U.S. Navy Moves Ahead with Inmarsat Phaseout

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The U.S. Navy, which historically has been one of the biggest customers of mobile satellite services provider Inmarsat, expects to terminate most, if not all, of its leases with the London-based operator by 2012 — a decision that a Navy satellite telecommunications program manager says suits both parties.

Melinda Ratz, assistant program manager for the Navy’s Commercial Broadband Satellite Program, said the Navy is moving to C- and Ku-band leases from commercial satellite operators to increase the amount of bandwidth available to its ships beyond what Inmarsat can provide.

Inmarsat, she said, is encouraging the move in the belief that it can find higher-paying customers for the capacity it currently provides the Navy.

The Navy used to manage some 125 leases of 128-kilobit-per-second L-band capacity on Inmarsat’s satellite fleet. That figure has since dropped to 45 leases as the Navy starts to move to other, higher-throughput satellite sources. In a feature that may suggest how little the Navy is paying for its Inmarsat service, Ratz said Inmarsat has contractual authority to cancel the lease whenever it wishes.

“Our goal is to gradually move off the Inmarsat leases in the coming years before we get kicked off,” Ratz said, adding that she did not think Inmarsat would resort to a unilateral lease termination. “Ku is the bandwidth of the future for the U.S. Navy.”

The Navy currently receives about 50 percent of its total satellite capacity from commercial sources. Not including one-way, receive-only systems such as the Global Broadcast Service, the U.S. Navy currently uses about 256 megabits per second of satellite capacity.

Ratz said the Navy continues to look at commercial Ka-band satellites as a potential source of capacity but that current and planned Ka-band satellites do not offer good coverage of the oceans. In addition, the Ka-band spacecraft now on the horizon use dozens of individual beams, which is not suitable for mobile, oceangoing vessels that constantly move in and out of the coverage area of any single beam.