MSUA Member Interview | Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch; Inmarsat’s U.S. Government Business Unit
Catherine: Rebecca it is great to connect with you. I always appreciate
hearing your perspective and feel I learn something new each time you are
interviewed. As MSUA is focused on mobility market development, I have a
dashboard of eight related questions and a bonus question at the end.
As MSUA’s mission is to promote mobility innovation and mobility market
development, what do you believe to be the most significant drivers in each
area to the U.S. Government?
Rebecca: As recent events have demonstrated, global conflicts and catastrophes
emerge swiftly and unpredictably, which means government and military users must
stand ready to deploy “anytime/anywhere.” Whether on land, at sea or in the air, they
need to share information in real-time while heading to their next mission, and stay
connected while they are there. Given that these units are always moving across the
globe, there is a growing sense of urgency for high-performing satellite communications
(SATCOM) voice, data and video that “moves” with them. A dropped connection could
jeopardize the mission.
This is why military operational tempo and highly mobile applications merit reliable and
available wideband mobility and solutions for increased agility and worldwide portability.
Investments and innovation within the industry allow the Department of Defense (DoD)
to strategically leverage complementary commercial satellite communications
(COMSATCOM) systems. This boosts the effectiveness, flexibility and redundancy of
military satellite communications (MILSATCOM) systems for dynamic and global
Inmarsat SATCOM as a Service – with always-on access to satellite capability, anytime –
plays a huge role here, delivering guaranteed data rates to satisfy requirements at a
moment’s notice, worldwide. With solid service level agreements (SLAs) and committed
information rates (CIRs), users get what they need, and the quality of the acquired
service is assured, no matter where they are. Through SATCOM as a Service, users
leverage COMSATCOM for core functions, while seamlessly integrating with MILSATCOM
to address any remaining gaps for optimal redundancy, diversity, protection, scalability
and global portability – the ultimate resiliency approach.
Catherine: As take-up of Global Xpress in the U.S. Government grows, are
users coming from new as well as traditional user segments?
Rebecca: Because it is designed for worldwide mobility, Global Xpress has drawn a
significant number of new as well as traditional government customers. They are drawn
to its unique reliability, affordability and seamless interoperability with military satellite
So, to answer your question directly, yes, Global Xpress is in service today and
supporting many of the most important platforms and missions. Worldwide mobility
drives every mission today and is the core of Inmarsat steady vison and strategy – this
resonates with both our government users as well as our commercial markets.
And this is only the beginning of growth for this relatively new capability even as we
continue to enhance the service while we invest for the future. The fourth Global Xpress
satellite is finishing up in orbit testing and an additional Global Xpress satellite is planned
to launch in 2019 to provide additional capacity throughout the Middle East, Europe and
Indian subcontinent. Two Inmarsat-6 satellites – our first dual payload covering both
L-band and Ka-band spectrum – are under construction. Following launch, they will add
depth and breadth to the capacity of the existing Global Xpress constellation as well
continues our investment in our L-band capabilities We expect to deliver the first
satellite, Inmarsat-6 F1, in 2020.
Catherine: What differentiates Global Xpress amongst other HTS services in
terms of your service delivery?
Rebecca: In short, I will answer your question with three words: mobile, global, trusted
service that is a reality today.
To elaborate, Global Xpress is the first and only end-to-end, commercial Ka-band
network from a single operator with reliable, worldwide service. As a result, Inmarsat is
bringing the benefits of seamless, high-throughput wideband connectivity,
complementing U.S. government MILSATCOM and delivering a commercial Ka-band
network that consistently meets mobile, on-demand communications needs.
To break it down further, Global Xpress offers unprecedented and reliable throughput
for worldwide mobility because it is supported by a fully redundant ground infrastructure
for resilience. This advanced capability stands in contrast to legacy broadcast-centric,
fixed transponder leases which force agencies to acquiring large amounts of bandwidth
in a piecemeal manner, putting them in the unfortunate position of having to “guess” as
to how much bandwidth they will need and over which region. This has proved to be
inefficient and costly in an era when more relevant options are available that are more
flexible and affordable.
Because Global Xpress is acquired on a subscription basis, users no longer have to lease
prepositioned capacity by guessing where the next conflict will be, or compete on the
spot market for unanticipated access. Rather, the subscriptions are underpinned by
powerful, industry-leading SLAs with CIRs to ensure guaranteed performance, so
expectations and needs are met when and where required. For further enhanced
resiliency and frequency diversity, users can add Broadband Global Area Network
(BGAN) for a seamless L/Ka-band hybrid solution. Our business model is similar to
traditional telecommunication services that employ managed, end-to-end networks.
The managed service approach for Global Xpress provides the complete, end-to-end
mobility solution from a single operator, supporting essential communications and
In addition, the approach frees up military personnel from the administration of
disparate networks, allowing them to focus on their primary military mission-critical
Finally, the Global Xpress combined ground infrastructure and network is easy to use
and oversee, with terminals enabled by one touch commissioning for BGAN-style ease of
operation. It is also interoperable – the only worldwide commercial satellite network that
augments government MILSATCOM Ka-band systems such as Wideband Global SATCOM
Catherine: With Inmarsat’s strong push into commercial aero mobility, can
you tell us how you see DoD leveraging your experience to meet their needs?
Rebecca: I can provide you with recent example of an “around the world” test on a VIP
aircraft, which demonstrated the reliable connectivity of Global Xpress. The system
traveled a total of 25,732 miles. Throughout it all, Global Xpress “aced” the test,
demonstrating seamless coverage with consistent service for the entire journey, along
with beam-to-beam and three satellite-to-satellite handovers that were accomplished
successfully in less than one minute. Global Xpress met the objective CIR, with 4 Mbps
forward traffic during 99.99 percent of the route and 1 Mbps return traffic on 99.78
This level of uninterrupted access to support the full range of communication
requirements with “one system/one terminal” uniform performance was heretofore only
a dream. However, Global Xpress has made it a reality. This is exciting because
governments are embarking upon efforts to explore the best manner to recapitalize for
their connectivity, and this capability provided by Inmarsat can speed up aircraft
connections by an order of magnitude or more.
Catherine: What do you think the broadband connectivity of tomorrow will
look like three years from now once there’s a myriad of Ka, Ku, MEO and LEO
options available to US Government users?
Rebecca: The satellite industry offers a wide range of capable solution sets well suited
for government applications. Companies simultaneously pursue innovation throughout
the ground, terminal and space segments – leading to full end-to-end capability that is
interoperable with existing MILSATCOM to empower users with the most flexible and
immediate of protected technologies.
Additionally, newer business models such as SATCOM as a Service are ideally suited for
what the government is exploring to add greater efficiencies and responsiveness to the
DoD requirements, providing enhanced resilience.
In fact, the ongoing Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) for wideband satellite on the part of
the DoD includes industry participation to determine the right way forward, rather than
simply buying more DoD-owned, purpose-built space assets. As part of its analysis, the
U.S. Air Force is also exploring alternative business relationships with SATCOM suppliers
rather than the traditional and dated Ku-band transponder leasing of the extended past.
It is now widely acknowledged that commercial Ka-band proves essential for an
integrated architecture. It has demonstrated its superiority as a readily available,
dependable, flexible and affordable SATCOM option, a position well-established through
the government’s own investment in Ka-band on WGS. The time has arrived for military
and industry partners to work together to create the best Ka-band environment possible
for all concerned parties.
Catherine: Rupert Pearce recently indicated that Inmarsat aims to be a major
player in the connected transportation industry. What level of interest does
the U.S. Government have in this potential new capability and how would
they make use of it?
Rebecca: We believe the government is very interested in this “new frontier,” and we
have invested considerably to stake our claim as a trusted partner here. Inmarsat has
compiled a proven track record in supporting mission-critical operations such as Airborne
Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AISR), Very Important Persons Special
Airlift Missions (VIPSAM), emergency response/public safety as well as Blue Force
Tracking (BFT) for nearly a generation, delivering reliable, secure connectivity from
wideband to narrowband.
Inmarsat systems are designed for mobile users, and this will carry over to future
connected transportation innovation. Global Xpress’ spot beam architecture supports a
uniform distribution of power for consistent, uninterrupted connectivity. Furthermore, its
steerable spot beams allow for greater jam resistance, with the ability to direct its spot
beams to respond to a jamming, denial-of-service environment or to provide additional
capacity in surge spots, something that is valuable not only for our commercial
customers but specifically for our military and our special operations users.
For those users, terminal size and power are important as well, to achieve the data rates
required to accomplish the mission, yet at a size which does not make the vehicle a
more obvious target for the enemy. Inmarsat works with the military community to
ensure that power is efficient and that the terminal does not take away from the main
function of the vehicle.
Catherine: Like broadband services, ground equipment is facing similar
disruption with the seemingly near term introduction of flat panel antennas.
What does the future of mobility equipment hold for the next generation
Rebecca: Key challenge for communications on the move is around size, weight and
power (SWaP). Inmarsat and its partners are deploying innovative, advanced SATCOM
equipment that include new, small footprint antennas, all Type Approved by Inmarsat.
From commencement of the one-touch commissioning process to network service
enablement, there is no requirement for the terminal user to enter manual terminal
configuration parameters, contact the network operations center for permission to
commission, or conduct manual terminal peaking with the satellite operator. This feature
provides unprecedented ease of use and deployment flexibility for Global Xpress
Inmarsat continues to provide services that are relevant to government requirements
and are designed for every aspect of military users-on-the-move missions – from M2M
to high-throughput data and video distribution for mobile platforms.
With regard to L-band, we have focused on a number of key areas of innovation. Our Lband
Tactical Satellite (L-TAC) offers global, beyond line of site communications on the
move for UHF and VHF military tactical radio users. Operations on Inmarsat-4 narrow
beams and synthesized beams are made possible with an add-on kit which includes
omni-directional antennas. With Wideband Streaming L-band (WiSL), we have
developed an award-winning solution built to critical government requirements for ultrasmall
terminals and high-speed connectivity. We accomplished this with Inmarsat’s
worldwide L-band space and ground network through micro antennas – as small as five
inches – with data rates as high as 10Mbps x 10Mbps.
Lastly, our Government Modem Manager (G-MODMAN) is a highly adaptable, wideband
solution built to satisfy specific government challenges, seamlessly integrating with
existing antenna control systems, giving mobile users and antenna integrators access to
the Global Xpress network.
These technological and now-operational innovations blur the lines between narrow and
wideband, certainly challenging the efficacy of archaic system differentiators.
Catherine: How will do you envision satellite connectivity integrating with the
terrestrial wireless world of the future?
Rebecca: The future is happening now: Through SATCOM as a Service, we have
established a mobile experience that is quite similar to moving around the globe with a
cellphone. As indicated, our business model closely aligns with terrestrial or wireless
telecommunication infrastructures, which employs managed end-to-end networks. By
developing SATCOM capability in a holistic, managed service model, we have created an
optimal state of efficiency and functionality – delivering a maximum user experience
while saving government resources.
Catherine: Thank you Rebecca for your insights on the mobility market
and for your engagement with MSUA. Inmarsat is a long-standing, valued
member of MSUA and your personal involvement is dearly appreciated
Speaking of personal, you are well known in the industry as an
on-the-move professional. But what about personally -- what’s your
chosen form of recreational mobility and is there any connection
between your professional and personal interests in this realm?
Rebecca: As we are rapidly approaching fall, I must admit that I love this time of year.
One reason in particular is that camping in the fall is beyond compare. As the weather
cools, the humidity begins to dissipate, and the leaves begin to change my husband and
I love to pack up and head out on the weekends to go camping.
In this area, within an easy 3-4 hour radius, the options of places to visit and things to
see is nearly limitless – and we do enjoy the quest. Now before anyone gets the wrong
impression, when I say “camping” I will confess that my days of tent camping and
roughing it are long since passed. Rather we “glamp” in our “Ritz on wheels”, our 40ft
RV with all the comforts of home.
Heading to the mountains or to the beach or to historic sites, it is fantastic to get away
from DC and from the daily work grind just to relax and enjoy the outdoors for the
weekend. Although, admittedly as I am in the mobile comms business, I can be
reached anywhere. Nonetheless – these mini-vacations to explore and unplug are
restorative and thoroughly enjoyable.