Inmarsat remains open to ordering its own LEO constellation

TAMPA, Fla. — Inmarsat says it is still considering deploying a low Earth orbit (LEO) constellation, despite comments to the contrary from one of its executives this week.

Speaking Feb. 8 at the SmallSat Symposium in Mountain View, Calif., Inmarsat vice president of corporate development Larry Paul said the British satellite operator doesn’t “have the balance to build our own LEO network.”

“(B)but frankly there’s no need,” Paul said, because “there’s going to be a lot of capacity in the market in a few years” from potential partners, “and prices are going to come down.”

While Inmarsat “takes a good look at building its own, becoming a big investor in others,” he said it “just doesn’t make sense at this point” for the company to make that kind of investment.

He said Inmarsat “will partner with a LEO operator – perhaps more than one”.

A company spokesperson, however, told SpaceNews the next day that Inmarsat has not ruled out ordering LEO satellites for Orchestra, a proposed global mobile connectivity network that combines terrestrial 5G with connectivity provided by an array of geostationary orbital satellites. and not geostationary.

“Both partnering and building the LEO dimension of this network have always been and continue to be considered options,” Inmarsat spokesman Jonathan Sinnatt said Feb. 9 via email.

Ultimately, the goal is to ensure the best possible solution for our partners and customers.”

It remains to be seen whether Viasat’s planned acquisition of Inmarsat could bring significant changes to the British operator’s business strategy.

Viasat operates GEO’s broadband network. Buying Inmarsat would give the Carlsbad, Calif.-based operator a global distribution network for its increasingly international ambitions.

However, Viasat historically sold its services directly to customers, while Inmarsat relied on a network of distributors, Deutsche Bank investment banker Pawel Skonieczka noted Feb. 8 at an earlier SmallSat Symposium panel. Skonieczka said “it will be interesting to see how these differences are resolved as the company integrates.”

Viasat’s acquisition of Inmarsat is subject to regulatory approvals which include clearance from the UK competition watchdog, which has a statutory deadline of March 30 to make a decision on the deal.

Mark Dankberg, CEO of Viasat, also outlined plans during a SmallSat Symposium keynote on Feb. 8 to buy satellites in “standardized cubesat-like form factors” to provide services that include direct smartphone connectivity.

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