Global communications provider Inmarsat eyes China's 5G network

By Li Xuanmin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/8/20 12:03:40

International satellite-based communications provider Inmarsat is eyeing China's huge maritime satellite communications market despite the ongoing trade war with the US, and it's especially interested in real-time connectivity with the arrival of the 5G era in China, CEO Rupert Pearce told the Global Times.

The UK-based company aims to integrate its maritime satellite network with China's land-based, commercial 5G network to cater to the nation's expanding consumer base.

"China's maritime satellite communications market is very large and growing rapidly. It's also among the world's most innovative," said Pearce. Many crew members in the global merchant marine fleet and the fishery sector hail from China.

The UK-based company has over the past 40 years launched and operated 13 satellites in geostationary orbits to provide successive and full broadband global network services that cover L-band broadband, high-speed Ka-band and European inflight Wi-Fi S-band services, allowing wireless networks to be accessed from the sea and the skies.

Another eight satellites will be launched in the next few years to expand network capacity, Pearce said.

Last year, China's BeiDou Navigation System was approved by the International Maritime Organization to develop a maritime safety communications system that will directly rival Inmarsat. Pearce said that the company does not see the BeiDou Navigation system as a threat, but rather a "natural partner" because each service has its own focus. 

Inmarsat started cooperating with and supporting the BeiDou Navigation system five years ago. For example, BeiDou and Inmarsat have jointly developed a maritime satellite fleetphone for the fishery fleet in East China's Fujian Province. The device, which integrates the navigation service with the communications service, is manufactured in China. 

Inmarsat is also willing to collaborate with more Chinese partners in countries and regions along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) where BeiDou has a presence, he said. 

In 2015, the London-listed group signed a deal with the China Transport Telecommunication & Information Centre to deliver satellite communications along BRI routes. 

The satellite group has big plans in China connected with the country's soon-to-be commercialized 5G network. 

"China is leading the way around the world in 5G service, which puts connectivity at the heart of … industries like automation, digitalization, the use of big data and artificial intelligence. We could help extend China's 5G connectivity into the sea, into the sky and into remote and rural areas under a satellite-based network, serving as a back-up to a terrestrial 5G network," Pearce said.

Inmarsat's fifth-generation, Ka-band satellite powered Global Xpress (GX), which is at least 100 times faster than its fourth-generation network, began global service in 2015. It created the world's first and only high-speed, seamless global mobile broadband network.

Pearce said that Inmarsat aims to become a provider of China's 5G maritime network and integrate its satellite-based service with the Chinese 5G terrestrial network, so users can switch seamlessly from China's land-based 5G to the maritime network when moving into the open seas. 

The UK company is speeding up its localization strategy amid the China-US trade war, according to the CEO. "There may be some trepidation as the trade war causes a lot of ripples around the world. But we're very proud to be part of the local business community in China and we continue to see tremendous growth potential in China's major markets."

Posted in: COMPANIES

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