Honeywell To Outfit Airplanes for Global Xpress Broadband Service

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PARIS — Honeywell will build terminal and antenna hardware for commercial and business jets using Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band satellite broadband service under an exclusive agreement that both companies announced April 18.

The agreement fills a big missing piece to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress project, a $1.2 billion investment featuring three large Boeing-built Ka-band satellites to serve commercial and military markets. The Global Xpress satellites are scheduled for launch in 2013 and 2014.

Phoenix-based Honeywell said the agreement will generate some $2.8 billion in revenue for Honeywell over 20 years. In addition to providing the antennas mounted on the aircraft skin and the related hardware, Honeywell as the exclusive Inmarsat-certified supplier will also be in charge of maintaining the gear.

Honeywell will have nonexclusive rights to sell the Global Xpress hardware to government and military customers, according to Leo Mondale, the managing director for London-based Inmarsat’s Global Xpress program.

Inmarsat in August 2011 had announced it was negotiating with Rockwell Collins of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as lead Global Xpress hardware provider for the aviation market. But negotiations ended when the two sides could not agree on what the terminals would end up costing the aircraft customers.

“Technology was never the issue,” Mondale said in an April 18 interview. “Rockwell certainly has all the capabilities there. But we want to make sure that this service is affordable to the passengers at the back of the planes, and for that we had fairly strict criteria for terminal prices. In the end, we could not come together on those price points.”

Mondale said the prices Inmarsat has demanded have not changed, but that Honeywell was able to agree to them, especially since Honeywell’s capabilities in aeronautical communications rose sharply following its August purchase of EMS Technologies of Atlanta, for $491 million.

Honeywell officials did not immediately respond to requests for details of how they arrived at the figure of $2.8 billion in terminal manufacturing and maintenance revenue over 20 years.

Global Xpress’ three satellites will ring the globe with Ka-band connectivity and, when it enters service in 2014, will compete with an increasing number of fixed satellite-service providers that are now preparing their next generation of Ku-band satellites to focus on the maritime and aeronautical mobile markets.

Luxembourg- and Washington-based Intelsat is working with Panasonic Avionics Corp. of Lake Forest, Calif., to provide a similar service to Global Xpress, with several Intelsat satellites fitted with beams trained over the aeronautical and maritime commercial routes.

Panasonic and Intelsat struck a multiyear accord in 2008 to broaden the coverage of Panasonic’s in-flight service, which includes live television in addition to broadband data links. Panasonic in March agreed to purchase capacity on the Intelsat 14 satellite for coverage over Africa and trans-African air routes.

Backers of Ku-band and Ka-band have competing arguments concerning which is better suited to provide broadband connectivity.

Mondale said that while Ka-band hardware may require slightly more research and development than Ku-band given the relatively recent market adoption of Ka-band, the cost differential disappears early in a production run of terminals.