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Global Eagle open to collaborating on GX+ North America solution

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Global Eagle is open to collaborating with Inmarsat and Hughes Network Systems as they work to bring the new GX+ North America Ka-band inflight connectivity solution to market.

The Los Angeles-based company has long touted band agnosticism and advocated for open architecture IFC platforms. And GX+ North America is being positioned by Inmarsat as a more open solution than, say, what Viasat offers.

“We’ve had a long-standing relationship with Hughes. We think highly of their technology and highly of Inmarsat, what they’ve been able to accomplish”, Global Eagle CEO Josh Marks told Runway Girl Network.

He added: “We think that the ability to bring together different Ka-band platforms opens up a range of opportunities. And it remains to be seen how they’ll work through integrators or go it alone and try to do it direct.”

Different parties working together is a necessary strategic development in the space and creates a positive landscape for Global Eagle.

We’re in an environment now, under COVID, where the value chain has to be reassessed. And what we all care about is that the business models are profitable for the airlines, the integrators and satellite operators.

There’s a lot of art and science that goes into [implementing] an IFC program successfully for airlines. There is a lot of knowhow that requires an integrator. It’s not just about bolting an antenna on an aircraft.

Speaking broadly, the Global Eagle CEO said we should expect to “see more collaboration across the value chain”. And he believes Inmarsat shares that general view.

While Inmarsat has said it will be “the overall deliverer” of the GX+ North America service, it stressed that it will enable airlines to “have more flexibility in partners of their choice”.

“That gets very difficult if you’re talking about large things like terminals,” said Philip Balaam, president of Inmarsat Aviation, “but if you’re talking software providers, portal providers, then our overall system and overall approach is one of more partnering than total control…”

However, he noted to RGN: “There’s no intention to work with Gogo, for example, in the example you’ve given.”

Indeed, the GX+ North America service will compete with Gogo for aircraft tails, as Gogo is being acquired by satellite operator Intelsat.

GX+ North America, with hardware from ThinKom Solutions and Kontron, will be installed and integrated by Dallas-based GDC Technics.

But Global Eagle sees itself as uniquely positioned to aid like-minded IFC stakeholders in delivering the quality of experience that passengers demand in “the last mile” of the service, where it really counts, president Per Norén told RGN.

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Marks followed up, noting that Global Eagle takes its role in “serving the last mile to the passenger very seriously” so making software defined networks a reality, enhancing the portfolio, getting the network to the level needed “no matter which satellite or platform” and ensuring the user experience is “seamless and fast”.

“And again, where we started the conversation on the ecosystem – ultimately you could have an aircraft that could be accessing three or four high-speed satellites … Keep in mind, we’re only at the early innings of the technology evolution that’s coming. And now you have Low Earth Orbit satellites, so the way you bring the bits together, the technology behind that, becomes more important than the satellite itself. And as we interact with airlines, that’s where our unique value proposition [comes into play].

Global Eagle has evaluated the ThinKom antenna in the past and thinks it’s a good platform. “The technology improvements of the [ThinKom] Ka2517 compared to the Ku3030 are notable,” said Marks.

For Global Eagle’s own IFC installs, the company remains focused on “linefit” and “interoperability of parts with our large fleets”, he said. It continues to make enhancements to its Qest-made platform and believes its current antenna provides the efficiency and performance needed “for the next several years” and allows Global Eagle to look at the ESAs for the next big architecture move.

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