Inmarsat joins the fray

Satellite service provider Inmarsat has announced a handheld voice service to complement its portable BGAN data offering. NME spoke to Michael Butler and Samer Halawi about the news.

  • E-Mail
By  Eliot Beer Published  October 2, 2006

|~|butler200.jpg|~|“There are around 600,000 voice customers, generating $350 million at wholesale rates – our aim is to grab around 60,000 of those users.” Michael Butle, chief operating officer, Inmarsat.|~|Satellite communications provider Inmarsat is set to launch its own handheld voice service, bringing it alongside companies such as Iridium, Globalstar and Thuraya. Inmarsat’s service comes out of a collaboration with ACeS, an Asian satellite provider; Inmarsat will take over operation of ACeS’s service, and will roll out its offering across the world by the second half of 2007. This will coincide with the launch of the third Inmarsat-4 satellite, which will extend coverage over the Pacific area, complementing the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coverage from the firm’s current pair of satellites. Michael Butler, chief operating officer of Inmarsat, admits the company is coming from behind in the handheld voice market, but says by leveraging its existing Inmarsat-4 infrastructure and the current ACeS offering, it can bring an effective and profitable service to market in a relatively short space of time. “Working with ACeS, we have been able to cut our time-to-market by around two years; ACeS has a good service and a good handset,” says Butler. “We have taken over their 14,000 active subscribers and the operation of their infrastructure, but are continuing the operation under the ACeS name; we will roll out the Inmarsat branded service by the end of next year, following the launch of the third Inmarsat-4 satellite.” The firm is planning to offer satellite calls at a price point of around US$1 a minute, which would make it one of the cheaper service providers. This, combined with the compact Ericsson handset currently used by ACeS, will help Inmarsat achieve its target of 10% of the satellite voice market, according to Butler. “By our reckoning, there are around 600,000 voice customers, generating $350 million at wholesale rates – our aim is to grab around 60,000 of those users,” says Butler. “We won’t be varying our rates according to location – we’re adopting a one-size pricing structure for the service. “Interestingly, it’s now cheaper to use satellite services than it is to use GSM roaming facilities, especially for European users; we’re not looking to target hundreds of thousands of users, though – our infrastructure won’t support it. Even at lower usage levels, though, it’s a very attractive business proposition. We’re expecting the majority of our customers to be existing Inmarsat users – we will now be able to offer them a complete solution, both data and handheld voice.” The advantages for end users will be the flat pricing model, and a satellite fleet which will last to 2020; Butler is quick to point out that Iridium’s service will come to an end by 2010-12; he expects Inmarsat to grab a large proportion of Iridium’s customers at this point. Inmarsat currently does a lot of its business in the Middle East. “We make more money per square kilometre of coverage here than anywhere else in the world,” says Samer Halawi, regional director for Inmarsat in the Middle East, who also points out the region was the first to see the BGAN service.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code