Inmarsat has confirmed that it has successfully launched its S-band satellite. This is a satellite which once in place and ready to be utilized will look to provide Europe-wide access to Wi-Fi signals for inflight passengers. The launch of the S-band satellite is the latest development in Inmarsat's 'European Aviation Network,' developed in partnership with Deutsche Telekom.
Although the S-band satellite is now en route, it is not expected to be operational at the consumer level just yet (second half of 2017), once the satellite does reach its final geostationary orbit, it will begin its first proper in-position testing. However, when the service does eventually become operational and consumer-ready, International Airlines Group (IAG) is expected to be the first airline group to make use of the service. This means that airlines including Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, and Vueling, will be the first to offer inflight Wi-Fi based on the S-band satellite. According to the current announcement, IAG is already in the process of kitting out its aircrafts with the necessary receivers, and as much as 90-percent of IAG's aircrafts (that will be operating within the designated area) are expected to be equipped with the necessary hardware by 2019. While IAG only represents a proportion of the airlines who operate within the S-band satellite's jurisdiction, the list is expected to grow substantially in time. With Inmarsat already confirming that it has now received more than 1,200 signed contracts related to the technology. Some of the other confirmed major international airlines include Air New Zealand, Avianca, Deutsche Lufthansa Group, Singapore Airlines, and Qatar Airways.
What makes this approach to inflight Wi-Fi so interesting is that it is a two-pronged approach. While the satellite itself will look to provide usable signals from space, the service will also be bolstered from a ground-based network. This is in fact where Deutsche Telekom comes in, as the German company is responsible for building out the ground-based side of the operation. The two approaches will then work in tandem to ensure that airlines passing through the Europe-wide covered area will receive a seamless and reliable Wi-Fi connection. For reference, the video below is from 2015, although it does provide a good oversight into the ambitions of the European Aviation Network, and what European short-haul travelers can expect once the testing is over and both the space-based and ground-based solutions are in play.