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Inmarsat speeds up satellite communications

Company hopes that Regional BGAN, unveiled yesterday to regional press, will attract a new type of user to satellite communications.

Inmarsat is looking to win new customers and migrate its existing customer base with the rollout of Regional BGAN, its broadband satellite communications (satcomms) service. Regional BGAN allows users to make voice calls and connect to the internet at up to 144 kbits/s from virtually anywhere on the planet.

“A mainstream business audience as well as vertical industries all have the potential of using Regional BGAN when their executives, offices or operations are in areas lacking connectivity,” explains Samer Halawi, Inmarsat’s regional manager.

“With Regional BGAN, we hope to make market entries in areas like banking and finance, manufacturing, agriculture and tourism, while migrating our current GAN users in the media, aid, government, oil & gas exploration, construction and mining markets to the new service.”

Although it aims to broaden the market for satcomms services with the launch of Regional BGAN, Inmarsat is keen to stress that its services ‘complement’, rather than compete with, GSM networks. Regional BGAN, like previous Inmarsat offerings, is primarily designed to provide connectivity in remote areas that GSM networks don’t cover.

“We do not position Regional BGAN as a service that competes with terrestrial, GSM or GPRS technologies,” says Halawi. “Regional BGAN, at least twice as fast as current GPRS, extends mobile datacomm connectivity to wide areas not covered or served by GPRS and GSM networks. This is an advantage for companies or individuals who need data connectivity in remote areas.”

Regional BGAN will work in 99 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa covered by the Thuraya satellite communications service. Inmarsat will rent space on the satellite, which isn’t yet fully utilised, to offer Regional BGAN.

How fast Regional BGAN can really operate in practice is unclear. Although the service is marketed at 144 kbits/s, Inmarsat itself admits that speeds are more likely to be around 100 kbits/s, still pretty quick.

In order to use Regional BGAN, users need a proprietary satellite IP modem that’s roughly the size of a notebook PC at 300mm x 204mm x 42mm and weighs about 1594 grams. The modem hooks to a PC via USB; Ethernet, for connection to LANs; and wirelessly via Bluetooth.

As well as being quicker than previous Inmarsat offerings, Regional BGAN will also be a packet data service. That means users pay according to the amount of data they send, rather than paying by the minute.

Distribution partners in each country will set exact end user pricing. However, “The Regional BGAN satellite modem will be priced between $1,000-$1,500 and the megabyte around $10-15, ” Halawi says. One megabyte is equivalent to roughly a 100 page document, according to Michael Butler, CEO of Inmarsat.

Regional BGAN will be followed in 2004 by a service called Broadband Global Area Network (B-GAN), which will cover the whole globe. Inmarsat is investing US $1.6 billion in the new service, which will operate at a maximum of 432 kbits/s.

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