Inmarsat prepares to enter mobile market

Satellite company is to launch mobile and fixed satellite handsets this year but expects data services to remain the bulk of future business

Satellite company Inmarsat is becoming "more like a mobile operator" with the imminent launch of its mobile and fixed satellite handsets.

This is Inmarsat's first foray into the mobile-handset market — the satellite communications company has conventionally made its money through its data services, such as its Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN), which uses the company's satellite fleet to provide connectivity over 85 percent of the world's landmass.

Inmarsat chief executive Andrew Sukawaty said the company has not traditionally been involved in the mobile-handset market and is having to be "more like a mobile-phone operator" as it prepares for the phone's launch.

It will launch its voice services from early in the third quarter of 2007, with coverage initially available in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The satellite phones will be globally rolled out at the end of 2008.

Sukawaty said that, by 2010, Inmarsat expects to have 10 percent of the mobile satellite-phone handset market, having shifting around 90,000 devices.

He added that Inmarsat is not used to dealing with such volumes and so has signed up Axicom Telecom to manage the distribution of the company's handsets.

Data rather than voice is Inmarsat's current money-spinner, accounting for 80 percent of the company's traffic and 60 percent of its revenue.

Inmarsat's BGAN service now has more than 10,000 subscribers. To link up to the service users need a "satellite terminal", which acts as an antenna to talk to Inmarsat's fleet of satellites.

Sukawaty said data will remain "the bulk of the business in the future" and Inmarsat is focusing on delivering "more and higher speed data" to push IPTV and other audio and radio services in five years' time.

The company has launched four generations of satellites into the Earth's orbit since it was set up in 1979 and is currently looking for a launch window to fire its final fourth-generation satellite in the next 18 months.

Sukawaty added: "We are taking broadband, extending it globally and filling in the gaps."

But Inmarsat still has no plans to offer its services to consumers. Sukawaty said he doubts the company will ever move into the consumer market because its network does not have enough density to support the high number of users a move into the consumer side would produce.


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