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5G

Could Inmarsat offer the world's best private 5G network?

Rajeev Suri appears to be plotting a comeback.

After leaving his position as CEO of 5G equipment vendor Nokia following some high-profile product missteps, Suri became the CEO of longtime satellite Internet provider Inmarsat earlier this year.

On Thursday, he announced Inmarsat's plan to launch "a service unmatched by any competitor offering, planned or in existence," one that would offer "the lowest average latency and fastest average speeds with unique resilience."

He's calling it "Orchestra."

"An orchestra brings different instruments together, each supporting the other and playing its role in the masterpiece. We're building Orchestra on the same concept," Suri said in a release. "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."

Private 5G with mesh networking

Inmarsat has committed $100 million over the next five years to construct the network. It will feature Inmarsat's existing constellation of geosynchronous (GEO) satellites with around 150-175 new low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that are scheduled to launch by 2026. Importantly, it will also feature a terrestrial, ground-based 5G network in select locations.

"Inmarsat does intend to build out our own [ground-based 5G] infrastructure in targeted areas like ports, straits and airports where we can see benefit to addressing dense demand and thus offloading the space segment," a company spokesperson explained in an email to Light Reading. "It will not be a public 5G network but a private network based on 5G technology and dedicated to serving our mobility customers."

Inmarsat "is likely to have many interested dance partners," Suri told Bloomberg.

Importantly, Inmarsat is not targeting Orchestra at the consumer market. Instead, the company said it will be available to its existing customer base that includes marine shipping companies, airlines, broadcasting companies, government agencies and others.

And partly as a result, the company is touting a "dynamic mesh network" approach to communications for such customers. According to Inmarsat, the technology "allows individual customer terminals to direct traffic to and from other customer terminals. This means that a ship within reach of a 5G ground station can receive ample capacity for its own needs as well as route capacity onwards to other vessels beyond terrestrial reach. This effectively creates a mobile web of terminals that extend the network's reach and improve its performance and resilience."

An increasingly crowded market

Thus, Inmarsat is not directly joining consumer-facing LEO providers like SpaceX's Starlink. Instead, it's going after some of the enterprise markets targeted by the likes of OneWeb and Telesat.

Inmarsat's new Orchestra plan is not necessarily a complete surprise. In comments to Light Reading earlier this year, the company hinted that its spectrum and services could be paired with 5G operations via the 3GPP's new Release 17 specifications. "With areas of the globe not covered by cellphone services and other areas not covered by adequate roaming arrangements, satellite does offer a strong option to close this gap, especially for IoT or emergency operations," the company said at the time.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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