensures reliable, high-speed, global coverage with security and full redundancy. Terrestrial 5G will add ultra-high capacity at specific hot spots, while a small, targeted LEO constellation will serve other high demand areas.

The new network layers augment existing services, which will continue to expand in line with our existing roadmap. Customers adopting the new technologies will be adding to, not replacing, the reliable and forward/backward compatible Inmarsat solutions they rely on today. Even customers without new equipment will see a benefit as the impact of high demand in hot spots is reduced.

This layered approach is supplemented by a ‘dynamic mesh network’. Here individual customer terminals act as nodes to route traffic to and from other terminals. The ability to extend the range of direct links to others beyond that range, like ships beyond the reach of terrestrial 5G for example, will bring a powerful new dimension to networking. In many circumstances performance actually increases with the number of terminals involved and hence the routing options available.

A catalyst for new capabilities and breakthrough business models

ORCHESTRA’s unparalleled combination of global coverage, ultra-high capacity and resilience will provide customers with a low-risk transition to next-generation service capabilities. In turn, this will underpin new business models and use cases.

This chimes with a rapidly changing world. Our customers are looking for solutions that will help them optimize their use of a new generation of connected technologies that are reshaping their sectors. The opportunities span our Business Units.

ORCHESTRA will extend Inmarsat’s role as a catalyst for unmanned aviation, with complete command and control, and secure air traffic management capabilities for the safe operation of autonomous flying taxis and other forms of personal urban air transport.

To enable large scale industrial IoT solutions, ORCHESTRA will support dedicated, private, multi-dimensional networks for individual customers to connect and integrate large volumes of disparate sensors and devices – including beyond cellular coverage – via a single cloud-based environment.

ORCHESTRA will allow Inmarsat to bring a comprehensive connectivity solution to smart passenger ferries and cruise ships. A secure, segregated, high-speed service to support advanced passenger, crew and operational applications, at port or open sea, enabled through global satcom and on-board 5G dynamic mesh networks.

And for remote teams, such as international aid, forces or government agencies, ORCHESTRA will enable rapid set up of highly secure, high-speed, low latency, local area temporary ‘sovereign’ networks. This will connect individuals, remote camps and environmental and personal sensor data, which can be beamed back directly to the team’s home country for review and analysis.

And this really is just a few selections from a long list of exciting possibilities.

The most effective, cost-efficient solution for global mobility

ORCHESTRA is different because it’s both the most effective and the most efficient solution to meet the needs of our mobile customers.

It’s the most effective because it combines the capabilities of a diverse set of technologies, using the best connection, or connections, to create a peerless solution. Terrestrial solutions have the highest bandwidth, but not the coverage or range for global mobility. LEO solutions have longer range, but only modest bandwidth and struggle at hot spots since the power they can deliver to any individual location is limited by regulations. And even without these limitations, their architecture means that increasing capacity at a single hot spot would require a substantial increase in the size of the total constellation. More flexible GEOs have both global coverage and excellent bandwidth, but terrestrial links can unload dense hot spots more efficiently, leaving additional satellite capacity free to serve customers out of range.

ORCHESTRA is also the most efficient way to deliver these standards. It will build on our existing GEO constellations and layer in additional technologies to create a highly cost-efficient network architecture, without the challenge of starting from scratch.

And what about the elephant in the room – the standalone LEO mega-constellations?

I believe large-scale, standalone LEO constellations do have a role to play in satcoms, primarily for consumer broadband, although significant commercial, technical, operational, environmental and security challenges remain. But these constellations are poorly suited to customers requiring global mobility with enterprise-level reliability and security, for whom a strong, financially viable vendor is also a must.

As part of ORCHESTRA, there is a role for a small, targeted LEO deployment, but as a focused complement to a wider, converged vision. We have no intention to go after consumer markets and will keep our focus squarely on those global mobility customers who are at the heart of our business.  Thus, we have no need for a constellation with many thousands of satellites. Rather, we need in the range of 150-175, targeted in the right way and linked to the overall ORHESTRA network.

Our network is global today so Inmarsat customers don’t have to wait – and with ORCHESTRA, their experience will improve with every terrestrial node and as each LEO satellite is deployed – truly incremental.

Continued market leadership and long-term growth

The announcement of ORCHESTRA ensures Inmarsat is well positioned to deliver long-term, profitable growth by providing valued new services for existing customers, targeting near-adjacent sectors and maintaining a strong competitive position. And we have the proven technology expertise, the right base of customers and partners and the financial strength to deliver.

We start from a position of strength, as the world’s number one mobile satcoms provider, with a long track record of successful, customer-centric innovation – including the development of hybrid, multi-dimensional network models such as EAN and Fleet LTE.

We are developing new technologies for small-scale, cost-effective, LEO satellites and have a heritage of bringing innovations to market at the right time: limiting customer and investment risk.

We have a strong and proven, well-funded business model. We have a long-established, diverse global customer base across multiple markets served both directly and through an industry-leading partner ecosystem.

And we have the extraordinary talent needed to bring this transformational concept to reality. Indeed, I’d like to call out the Space Segment, Spectrum Engineering, Terminal Engineering, Systems Engineering, CTO Finance and CSO Strategy teams for the enormous achievements already made. But just like any orchestral masterpiece, this will need to be a true team effort.

Innovation never rests

So, when will ORCHESTRA come to life? To some extent, it already is, through the sector-leading GEO and hybrid networks we operate today.

But more pragmatically, we have been evaluating LEO and terrestrial solutions for some time. Much of the technical groundwork is complete and we are now conducting field tests.

We anticipate initial deployments of the terrestrial layer from late next year, with the new space layers some years later. But the beauty of our approach is that it is incremental – each terrestrial deployment, each launch, each node, adds capability to an already very capable network. In a very real sense, this is ongoing work – it is never ‘done’.

Much like innovation itself.