Innovation in Fairfax County: Inmarsat Government

Inmarsat Government makes satellite communications possible for U.S. government, military, first responders

All the resources in the world won't do the U.S. government, its military or first responders much good without a communications system that is fast, reliable, resilient and available globally, in virtually all places at all times. That's where Inmarsat comes in.

Headquartered in Reston, Inmarsat Government, a wholly-owned subsidiary of London-based Inmarsat plc, is a leading provider of global satellite communication services.

The company has been in Fairfax County for more than a decade and employs about 100 in its Reston facility, which has been its home for the last five years. That makes perfect sense, because Inmarsat's single largest customer, far and away, is the federal government.

To learn more, E-Bird Extra spoke to Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch, Inmarsat Government's senior vice president for government strategy and policy.

E-Bird Extra: Can you explain what Inmarsat Government does?

Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch: Inmarsat Government is responsible for providing mobile satellite communications for the United States government, principally for national security or military users, but also for first responders as well as public safety officials. The U.S. government has relied on and trusted Inmarsat satellite services since 1979.

EE: What takes place in the Reston office?

RC: In our Fairfax County office, we actually have a wide variety of operations. We house our network operations center, where we ensure that our satellite communications are operating to provide the services they are expected to provide with the quality of service that we anticipate. We also have business development as well as government relations officers here. We do all our marketing and communications and a wide range of engineering to provide technical solutions for government operations.

EE: What do you consider the most innovative aspect of your company?

RC: First and foremost, it's the satellites themselves. The satellites operate at geostationary orbit, about 35,000 kilometers above the equator. From those satellites and the ground stations that support them, we provide a range of voice, video and data services for users that are moving -- whether it's on the ground, at sea or in the air.

EE: Where do your satellites come from and how many are there?

RC: Our most recent constellation of Global Xpress satellites was acquired from the Boeing Corp., which manufactured them. We operate these satellites from our headquarters in London. The rest of our fleet is manufactured by different competitive suppliers. We currently have 13 satellites in geostationary orbit. We constantly launch satellites to augment and complement those in our fleet.

EE: I understand you have multiple innovative options for different customers. Can you explain?

RC: Our wideband innovation includes Global Xpress, the first and only end-to-end commercial Ka-band network from a single operator that delivers worldwide service. Global Xpress is bringing the benefits of seamless, consistent, high-throughput wideband connectivity to U.S. government users anywhere, anytime. In addition, Inmarsat's SATCOM as a Service capability offers mobile high-throughput connectivity the way government users need it: simple, affordable and operationally available. In narrowband, we focus on the ever-increasing demand for higher throughputs to meet intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needs. Our WiSL (Wideband Streaming L-band) service, uses micro antennas as small as five inches and delivers record data rates as high as 10Mbps x 10Mbps.

EE: What separates your company from the competition?

RC: Inmarsat Government specializes in mobility on a highly reliable service. We build our commercial satellite systems from the ground up with U.S. government mobile users in mind. Our systems are really for that mobile user who is going to be moving from Point A to Point B and has to get vital information through, regardless of the conditions. We do this better than any other company and do it from a worldwide network of satellites and ground stations that are highly reliable and secure.

EE: What makes Fairfax County a good location for Inmarsat?

RC: Fairfax County is an ideal location for Inmarsat Government because it's in close proximity to the United States government center of operations in Washington, D.C. and also in close proximity to our core group of partners. Additionally, for the people that work here, (the county) has fantastic schools, good transportation solutions and provides a great location to live as well as work.

EE: It sounds like attracting and keeping a talented workforce is a priority.

RC: Keeping a talented workforce is incredibly important in a high-technology field and especially here at Inmarsat Government. Operating out of Fairfax County gives us access to the most phenomenal school system as well as other technologies and opportunities for the families of our employees.

EE: What is on the horizon for your company?

RC: Inmarsat continues to invest in the future, not just in legacy and redundant capabilities. We are constantly -- on an annual basis by investing about a half-billion dollars -- continuing to modernize our existing networks. Much like we expect our phones to do more and more in our daily lives, our users expect satellites to provide additional options that enhance capabilities. What is next is that we're seeking to ensure backwards compatibility so that no user is ever left behind, even while we're providing greater throughput and better resiliency. We are always investing in additional technologies and capabilities so that we're building for the future and not looking backward.