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Here’s How Intelsat aims to change the Inflight Connectivity for The Better

In 2024, Intelsat expects to receive its first next-generation software-defined satellites. This technology is poised to revolutionize inflight connection with cheaper costs, increased utilization, and the ability to configure in-orbit. But that isn’t the only thing Intelsat is working on to improve our linked lives. NGSOs, 5G connectivity, HAPS, and more are all on the future roadmap — here’s what that means for aviation.

The Revolution in Software-Defined Satellites

From declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy to purchasing Gogo’s commercial aviation division, Intelsat has had a hectic couple of years. The company made an agreement with Airbus to purchase 2 OneSat software-defined spacecraft for its fleet from the start of 2021. Software-defined satellites are widely regarded as the next great breakthrough in satellite communications, boasting in-orbit reconfiguration, cheaper costs and higher utilization.

On the sidelines of Dubai Air Show, Simple Flying spoke with John Wade, who works as the President of the Intelsat’s Commercial Aviation division, to learn more about the advantages of this technology as well as what it implies for commercial aviation. “We’re on the verge of a very exciting period of satellite evolution,” he said, “that will truly take passenger IFC connectivity to the next generation of where we’ve been in the past.” Until now, practically every network you’ve set up has been quite static in terms of capacity and coverage. You can install capacity where it’s needed in real-time in the software-defined world. As a result, the networks become extremely dynamic.”

Providers can even aim specific capacity at individual aircraft using software-defined satellite technology, according to Wade. This would be groundbreaking, allowing a widebody carrying long-distance passengers to carry more passengers than a small plane flying nearby. Modifying and populating these satellites with new programs and instructions also makes them significantly more future-proof.

However, software-defined satellites are appealing to aviation for reasons other than technology. These new vessels will be far less expensive to build, and with better utilization on cards, they will also be less expensive to operate. Airline customers may expect onboard WiFi to be cheaper, possibly even free, and with significantly greater speeds as well as reliability than what is currently available.

To begin, Intelsat is investing in 2 software-defined satellites, which are scheduled to launch in 2024. With time, deployment will pick up, and the whole Intelsat fleet will be replaced with these next-generation systems.


Increasing the level of seamless connectedness

Intelsat’s ‘network of networks is made up of several different aspects. However, the corporation has big hopes for its commercial aviation services. Wade discussed non-geostationary orbit designs, MEO versus LEO, and multi-band options. That’s something we should expect to hear more about in the coming months.