Inmarsat loses GDMSS monopoly as Iridium and BeiDou enter maritime safety market

23 May 2018 | James Pearce


Satellite firm Inmarsat has seen its global monopoly over the maritime distress signal industry broken after the UN opened up the contract to rivals Iridium and BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.

Inmarsat satellite 160x186The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee has agreed to add Iridium to the contract as supplier of distress signal equipment to the maritime industry. The IMO also agreed to adopt a “statement of recognition” proposed by the United States.

Iridium said the MSC’s decision “ends a decades-long satellite industry monopoly” which saw UK-based Inmarsat as the only company authorised to provide satellite GMDSS services.

“This is a historic moment for the maritime industry and an honor for Iridium to be the second ever recognized provider for GMDSS services,” said Bryan Hartin, executive vice president, Iridium. 

“This is the dawn of a new era for mariner safety. We’ll bring a new choice and upgraded capabilities for mariners along with our truly global coverage that will for the first time extend the reach of satellite-based GMDSS to even the most remote waterways.”

Iridium said it plans to launch a service in 2020, while BeiDou could not be reached for comment. Inmarsat offered its congratulations to rivals, and announced the launch of its own new safety service. It already offers services to 160,000 vessels worldwide, which it provides at no charge.

“I would like to congratulate Iridium on achieving approval from the IMO to take their GMDSS proposals to the next stage,” said Ronald Spithout, president of Inmarsat Maritime, “and also congratulate BeiDou Navigation Satellite System on their successful request for GMDSS evaluation by the NCSR sub-committee.   We look forward to welcoming them both as GMDSS service providers in the coming years.

“Together, we must strive to maintain and enhance the exceptionally high standards required by the IMO and demanded by the maritime industry as the lifeline for seafarers at sea.”

For Iridium, the announcement came as it completed the launch of five NEXT satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellites will form part of a 10-strong constellation which will provide aviation, maritime, land mobile, and internet of things connectivity, including Iridium’s broadband offering Certus.

The $3 billion NEXT project is scheduled for completion this year and will bring users an upgraded infrastructure using Iridium’s L-band spectrum, but with higher throughputs and faster speeds. It claims.