Mobile satellite services operator Inmarsat is set to bring in-flight Wi-Fi to Europe by building a new S-band satellite and deploying over 30MHz of S-band spectrum.
The company already has the rights to deploy satellite communications in 30MHz of S-band frequencies across the 28 EU member states. It said it has begun talks with regulators in order to launch Wi-Fi services shortly after the satellite goes live, which is scheduled for 2016.
Inmarsat is splitting the costs by contracting the building of the satellite with Hellas-Sat, a non-competing European satellite operator. Each company will have exclusive rights to a separate payload. By splitting the costs, the company will save around half of the price of building, launching and operating it.
In addition to spending €146 million in building and launching the Europasat satellite, Inmarsat will spend up to €183 million in developing and constructing a ground component network across the EU. Inmarsat said work would begin on the ground network following the signing of licence agreements and "substantive".
The company has been boosted by British Airways expressing an interest in its service. Kate Thornton, Head of Product and Service at British Airways said: “British Airways is in discussions with Inmarsat about leading Europe in a new era of broadband in the air. Starting with UK domestic routes Inmarsat intends to deploy Europe’s first ground-based 4G broadband network giving our customers the internet access they expect on the ground while in the air.”
Inmarsat's play is the latest in Europe, after companies such as Gogo had success in launching satellite services into commercial aircraft in the United States and Asia. Telefonica signed a deal in April with Eutelsat for the latter to use Ka band satellites to connect Vueling's fleet.
The moves follow the European Commission adopting new rules last year that would allow passengers flying across the European Union to use 3G and 4G broadband.
Rupert Pearce, Inmarsat’s CEO, said: “North America has seen rapid take-up of in-flight passenger connectivity services, with installation and usage both growing very quickly. The success of the Gogo air-to-ground network has already triggered the building of a second competing network by AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecommunications operators. Independent research predicts that in-flight connectivity services will be a multi-billion dollar revenue sector by 2020.
"We believe that the same in-flight connectivity opportunity exists in Europe and that, with the support of EU telecoms regulators, Inmarsat can rapidly bring to market unique, high speed aviation passenger connectivity services to meet this market demand on an EU-wide basis. A number of European airlines are aligned with this vision and we are absolutely delighted to announce advanced discussions with British Airways to be a launch customer on our new aviation network."