[Via Satellite 03-02-2015] Iridium has signed agreements with four different terminal manufacturers — and has tentative plans for a fifth — for its upcoming broadband service, Iridium Certus. The operator aims to provide data speeds for a single user terminal reaching 1.4 Mbps with this service.
The four partners, Cobham Satcom, Rockwell Collins, L-3 Communications and International Communications Group (ICG), were selected from a candidate pool of more than 30 companies according to Iridium. While each manufacturing partner has varying strengths, all have a specialty in aviation, which will be a significant focus for Iridium Certus, the operator said. However, Iridium is looking to beef up broadband capabilities for other sectors as well.
“We’re not necessarily done announcing the partners,” Bryan Hartin, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Iridium, told Via Satellite. “There’s still some opportunity to possibly announce another partner that would be more land-mobile focused.”
Brian Pemberton, director of product management for aeronautical and marine products at Iridium, said that the four partners were selected in large part because of their ability to market to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and aftermarkets, expanding Iridium’s reach. Additionally, they all have design and development capabilities beyond satellite, stretching across the telecom and wireless sectors. Pemberton said this would help Iridium compete head to head with other Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) platforms.
“The partners we selected are really driven by what their distribution capabilities are. Certainly the ability to design, develop and manufacture, but that could describe hundreds or thousands of companies around the globe,” added Pemberton, who helped guide the selection process. “When we looked at the land mobile sector, the most immediate opportunities are probably in the [Nongovernmental Organization] NGO or defense space, but there are definitely some commercial applications that could extend to the next generation of [Machine to Machine] M2M type solutions or even personal Communications-on-the-Move (COTM) platforms.”
The four announced manufacturing partners are expected to commercially release their first products in late 2016, preceded by prototype transceivers from Iridium in the second quarter of 2015. The company plans to announce service partners for aeronautical, maritime and terrestrial markets this year.
Hartin said the four-month launch delay for Iridium Next from June this year to October would not push back the original completion date, which is planned for the end of 2017. Thales Alenia Space, prime contractor for Iridium Next, needed additional time for testing payload software. Kosmotras, the joint Russian-Ukrainian operator of the Dnepr rocket on which the first two satellites are to launch, is not the cause, Hartin said attempting to quell rumors that the Crimea crisis had derailed the mission.
Between now and constellation completion, Iridium has honed in on obtaining Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) certification from the International Maritime Organization (IMO) — which they have delegated to the International Mobile Satellite Organization (IMSO) — and certification for aviation safety services from regulatory bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Hartin said Iridium finished some key hurdles last year, and is on track to receive GMDSS approval by the end of 2016. The certification would allow Iridium to compete with Inmarsat more aggressively in maritime, an increasingly important market for the company.
“Iridium reported its third consecutive quarter of double-digit growth (up 12 percent year over year) within the maritime segment, thus offering compelling evidence that the company has resolved its prior hardware-related issues,” Chris Quilty, senior vice president of equity research at Raymond James & Associates wrote in a Feb. 27 research note. “Accordingly, warranty-related costs should drop by about $5 million in 2015. Iridium also remains well-positioned to target the ‘value’ end of the maritime market sector, especially in the wake of recent Inmarsat price increases.”
Quilty wrote that GMDSS certification in 2016 would allow Iridium to target approximately 60,000 vessels that require an approved safety service. Pemberton said Iridium’s strategy for its next generation broadband service has been to pursue maritime and aviation safety certification in parallel to try and mimic the timeline for GMDSS.
“We’ve got more margin for error on the aviation side as a lot of the new aviation broadband terminals will have to go through their own regulatory certification efforts. That will probably put them in the mid to late 2017 timeframe,” said Pemberton. “But we are looking to have the Iridium Certus services ahead of the introduction of those products. We are targeting late 2016 on both sides.”
Iridium Certus’ 1.4 Mbps speed lends itself toward passenger- or crew-type applications, according to Pemberton. He said Iridium has already started conversations with parties interested in new enterprise applications with the jump up from the original constellation’s 128 Kbps. This includes streaming video and other higher throughput services, including HD video depending on the ability of compression technology. All new terminals will be interoperable with the current generation of Iridium satellites.
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