The UK’s largest satellite telecommunication company, Inmarsat Group Holdings Ltd., has planned to take part in the new space race by launching a group of low-Earth orbit spacecraft and build 5G wireless networks, bringing it in direct competition with Elon Musk.
The project, called Orchestra, will create a hybrid network of the company’s existing geostationary satellite technology, land-based 5G networks and low-Earth orbit satellites. As data usage rises, the system will provide next-generation 5G service in high-demand regions like ports, while also increasing speed and capacity at digital choke points.
According to the company, 5G and Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites would enable new applications such as unmanned maritime and land vehicles, as well as faster services. The first five-year phase of the plan is expected to cost around $100 million. Inmarsat will focus on terrestrial 5G equipment, new terminals, and spectrum, with new LEO satellites unlikely to arrive before 2026.
“The innovation will bring together many network elements into a single unified network. No other company has anything like this. We are taking a conservative approach to build out and Inmarsat will continue to operate and launch geostationary satellites while building out the LEO fleet. These steps could help the company participate in deal-making as the industry consolidates. Inmarsat is in the sweet spot.”
Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. aims to launch thousands of Starlink satellites at a cost of up to $30 billion. In February 2019, OneWeb began launching the OneWeb satellite constellation, a network of over 650 low-earth-orbit satellites, and by May 2021, it had launched 218 of the planned 648 satellites in the initial constellation for a total cost of $2.4 billion.
On the other hand, Amazon dedicated $10 billion for the satellite internet program, Project Kuiper, which launched its first satellites into space on nine rockets owned by United Launch Alliance.
Inmarsat will continue to focus on maritime firms, airlines, and governments, unlike Musk and Amazon, aiming for worldwide internet access for consumers.