Inmarsat rolls out GX Aviation inflight broadband on Virgin Atlantic new Airbus A350 aircraft

Inmarsat has flagged that its GX Aviation inflight broadband service is now available to customers onboard the first of Virgin Atlantic’s brand new Airbus A350 aircraft.

Virgin Atlantic is set to receive 12 Airbus A350-1000s over the next three years,  all of which will be installed with GX Aviation – Inmarsat’s high-speed inflight connectivity service delivered through a wholly-owned global network of high-throughput satellites.

Inmarsat’s partner Deutsche Telekom, the current internet service provider on Virgin Atlantic’s Boeing 787 and Airbus A330 fleets, has also been selected for the same role on the airline’s new Airbus A350 fleet.

NBN Co stretches break-even point to 2023

NBN Co has revealed that it does not expect to find itself in a cash flow positive state until at least Financial Year 2023, a year later than the National Broadband Network (NBN) builder’s previous estimates released last year.

According to NBN Co’s latest annual corporate plan, which outlines the company’s long-range plans, projections and estimates from 2020 to 2023, the national network builder expects to see about A$700 million in positive cash flow in FY23.

At the same time, NBN Co’s latest estimates forecast negative cash flows of roughly A$200 million in FY22. This stands in stark contrast with the company’s Corporate Plan 2019-22, released in 2018, which forecast positive cash flows of around A$100 million in FY22.

One of the reasons for the new break-even point comes down to a reduction in activation figures in FY20, FY21 and FY22. Indeed, the latest report’s expected activation tally in FY23 stands at 8.6 million, which is 100,000 less than the expected 8.7 million in FY22 that was estimated in the 2019-22 corporate plan last year.

In FY20, the company now anticipates 500,000 fewer activations than it expected in the 2019-22 corporate plan, reducing its target from 7.5 million total activations to 7.0 million premises that year.

“Given the complexity of build expected through FY20, there has been a shift in phasing  for activations in FY20 and through FY21. The Company expects to connect 8.1 million customers by 30 June 2021,” the latest corporate plan stated.

NBN Co said in its report that this reduction is “purely a timing issue” around deployment and activations, with the Ready to Connect footprint coming later during FY20 than originally forecast in the previous year’s plan. The company added that there is no expected material change to the underlying performance of the business and revenue is forecast to recover to expected levels in subsequent years.

Another contributing factor for the delayed break-even point for the network builder is an increase in expected capital expenditure (capex) in FY20, FY21 and FY22, compared to the previous year’s figures. For example, NBN Co’s latest report puts expected capex in FY20 at A$4.3 billion. In last year’s report, the figure for FY20 was closer to A$3.6 billion.

These changes, of course, are reflected in the company’s all-important average revenue per user (ARPU) figures which, in the latest plan, indicate it expects to see residential ARPU rise from A$44 in FY19 to A$49 in FY23.

download (5)In last year’s plan, the company put its ARPU expectation at A$51 by FY22 – a figure that included business customers as well as residential customers. The decision to take the business contingent out of the ARPU equation in this year’s report was, according to NBN Co CEO Stephen Rue, to provide a more meaningful and transparent number.

The change in ARPU expectations is reflected in the company’s latest total revenue estimates, which are forecast to reach A$5.9 billion in FY23. While the total revenue figure for FY22 remains unchanged from last year’s estimates, the expected A$5.2 billion in FY21 and A$3.9 billion in FY20 have been downgraded in the latest plan to A$4.9 billion and A$3.7 billion, respectively.

Revenue is forecast to grow from A$2.8 billion in FY19 to A$3.7 billion in FY20 with the expected delay – or “rephasing” as NBN Co puts it – in network activations. Meanwhile, the plan continues to support a peak funding forecast of A$51 billion.

Despite tacking on an additional year until it expects to see positive cash flow and the reduction of anticipated activations in FY20, NBN Co remains upbeat about the rollout and ultimately meeting its stated goals.

In its report, NBN Co said that by the end of FY20, 11.5 million homes and businesses will be on track to be able to order a service on the network, fulfilling the commitment to complete the build in 2020. Currently, around 86 percent of premises throughout Australia are able to order an NBN service.

“To date, NBN Co and its delivery partners have rolled out more than 280,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable, repurposed and upgraded existing HFC [Hybrid Fibre-Coaxial] and copper technologies, built a Fixed Wireless network comprising some 2,200 towers and approximately 13,000 cells, and launched two satellites,” said Rue.

“With completion of the network well in sight, now is the time to focus on how Australians in homes and businesses across the nation can get the most out of the NBN access network.

“Improving customer experience and satisfaction will remain the key driver in coming years as we complete the transition to become a full-scale service delivery organisation – and we will put customers at the centre of everything we do.” he said.

Optus Business, nano-sat specialist Myriota target remote IoT satellite opportunity

Optus Business has inked an agreement with Myriota, an Adelaide-based provider of nanosatellite Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, with a view to delivering remote and regional connectivity for IoT devices and applications.

Optus, which billed the partnerships as an Australian first, said the telco-nanosatellite provider agreement will bring together its own national networks and digital enablement capabilities with Myriota’s direct-to-orbit technology.

This, the Singtel-owned company said, will allow for massive scale, low-cost communications for IoT devices across remote Australian geographies.

“The arrangement will offer low-cost, long battery life connectivity for millions of devices across multiple industries. The devices will allow companies to track assets across Australia, even in the most remote areas,” it added.

CEO and co-founder of Myriota, Dr Alex Grant, said the agreement would unlock new opportunities for IoT applications across a wide variety of industries.

“Remote connectivity has long been the missing piece of the puzzle for IoT across industries like logistics and farming, and we are thrilled to partner with Optus Business to provide a comprehensive connectivity offering,” Grant said.

“Previously, satellite connectivity has not been available or affordable for businesses with remote assets, but nanosatellites are providing a more attainable and affordable solution. By combining Optus’ national networks with our nanosatellite capability, we are able to offer a truly holistic IoT solution and help solve connectivity issues being faced in regional Australia,” he said.

The two companies have a shared history, with 2018 seeing Myriota secure US$15 million in Series A funding from companies including Singtel Innov8; the venture capital arm of Optus’ parent company Singtel.

Q&A with Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce

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Inmarsat chief executive Rupert Pearce took time out for Telecom Times to address a range of issues around trends in connectivity in Australia and APAC, marking the mobile satellite communications firm’s 40th anniversary.

TELECOM TIMES – What would you say were the next key challenges and opportunities for Inmarsat in the APAC region and how does the firm’s ANZ strategy align with those?

RUPERT PEARCE – Globally, we are entering a new era of the always-on, pervasively connected global digital society: a planet empowered by dense, diverse interoperable 5G networks, with next generation connectivity transforming enterprises in a huge variety of market segments, and also having an increasingly powerful impact on the daily lives of consumers and on the relationship between governments and their citizens.

Rupert Pearce (1)The demand for truly reliable, high-speed mobile broadband is rising rapidly throughout the APAC region and across all the key markets served by Inmarsat, from maritime and aviation to energy, media and government, and we see this trend continuing.

For instance, in one of our core markets, the trillion dollar merchant maritime industry is being revolutionised by the advent of ‘smart shipping’ and the ‘digital ship’. In another, the rapidly expanding aviation market, the connected aircraft is becoming the norm, while governments are putting global, agile mobile communications at the heart of their core capabilities, and a range of land-based industrial sectors are being reinvented by the power of the Internet of Things.

In ANZ, we see the region increasingly adopting artificial intelligence (AI), machine-to-machine communications, advancing in autonomous transport technologies and experiencing rising consumer demand for always-on connectivity (including in-flight passenger Wi-Fi services).

In fact, the ANZ is a crucial market to Inmarsat and we expect our business to continue to grow within the region – through both government contracts and the Inmarsat partner channel.

We serve many customers here, across a range of sectors such as defence, maritime and shipping, aerospace, telecommunications, mining, and media; all managed out of our regional hub in Sydney. In addition to supporting customers, in New Zealand we also have two of our critical satellite access stations (SAS). Across the ANZ region as a whole, we have over 100 employees.

Inmarsat continues to look to strengthen its presence in ANZ and APAC, which are priority regions for us, and we are committed to providing the highest quality, best-value mobile broadband services and solutions to customers and partners here.

TELECOM TIMES – In terms of global delivery, what is next for Inmarsat where new products, services and potential partnerships are concerned?

PEARCE – In our 40th anniversary year, we are moving forward with a revolutionary new approach. One that builds upon our existing Global Xpress (GX) investments and delivers a step-change in the capabilities of GX and in our ability to help our diverse customer base to capitalise on the opportunities afforded by the emerging digital society.

In May this year, Inmarsat selected Airbus Defence & Space as its satellite-manufacturing partner as part of a ground-breaking development of its GX network.

This marks the beginning of the next phase of GX’s evolution, enhancing our global mobile broadband coverage with a transformation in network capacity and service capability. This transformation, together with the unparalleled agility of the next-generation satellites, will ensure GX remains at the forefront of innovation for the benefit of customers and partners.

Just in July this year, we also announced that we have partnered with Space Norway and its subsidiary Space Norway HEOSAT to introduce two new GX satellite payloads dedicated to the Arctic region.

Although it’s not Antarctic, it further reinforces our continuing technological innovation and industry leadership as we are significantly enhancing the quality of the service we are delivering in the Arctic region, where we have seen a boost in demand for true broadband from our customers.

TELECOM TIMES – In terms of rivals, how do you see Inmarsat optimising its chances to stay ahead of the game? Specifically, where do you see the most promising areas of potential differentiation? Purely technological, or in innovation partnerships?

PEARCE – Our commitment to and track record of innovation has allowed us to be the leading pioneer in global mobile connectivity for 40 years, and has seen us deliver multiple industry firsts, including GX, which remains the world’s first and only globally available mobile broadband network.

As we evolve and innovate GX, designed and fully optimised for mobility markets, we are future-proofing customer investments through backward compatibility with existing services, and enhancing our ability to roll out future technologies and innovations, as these emerge.

Users of mission critical connectivity have long-known that they can depend on us to deliver the most reliable service available – this evolution of GX’s space and ground infrastructure demonstrates our efforts at strengthening our differentiation even further.

Innovation partnerships continue to drive a big part of our growth strategy as seen from our most recent partnerships with Airbus Defence & Space, and with Space Norway and its subsidiary Space Norway HEOSAT.

Through our ecosystem of manufacturing partners, Inmarsat is also driving innovation in terminals and antennas, which enhance the capabilities of our network, reduce the cost of equipment and its physical footprint, and enable us continually to improve the connectivity solutions we offer.

Partnerships such as these provide us with much greater velocity and agility with which to respond to future competitive challenges and to adopt new technologies on a highly dynamic, rolling basis.

TELECOM TIMES – When looking at inflight aviation broadband services, what single element would give any provider a leading edge over any rivals?

PEARCE – It is impossible to select just one but I would say that the top three are global, seamless and reliable.

For airlines, the priority is to deliver a consistent quality of service to their passengers and that is why so many airlines – large and small – have been selecting GX Aviation. We have built our reputation over the past 40 years by delivering what we promise and this approach has been central to building and augmenting the GX network.

After delivering global GX coverage at the close of 2015 through an initial fleet of three satellites, we have subsequently focused on augmenting our unique ‘true’ broadband solution with additional and ever more powerful GX payloads, targeting regions where demand growth is greatest.

This reflects our long-term approach to network augmentation, as we continue to meet and exceed customer requirements.

I think that the quality of our inflight connectivity (IFC) solutions is highlighted in the landmark strategic collaboration agreement we signed with Panasonic Avionics Corporation last year, which will see our global IFC broadband solutions made available to ever more airlines.

Another important factor for airlines is the nose-to-tail approach. Only Inmarsat can provide satellite connectivity for the whole plane – from the cabin to the cockpit.

And it’s important to note that not only do we offer the most comprehensive set of satellite connectivity solutions, these same services are recognised as the gold standard in the industry.

TELECOM TIMES – On disruption, how much of a factor will this play in Inmarsat’s win proposition and how will the firm need to respond?

PEARCE – Forty years on from our birth, we are now entering a new era of the always-on, pervasively connected global digital society. As a result, we see the relevance and role of mobile satellite telecommunications expanding rapidly not just extending 5G onto the seas, into the skies and to remote and rural areas, but also adding security, resilience and unique space-based services to next generation terrestrial networks that are becoming part of the Critical National Infrastructure of nations and regions.

The new programme we announced in July – with the commissioning of GX7, 8 & 9 with Airbus – will transform Inmarsat’s global high-speed broadband network, providing unprecedented agility in space segment deployment, as well as an enhanced ability to adopt and integrate future technology innovation and disruption to the GX product line.

Risk of competing goals ‘negatively impacting’ NBN quality, affordability: Infrastructure Australia

If the National Broadband Network (NBN) can’t meet all of its stated goals and obligations once the rollout is complete, the ability for Australians to access affordable and high-quality services over the network may be “negatively affected”.

This is according to the Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019, published on 13 August by the nation’s independent infrastructure advisor, Infrastructure Australia, the independent advisory body tasked with strategically auditing the nation’s key infrastructure.

The audit report, which covered areas such as transport, energy and water, delivered a mixed report card for the country’s telecommunication landscape, identifying several challenges relating to Australia’s fixed-line broadband offering, rural and regional availability, pricing and the NBN’s technology mix, among other things.

Unsurprisingly, the report’s telecommunications section focused heavily on the NBN, as one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects. One of the challenges highlighted in the audit report was an “inherent tension between the NBN’s strategic goals”.

It suggested that this tension will ultimately require potential trade-offs between the NBN achieving user outcomes and delivering a return on the capital investment made by taxpayers.

“If all goals cannot be achieved, the ability for Australians to access affordable and high-quality NBN services may be negatively affected,” the report authors said.

Moreover, the report suggested that these tensions raise the question as to whether or not the network will be sold and, if so, how exactly the assets would be divested and therefore how the market will be structured.

“A proposed eventual sale of the NBN to the private sector raises challenges in striking the right balance between realising its value for shareholders and achieving long-term goals for users,” Infrastructure Australia noted. “Decisions about restructuring and sale can affect both short- and long-term service delivery and outcomes for users.”

Another challenge relating to the NBN noted centred on its technology mix having been diversified, meaning that different users will receive different types of connections.

“This change will deliver varied outcomes for users, and some may shoulder higher costs or receive lower-quality services,” the report authors added.

As such, according to Infrastructure Australia, a range of NBN process and performance issues have arisen as the rollout has proceeded and users have migrated to the network, some of which are being dealt with by the company behind the rollout, NBN Co.

In addition, the independent infrastructure advisor flagged the risks that 5G network rollouts in Australia might present to the long-term competitive position of the NBN.

“Looking forward, risks for the NBN include competition from ongoing fixed line services and 5G fixed wireless substitution,” it said. “There is also the possibility of competition in remote locations from emerging low Earth orbit satellite technologies and other satellite technologies.”

However, the report also pointed out a potential silver lining, noting an opportunity for the NBN to leverage these technologies to deliver better services in its existing fixed wireless and satellite coverage areas.

Rural and regional Australians still missing out

Infrastructure Australia’s examination of the services offered to people in rural and regional areas was somewhat tempered by the existing limitations of the various technologies available, even with the NBN rollout underway.

“NBN’s use of fixed wireless and satellite technologies limits the choice of available broadband speeds and download quotas, particularly for remote areas,” it said. “However, these services are often the only option for regional Australian consumers and businesses.

“Although NBN is launching business-grade NBN services, these do not currently extend to [its] fixed wireless and satellite access technologies,” it said, noting NBN Co’s plans to deliver a business-grade satellite service this year.

More generally, however, Infrastructure Australia identified a range of issues with the current telecommunications services available for consumers in rural and regional areas, and for some minorities.

“The specific needs of rural and remote users are often overlooked in upgrades to national telecommunications infrastructure,” the report authors said. “Income, age, disability, education and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status are all factors that influence levels of digital inclusion.”

“Geography also matters,” it said. “In rural and remote settings, the cost of providing telecommunications infrastructure increases and the returns reduce as population densities decline. In some cases, this limits the scope for universal coverage by commercially-focused private sector operators, without government intervention.”

“While Australia’s mobile footprint includes over 99 percent of the population, it covers only one-third of total landmass, meaning there is limited service in particular rural and remote areas, for example along transport corridors,” it added.

However, the audit report also cautiously identified opportunities to improve the telecommunications services for the digitally disadvantaged, and for rural and remote communities and businesses.

“5G mobile technology provides a potential step change in mobile telecommunications infrastructure for Australia, offering huge benefits including faster mobile data, minimal delays and the ability to separate services on the same network. However, the cost of rolling out 5G is high, and without a change in prioritisation, existing issues may be exacerbated in rural and remote areas,” the report authors said.

IPSTAR targets regional Australian broadband users with new unmetered, non-speed-restricted satellite offer

Thaicom-owned rural and regional satellite internet service provider IPSTAR Broadband has launched a new unmetered and non-speed-restricted broadband option dubbed Sky Muster Plus, providing data for essential services such as emails, general browsing, social media and PC and smartphone software updates.

NBN Co, which announced the new wholesale offer at the same time, said a Sky Muster Plus trial, which ran from 7 June until 8 August 2019, revealed four out of five existing Sky Muster customers reported an improvement in their online experience, “with many reporting the unmetered data was particularly helpful when it came to managing their overall data usage.”

NBN Co said three wholesale plans with different metered data allowances will be available to participating retail service providers based on a wholesale speed tier of 25/5 Mbps, adding “customers will from time-to-time experience wholesale speed bursts above 25/5Mbps, subject to available network capacity.”

IPSTAR Broadband Managing Director Shannon Fisher said the company was committed to ensuring rural and regional Australians were better able to stay connected, educate their families and grow their businesses.

“Customers have told us their monthly data allowance is sometimes used up by their children, grandchildren or even them streaming videos and gaming, leaving them unable to complete tasks crucial to running a business, like sending and receiving emails to and from customers and suppliers,” Fisher said.

“Sky Muster™ Plus will remove the monthly download cap for essential services, allowing rural regional businesses – many of which operate from home – to rest easy knowing their operations won’t be disrupted by too many streamed episodes of Stranger Things or battles on Fortnite.”

While its Sky Muster™ Plus package maintains on the top plan a monthly cap of up to 150 GB peak and 150GB off peak for streaming , the firm said there will be no data limit for regular web activities like accessing emails or internet banking.

According to IPSTA, community advocacy group Better Internet for Regional Rural and Remote Australia has been instrumental in helping the Federal Government and NBN Co to develop Sky Muster Plus.

Co-Founder Kristy Sparrow said the new service will make a significant difference to users who have been faced with limited data allowances, especially the 42 per cent of Sky Muster users who have no other internet option.

“We appreciate that NBN Co and the Minister for Regional Services have listened to regional advocacy groups and understood that data allowances on Sky Muster have restricted essential services for regional users and we thank them for listening to our concerns” she said.

Avanti Communications lands Nigeria’s first ever satellite landing permit

London-based satellite data communications provider Avanti Communications has picked up the first landing permit in the history of Nigeria.

Avanti Communications said the Nigerian Communications Commission’s authorization  – which took place at the NCC headquarters in Abuja – allowed it to strengthen its business in the largest African economy.

Speaking on behalf of the Executive Vice Chairman, the Director for Spectrum Administration, Dr Austin Nwaulune, highlighted the NCC’s mandate which is to foster the rollout of communications services to create economic growth and development.

“Avanti is the only operator to have invested in satellite gateways in Nigeria to ensure the highest quality of service in the country,” said the firm’s chief regulatory officer Ann Vandenbroucke.

“Together with our local partners, we aim to drive greater access – including in outlying rural areas – to innovative services that are available and affordable to all citizens, businesses and schools,” she added.