British satellite giant Inmarsat is launching a new network of probes into the cosmos to offer global broadband and 5G services, joining an escalating space race with Mr Musk and OneWeb. Dubbed Orchestra, the project will bring the company’s existing geosynchronous satellites (GEO) with low Earth orbit satellites (LEO) and land-based 5G services to create a single network. Like its rivals, it plans to offer Internet connection to its customers in remote locations.
Chief executive Rajeev Suri said: “By combining the distinct qualities of GEO, LEO and 5G into a single network, we will deliver a service that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
“Our customers will benefit from dramatically expanded high throughput services around the world.
“This is the future of connectivity and Inmarsat is perfectly positioned to bring it to the world with its proven technology expertise, right base of customers and partners, and financial strength.”
Inmarsat will pump an initial $100million (£72million) into the project over the first five years.
But it comes as British telecoms regulator Ofcom is proposing rule changes that would affect operating in non-geostationary orbits (NGSO).
They warned that it is becoming increasingly busy in space and companies are struggling to agree on how to operate their NGSO networks without causing harmful radio interference to each other.
OneWeb, which was acquired from bankruptcy by the Government along with India’s Bharti Global, recently declared itself “financially secure” after raising $2.4billion (£1.73billion) to roll out the remaining 650 satellites in its constellation.
The team will now set their sights on completing their global coverage, but the 254 probes launched is already enough to start offering a commercial service to the Northern Hemisphere.
Without disclosing details, he also said yesterday that Starlink has “two quite significant partnerships with major country telcos”.
Mr Musk is forecasting to reach half a million customers in the next 12 months, up from 69,000 now.
But over in the EU, things appear to have gone quiet – as the bloc has not given an update on its plans for an LEO constellation.
The European Commission launched an initiative in December to study the feasibility of a Brussels-backed space-based communications system, but it is said to be “weeks away” from concluding.
A European programme would aim to secure connectivity for citizens, commercial enterprises and public institutions, focusing on covering rural regions and areas without adequate communications services.
It will look to complement networks that European satellite operators are already providing in (GEO) and medium Earth orbits (MEO).
Consortium members are Airbus, Arianespace, Eutelsat, Hispasat, OHB, Orange, SES, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space.
But technology expert Simon Baker previously noted: “No region has more to lose from the rise of Elon Musk in space than Europe. Its Arianespace is one of the launch providers which has lost out to SpaceX.
“Currently, Europe is a global leader in satellite operation, as home to the headquarters of three of the major players: Eutelsat, SES and Inmarsat.
“The European geostationary operators, with big investments in capacity in orbit that they can now do nothing to change, are looking vulnerable, and need to respond.”