Iridium disrupts Inmarsat’s GMDSS Monopoly

Iridium now a GMDSS alternative
Iridium can now compete more directly with Inmarsat in maritime connectivity after gaining GMDSS certification from the International Maritime Organization.

WASHINGTON — The UN certified Iridium Communications to provide Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) services, ending Inmarsat’s monopoly on the internationally required service for ships, Iridium said May 21.

The certification, granted by the UN’s International Maritime Organization, marks the culmination of a five-year effort that occasionally turned nasty between fleet operators Iridium and Inmarsat.

Iridium began pursuing the certification in 2013, at the time expecting completion in two years. Rupert Pearce, CEO of London-based Inmarsat, lambasted the effort, claiming Iridium-supported GMDSS services would put lives at risk. Backed by the United Kingdom, Inmarsat sought to upend McLean, Virginia-based Iridium’s application, which was backed by the United States.

In a May 21 statement, Iridium hailed the International Maritime Organization’s decision, saying the newly granted certification “ends a decades-long satellite industry monopoly” by Inmarsat.

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

GMDSS provides emergency communications at sea, relaying messages even if crew are unable to call for help. The International Convention of the Safety of Life at Sea treaty requires ships of 300 gross tonnage or more have GMDSS equipment onboard for international trips. Inmarsat had been the sole provider of GMDSS equipment since 1999.

Iridium said it expects to begin GMDSS service in 2020. The International Mobile Satellite Organization will monitor Iridium’s GMDSS implementation, Iridium said. A public service agreement between Iridium and organization will likely mark the start of service, Iridium said.

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