Inmarsat's market capitalization has since nearly tripled, to about £3.4 billion. Maritime communications still generate more than half of sales, while land-based services and bandwidth leasing — activities heavily dependent on government and military contracts — together represent about 30 percent of revenues. With a 48 percent share of the world's mobile satellite communications market, Inmarsat is twice the size of its nearest competitor, Iridium of the United States.
Aeronautical services are Inmarsat's smallest, but fastest growing, business; they generate revenues of $114 million in 2013, up 13 percent from 2012.
Even as the recent economic downturn has slowed international shipping traffic and many government contracts have dried up because of budget constraints, Inmarsat has been investing $1.6 billion in upgrading its satellite network to provide even greater capacity and higher data transmission speeds.
The first of this new generation of satellites, called Global Express, was launched into orbit in December, and it will be joined by two more this year. Capable of running 100 times faster than its current systems, Global Express could enable new services like airborne videoconferencing or 3-D in-flight movies — as well as real-time streaming of location and performance information from a plane.
It is the disappearance of Flight 370, of course, that has revived debate in the aviation industry about the feasibility of continuous tracking of the nearly 100,000 flights that crisscross the skies each day.
Most airlines have until now been reluctant, though, to assume the costs of using even the scaled-down satellite tracking technology that Inmarsat and some other companies already offer. And air safety authorities have been slow to consider requiring airlines to install such equipment.
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The latest version of Inmarsat's aircraft broadband system is already capable of sending intermittent positioning and other cockpit data alongside the in-flight Internet and satellite phone services sold to passengers. Roughly 5,000 planes are fitted with the technology, Mr. Pinto said. But because the system has not yet been certified by regulators as a safety feature — that is expected late next year — many airlines continue to rely on older, cheaper technology.
The lack of positioning data from Flight 370 led to Inmarsat's laborious attempt to estimate the plane's trajectory, an analysis that had never been done before. One of the most surprising elements of Inmarsat's contribution to the search, according to investigators, was that satellite links — which are used mainly for transmitting maintenance data, not for navigation or even to communicate with air traffic control — could even be used to tease out the plane's last known location.
Inmarsat's engineers say they have extracted as much information as possible from the plane's final messages. As they continued to follow developments in the search, Mr. Pinto and his colleagues said they were pleased to have been able to contribute their expertise. But the loss of Flight 370 has also spurred a sense of mission to join with other industry players to press for change.
"It has galvanized us internally to advertise what the technology can do, with the right sort of regulatory environment and willingness from stakeholders," Mr. Pinto said. "The technology is there to prevent the uncertainty that we face in this event from being repeated."