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AIAA 2015-4303

International Communications Satellite Systems Conferences (ICSSC)


September 7-10, 2015, Queensland, Australia
33rd AIAA International Communications Satellite Systems Conference and Exhibition

Inmarsat Global Xpress: The Design, Implementation, and


Activation of a Global Ka-Band Network

Peter J. Hadinger1
Inmarsat, Inc., Washington, DC, 20036

With the introduction of cost-effective wideband communications satellites, the technical and
business models of the Fixed Satellite Service are rapidly being transformed to adopt
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Infrastructure-as-a-Service approaches pioneered by Mobile Satellite Service operators in


order to meet increasing demand for high-bandwidth connectivity while on the move. The
unique challenges of global service delivery are met through a blend of new spacecraft
technology and new cloud computing paradigms.

I. Introduction

I nworldwide
2010, Inmarsat commenced its fifth-generation satellite program, Global Xpress (GX), to create a new class of
satellite communications service. The impetus for this program was tied to market demand for high-
speed, fixed and mobile connectivity for business, military, and humanitarian operations around the world. System
design was guided by a careful assessment of user requirements and technical possibilities, with the primary
objectives of delivering global coverage, wideband connectivity, and applications for on-the-move users to very
high service standards. Just as in terrestrial mobile systems, this requires delivering managed end-to-end networks,
where satellite connectivity is only one element of a complete mobility solution that supports higher level
applications on a global basis.
Conventional fixed-satellite service (FSS) networks separate the space segment, consisting of satellites with
many transponding repeaters, from the ground network, which includes gateway stations with customer-unique
modems and networking equipment. While this allows each customer to tailor their own network design, it results in
high equipment and maintenance costs due to the large number of silo networks. Customers with high availability
requirements must bear the further cost of duplicated equipment and terrestrial networks for redundancy. Finally, the
dedicated network model also results in low space segment efficiency since the bandwidth for each network is
leased and unused capacity cannot be shared.
In a manner similar to cloud computing, an optimized, globally-managed satellite network can be designed using
an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model. Inmarsat pioneered this model in the 1980s with the introduction of the
first global mobile-satellite service (MSS) network designed to meet the safety needs of the worlds maritime fleets.
At this time, Inmarsat was an intergovernmental organization with over 80 member states and national telephone
regulations required domestic operators with dedicated satellite earth stations in many of these countries. As time
progressed, the global deregulation of telecommunications led to consolidation of both operators and infrastructure.
With the introduction of its fourth generation global MSS system (the Inmarsat-4 constellation) in 2005, Inmarsat
was able to deliver global coverage from just two earth station locations (plus redundant facilities) per satellite.
In the same span of time, the capabilities of the space segment of the network the satellites had also
undergone tremendous transformation. Early L-band MSS satellites had low-gain, low-power global coverage
beams that limited communications bandwidth to a few kbps data and single voice channels. Subsequent
improvements in satellite technology resulted in an order of magnitude increase in capacity with each generation
through higher spacecraft power and larger antennas, which permitted increasingly narrow beams. Besides
improving the data rate for individual users, the multiple beams also permitted frequency re-use, which greatly
increased overall system capacity. As shown in Fig. 1, the Inmarsat-4 global coverage now has hundreds of narrow
spot beams that cover the globe in a manner similar to a terrestrial cellular network. In fact, the Inmarsat Broadband
Global Area Network (BGAN) is based on the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) mobile network standards
and thus can evolve its services as those standards change to support new applications, while maintaining the
reliability required by safety services that now include aeronautical in addition to maritime users.

1
President, U.S. Government Business Unit, 1101 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1200
1
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Copyright 2015 by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Figure 1. Current Inmarsat-4 global spot beam coverage.

By taking advantage of an open standard architecture, delivered on a global basis, Inmarsat customers have
realized tremendous savings from the existing IaaS MSS architecture. Unlike conventional FSS, there is no need to
lease bandwidth so there is no pre-commitment to either equipment or capacity new services can be established
very quickly and cost-effectively on-demand. The cost savings from more efficient use of a spectrum and a shared
capacity pool are also dramatic, with significant decline in capacity price with each generation.
Still, cost differences between FSS and MSS have remained, largely as a consequence of the limited spectrum
available in traditional MSS bands. Inmarsats fifth-generation (Inmarsat-5) satellite system known as Global
Xpress (GX) - opens up an order of magnitude more spectrum in the Ka-band. With the commencement of regional
GX services, to soon be followed by a fully global service, Inmarsat has now brought the capabilities of fully
managed MSS, with all of its ease of use and mobility benefits, to a global wideband network that exceeds a
patchwork of silo FSS networks on the basis of cost and capability. This paper outlines how the lessons of MSS
IaaS have been incorporated into the FSS domain to create a unique global wideband platform for mobility.

II. Designing for Mobility

Design for global mobility clearly begins with the space and ground segment elements that provide globally
available and seamless connectivity through a network of advanced communications satellites in geostationary Earth
orbit (GEO). Typically three satellites are required to provide global coverage between 65 degrees North and South
latitudes, which represents almost all of the worlds inhabited land area, as well as trade routes. Unlike conventional
FSS satellites, however, which focus their beams and capacity on areas of high economic activity, a design based on
MSS principles must cover the entire GEO-visible field of view. This is because continuous connectivity is of
paramount importance to MSS users.
The design of the Inmarsat-4 satellites took this into account and addressed the problem with very flexible
satellites, incorporating digital beamforming and on-board signal processing that could shift capacity and power on-
demand. Inmarsat is fortunate to have decades of data which have built a rich library of global bandwidth use
statistics. Because most of our traffic is managed, we have very good fidelity on the geography and time profile of
capacity demand, whether the daily ebb and flow of maritime and aviation traffic or the sudden bursts and gradual
decline of emergency traffic due to a disaster or security event. This rich set of data has allowed the development
and refinement of automated tools that permit Inmarsat system operators to make both long-term and short-term
capacity plans that optimize resource utilization and thus improve user experience and overall service cost
effectiveness.
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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
One of the characteristics seen, as one would expect, is the extreme lumpiness of traffic geographically. While
maritime users pay for MSS to ensure coverage in deep oceans, the majority of ship time is spent near coastlines or
in very well defined shipping corridors. The same is true for land and aviation users, which follow well-known
patterns of use. Displays, such as the one shown in Fig. 2, provide a real-time look at bandwidth utilization by
mobile users and permit optimization of frequency re-use plans and network capacity. The shared IaaS nature of
Inmarsats network permits space and ground resources to be redistributed as demand shifts.
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Figure 2. Real-time traffic monitoring supports bandwidth optimization.

In the recent case of an earthquake in Nepal, which occurred mid-day on April 25, satellite kits were deployed
within hours and traffic growth began within a day. Using the combined resources of three satellites, spectrum and
power were re-allocated to provide coverage of Nepals mountainous terrain from multiple aspect angles. Figure 3
shows an example of the Nepal traffic growth on one of those satellites. These experiences drove the design for GX.

Figure 3. 2015 Nepal earthquake response.


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Applying these experiences to the design of a wideband Ka-band system for mobility resulted in prioritizing
three key attributes continuous global coverage, consistently high performance, and quick-reaction surge
capability for hot spots. Unlike phone calls or metered data needs as seen in L-band MSS, high-throughput FSS
users would access service via continuously-connected subscriptions. These subscriptions are underpinned by
meaningful and Industry-leading Service Level Agreements (SLAs) offering both maximum and committed
information rates (MIR/CIR) to ensure a users expectations and needs are met.
To meet global coverage requirements, the Inmarsat-5 satellites (delivering the Global Xpress service) were
designed with 89 nested spot beams that cover almost all of the visible earth. These Global Service Beams (GSB)
are primarily intended to provide the seamless mobility functions, and the links use adaptive modulation and coding
to support a wide range of terminal sizes and propagation conditions through common channels. Up to 72 of these
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beams can be active at any given time on a satellite, permitting adjustment of coverage to match traffic density
variations across the globe. Figure 4 shows the resulting coverage of the first three satellites.

Figure 4. Coverage of three Inmarsat-5 Ka-band spacecraft.

Historically, broad area oceanic coverage has been provided by FSS using low-gain beams. This approach has
proven insufficient for meeting the bandwidth and efficiency demands of the market. Furthermore, the performance
seen by users may vary as much as an order of magnitude (10dB) between the edge of coverage and the beam
center. This variation in performance makes it nearly impossible to guarantee a high-performance SLA over a broad
area of coverage. Inmarsats GX satellite design uses two calibrated sets of nested feed horn arrays to precisely
interleave beams so that a seamless coverage pattern results. A sample of the pattern, shown in Fig. 5, illustrates
how users stay within 2dB of peak performance at all times. This allows terminal manufacturers to design for an
optimum performance point and ensures that user applications enjoy consistent results. Even very small user
terminals, on the order of 60cm, can consistently achieve up to 50 Mbps forward and multiple Mbps return rates on
a worldwide basis.

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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
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Figure 5. Consistent performance Global Service Beams for mobility.

To effectively handle hot spots, the GX satellites include multiple steerable spot beams as part of a High
Capacity Payload (HCP). These beams permit up to 8X capacity surge in a beam area for commercial users. The
frequency plan is chosen to permit user terminals in a congested area to tune into the added spot beam frequencies
under the control of the Global Resource Manager (GRM), which tracks and adjusts the amount of capacity
available in each geographic area under the satellites. The combination of GSB and HCP resources ensures
consistently high performance whether a user is remote or in a busy spot, thus facilitating true CIR SLA delivery.
The spot beams also provide access to military Ka-band frequencies for government use.

Figure 6. Steerable Spot Beams for capacity surge.


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All of these mobility features are made possible by the common IaaS nature of the GX design, which draws
much more heavily on its MSS history than on FSS. Using a shared pool of bandwidth, rather than leases, it is
possible to create a robust shared infrastructure of adaptive modems and networking equipment that seamlessly
move user networks around the world without the need for many individual teleports, mix of satellites, and the
resulting uncertainty in performance that have typically plagued conventional FSS mobility solutions.

III. Realizing a Robust Network

An IaaS managed satellite network is far more than the sum of its satellites. In fact, most of the value of IaaS is
in the consolidation and sharing of the ground station hardware and backhaul network. By specifying and
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implementing a network based on Digital Video Broadcasting - Satellite - Second Generation (DVB-S2) forward
links and adaptive Multi-Frequency, Time Division Multiple Access (MF-TDMA) return links, every element of the
ground network becomes virtualized and shared among a number of simultaneous users. This results in highly
efficient resource utilization, easy sparing for redundancy and a common technology base for implementing
software upgrades in both the hub and terminal devices. The ability to push terminal upgrades across the network
ensures that even remote, unattended locations will benefit from network improvements and new services and that
security issues can be addressed network-wide, eliminating the problem of having unpatched legacy devices in the
system.
A highly robust ground segment is needed to meet Inmarsats safety-of-life obligations, as well as to provide the
high network availability demanded by the market. By locating hot-standby Satellite Access Stations (SAS) in the
feeder link footprint, user links can be automatically and transparently handed over in seconds, ensuring resilience
against weather, local disasters, as well as maintenance and occasional downtime. While incredibly difficult to do
for individual lease-based networks in traditional FSS, the integrated IaaS network of managed services can do this
regularly. Such flexibility and resilience through diversity also permits operators to schedule maintenance and
upgrades in a manner that does not interrupt ongoing services. Inmarsat has placed two SASs in view of each GX
satellite and operates them together as an integrated pair with immediate fail-over in the event of an outage. These
are interconnected with each other and with a regional Meet Me Point (MMP) via a diverse multi-Gbps
multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) ring. The MMPs, which provide access to customer networks, the Internet,
and public telephone systems, are interconnected with each other using a similar diversity ring. A holistic global
ground network design, illustrated in Fig. 7, that is based and routed through trusted countries, provides consistent
performance and security regardless of a users location and the configuration of the network at any given time.

Figure 7. Implementing a resilient ground network for global wideband connectivity.

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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
An additional feature of an MSS-based managed network design is the ability to seamlessly incorporate multiple
additional networks into a consolidated service. This is best illustrated by the combination of Inmarsats L-band
MSS network and GX into an offering that provides the highest degree of network resilience available. Adding
additional satellite and entry point diversity inherently makes an operators back-end network more resilient. The
unique combination of the diverse bands and offset coverage of the Inmarsat-4 and Inmarsat-5 constellations means
that the network is also far more resilient at the user-end with total weather resilience, reduced sensitivity to look-
angle blockage, network continuity during satellite-to-satellite handovers, and terminal equipment redundancy, the
scheme meets and exceeds rigorous standards such as the United States Department of Defense Mission Assurance
Category-1 (MAC-1) requirements.
Behind the physically-resilient network is a virtual network that manages the dynamic routing of specific user
virtual local area networks (VLANs) through the global infrastructure (Fig. 8). Besides handling switching between
Ka and L-band routing, this virtualization also delivers Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service
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(PaaS) cloud solutions, such as voice calling into the telephone network, media multicast, prepaid services, and a
host of differentially managed data streams. For example, it may be that a ship at sea has a single terminal but
carries navigation data for the captain, cargo status for the shipping company, engine data for the maintenance firm,
and entertainment for the crew. Some of these may be paid by subscription, others by the bit, still others may be
subsidized by advertising or have specific usage caps, latency or delivery performance specifications. A Network
Service Device (NSD) at each terminal, acting as the remote end of the IaaS cloud, manages all of these disparate
services and SLAs in concert with the global network so that each user experiences the service in a different way but
the infrastructure cost, support, and security is shared.

Figure 8. Intelligent end-user devices create global virtual networks.

IV. Maintaining Security

All of the rich and robust features of a global IaaS network would be put at risk if there were not deep layers of
security designed into the system from the outset. User information security starts with trusted equipment vendors
throughout the data path who build to U.S. FIPS 140 standards, highly secure facilities that meet U.S. DoD
protection criteria, controlled data routing that traverses only known and trusted locations and all enhanced by
embedded AES-256 encryption throughout the satellite and terrestrial links.
Inmarsat commands its satellites and network through secure links from redundant and trusted facilities, and GX
has been designed to conform to over 120 security controls derived from globally recognized standards such as the
National Information Assurance Policy for Space Systems used to Support National Security Missions (also
known as CNSSP 12); the Information Assurance (IA) Policy for Space Systems Used by the Department of
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Defense (DoDD 8581.1); and the Minimum Security Requirements for Federal Information and Information
Systems (FIPS 200). The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) have issued complementary security control requirements described in Information Assurance
Implementation (DoDI 8500.2) and Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems and
Organizations (SP 800-53). The security management infrastructures conform to ISO/IEC 27000 and U.S. NIST
800 series requirements.

V. Conclusion

With the introduction of Global Xpress, Inmarsat continues to advance the development of the worlds most
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complete global mobility solutions. The experiences derived from owning and operating the Inmarsat-4 satellite and
network resources to provide trusted connectivity worldwide are now being integrated into a complementary global
Ka-band network to deliver mobile users higher throughput and cost efficiency worldwide. Building on the
significant investment in the existing L-band constellation, the next-generation Global Xpress system represents a
tremendous leap forward in capabilities. Ka-band broadband services for airborne, maritime, and land users will be
available anywhere on the GEO-visible globe with a common, standard user terminal architecture. Global managed
services in commercial bands, coupled with leased and managed services in MILSATCOM-interoperable military
bands will provide commercial and government users with a wide range of resilient and competitively priced high-
rate services. The first phases of the Inmarsat-5 constellation are in service today, and the system is expected to
provide global coverage by the end of 2015.

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