Iridium Certus launches with initial service aimed at maritime, terrestrial applications

Iridium announced the commercial launch of its Iridium Certus broadband service, the first new capability activated from the company's Iridium NEXT program. (Iridium)

It’s finally “go” time for Iridium Communications’ Certus broadband service, the first service to launch using the company’s new $3 billion Iridium NEXT satellite replacement program.

The Certus broadband service isn’t the typical broadband service, however. It’s more specialized, aimed at serving the cockpit of an aircraft, a ship at sea or a utility vehicle traveling through remote territory. First responders also are expected to be heavy users, because they can use it in the event of terrestrial system outages or in places that are not fully equipped with cellular.

The commercial launch announcement follows a global testing phase that included beta trials with live customers; the initial service is targeted at maritime and terrestrial applications, with Certus aviation solutions expected later in 2019 once they’re certified.

“The debut of Iridium Certus is the start of a new chapter in the Iridium story, one that is set to catapult us and our partners forward,” said Iridium CEO Matt Desch in a press release. “At its core, Iridium Certus is an innovation engine for the future. It will enable us to provide broadband connections to teams, vehicles and the important IoT “things” that are in the 80-plus percent of the world that lacks cellular coverage. Adoption of this new service by our partners has already begun, and it has been eagerly anticipated by every target industry. The launch of this service is a huge achievement, and it is already disrupting the status-quo through our smaller, faster, lighter and more cost-effective terminals and service.”

Iridium estimates the L-band specialty broadband market size to be about $700 million today. Before the launch of Iridium Certus, the company had a market share of about $25 million in high-speed maritime services and expects that to grow with this faster and more competitive service.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that a SpaceX rocket had delivered the constellation's last 10 satellites to low-Earth orbit, completing a two-year campaign by Iridium to replace its original fleet with a new generation of technology, and added global aircraft tracking capability. The Iridium NEXT project includes 75 new satellites in orbit; 66 are operational and nine are serving as in-orbit spares.

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Desch told FierceWirelessTech last year that the company does not intend to compete with satellite companies that use K-band spectrum to primarily offer alternatives to cable or fiber, or those talking about providing 5G from space. He considers the cable/fiber alternatives to basically be commodity services. There are those satellite companies that want to serve the passengers in the back of the plane, and then there’s Iridium, which is focused on providing services upfront for the cockpit.

The Iridium Certus terminals are smaller in form factor than previous generations. Terminals are being built by Cobham, Thales, Collins Aerospace, L3, Gogo and Satcom Direct. So far, 36 service providers are authorized by Iridium to provide services around the world.

For internet of things (IoT) applications, the company says Iridium Certus will, in the future, deliver Internet Protocol data applications over smaller, portable and more cost-effective devices to vertical markets such as industrial IoT, forestry, utilities, supervisory control and data acquisition, transportation and construction.

Meanwhile, Iridium plans in the coming year to introduce an even more versatile transceiver that can scale down terminals to smaller, lighter and more portable uses on vehicles, drones, buoys, endangered animals and other things. According to the satellite company, the transceivers will then become part of long-lasting, battery powered devices suited for IoT applications in remote areas.

Iridium said it’s debuting the service, which will feature a variety of speed classes, with the Iridium Certus 350 (352/352 Kbps) offering, which supports capabilities like internet and voice services to compact terminals built for maritime, aviation and terrestrial/vehicle applications. Terminals will be upgradeable to the next speed class—Iridium Certus 700 (352/704 Kbps)—with a firmware update when it’s available.