Inmarsat Courts Developers, Opens Its Satellite Broadband Platform To All

Inmarsat, the UK-based satellite company that provides voice and broadband services to users in the air and on land and sea, is today announcing that it will open its platform for all developers to access. The move is calculated to help the company expand its services beyond its traditional customer base — businesses and individuals in remote areas that terrestrial networks don’t reach — to a new class of always-connected users and use-cases, such as the rise of the Internet of Things.

“We recognise the constant need for people and things to be connected regardless of time or location. We have been providing global mobile connectivity for decades and want to leverage this position to facilitate the development of new applications, enhancing the way in which people interact with our technologies,” said Michele Franci, Inmarsat’s CTO said in a statement.

The company is expected to provide more details of its strategy later today at it Developer Conference, the first time that the company is formally opening its doors to third parties in this way. In line with that, Inmarsat is also opening up a new Certified Application Partner program.

In the past, services that would have been developed using Inmarsat’s telecoms backbone would be done in large, formal partnerships. Opening the platform in the way that they are doing will help Inmarsat widen that funnel considerably.

Traditionally, satellite-based communications services have been too expensive to implement on a mass scale. Partly for this reason, Inmarsat and companies like it will often give their services away for free to aid organisations that would otherwise not be able to afford to take communications services in remote areas (it then charges for the services when they are used by, say, media organizations or other large corporations).

More recently, with the implementation of new technologies, the costs for some of these services have been coming down (the price of voice calls are now closer to that of the average price of an international mobile call). That trend is spurring Inmarsat to consider how else it can develop its business in the future to drive more users (purchasers) of those services. It may not ever be much of a direct-to-consumer company, but Inmarsat is launching the new open source initiative to improve its position in the area of B2B2C.

Inmarsat, which is publicly traded in the UK, currently has a market cap of £3.73 billion ($5.6 billion).

Inmarsat says it will focus its first open platform efforts around Global Xpress, a global, Ka-band high-speed broadband network that was created in part to serve the rush of new in-flight broadband being launched by airlines, and in part to serve a wider range of terrestrial customers with fast, but not exorbitantly priced, satellite broadband services.

Now the idea will be to open that network to others so that they can develop services using this capacity too, either for their own broadband offerings, or for other applications and devices that will require data connectivity no matter where the user is. Global Xpress provides download speeds of 60Mbit/s or more to a 60-cm dish.

If prices for Inmarsat’s phone and broadband services continue to go down, it’s interesting to consider what kinds of applications might potentially get created on the platform. The Internet of Things movement, giving everything and anything a IP life so that objects can “communicate” information to each other, is one obvious area. But there are others.

This recent article from Wired about how a small community off the grid in Mexico is building communications using some open source radio hardware points to how companies or non profits can use the platform to develop small-scale services.

And there is also the net neutrality debate to consider. As businesses worry about how their services might potentially get throttled by carriers unhappy with the data strain, one alternative could be considering how you could leave those terrestrial networks altogether, looking instead into the sky to get to your users.

A video explaining more about Global Xpress below: