Cabin Connectivity Digest: Satellite Services Unplugged
Satellite services keep BizAv users connected in-flight, but who provides what? Dave Hidgon explore this fascinating technology in practical and understandable terms.
Once upon a time, an aircraft’s cabin isolated passengers from direct access to people on the ground, whether desired or not. Then technology introduced an in-flight telephone and communications progressed to a point where virtually every technology available in an office suite can also be found aloft—producing the office in the sky
Today's all-access in-flight connectivity solutions exist through the capabilities of several constellations of earth-orbiting satellites (and in some cases with use of ground-based cell towers).
Satellite owners and operators sell the capabilities and capacities of those satellites to a wide range of service providers who, in turn, sell their hardware and connectivity services to aircraft owners and operators, introducing a new age of global connectivity.
A Potted History of Connectivity
Since the 1980s satellite-based systems have evolved, providing voice and data services on-board business aircraft similar to those enjoyed in the main office. The Iridium satellite constellation brought global phone coverage, albeit at low throughput.
These rudimentary satellite networks, burdened with narrow bandwidth and low data speeds, inevitably gave way to the advances speeding through ground-based Internet-access systems.
Hot on the heels of the fully-functional airborne office came improved In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) systems. Soon corporate fliers found that IFE systems could be structured to provide video conferencing, enhancing the existing functions of the airborne office.
Subsequently advances have focused on expanding bandwidth and increasing throughput. As ground networks served up ever-faster connection speeds, savvy in-flight users refused to settle for airborne connections closer to the dial-up speeds akin to the Internet's early years.
Beyond making available at altitude the productive trappings of an office-suite, satellite connectivity options today include Automated Flight Information Reporting System (AFIRS) and flight tracking to go along with the communications options of voice and data.
Coupled with ground-based connectivity tools, people in industrialized nations enjoy the option of constant connectivity - from their home, in the car, the office, the airport, while airborne, and all the way back home again.
Today’s Satellite Network Providers
If you’re shopping for the latest Cabin Connectivity solution today, it’s worth not allowing yourself to become overwhelmed by the technical issues (such as which band and what service you need) initially.
Instead, start with hardware options approved for the aircraft you operate and then research the service providers available to that equipment. The chances are that you'll find multiple options to satisfy your individual need for connectivity.
Three satellite operators—Inmarsat, Iridium and ViaSat—stand out for their in-flight connectivity products today. With that understood, the vast majority of in-flight connectivity services come through resellers of products from these satellite companies.
These connectivity service-providers make their own hardware engineered to work with the specific satellite provider. Bandwidth, throughput and prices vary depending on the company and service package.
Over the decades, satellites have been launched servicing various segments of the frequency spectrum, from C to K, to Ka and Ku. Indeed, development continues today, and options exist providing high-speed Internet connectivity, wireless Wi-Fi connectivity within the cabin, VoIP voice services, SMS text messaging and email.
Speeds vary according to the satellite and hardware package aboard the aircraft, and connections from a few thousand Kilobits per second (Kbps) to more than 15 Megabits per second (Mbps) provide varying levels of service and capabilities.
Following, we offer a brief outline of the main service providers to Business Aviation operators in today’s market…
AirSatOne (ASO) strives to provide the best customer service in the industry with reliable, competitively-priced Iridium and Inmarsat Satcom services.
Who: ASO offers specialized airtime packages for operators of aircraft ranging from a Single-Engine Piston up to VVIP aircraft in the Businessliner category.
What: Services range from voice to high-speed internet with email and instant messaging, video conferencing and more for the main cabin. On the flight deck ASO also provides FANS 1/A communications, performance monitoring, live weather updates and powerplant-health monitoring and reporting.
ASO's services work through a variety of equipment and satellite-system configurations, and are priced according to the system and usage.
More information: https://airsatone.com/
ARINC Direct/Rockwell Collins
It's been almost four years since Rockwell Collins paired with ARINC, combining the trusted networks of ARINC with the industry-leading cabin communications technologies of avionics powerhouse Rockwell Collins.
Who: ARINC Direct provides hardware and services for business-turbine aircraft across a broad range of models.
What: The merger expanded Rockwell-Collins' full range of cabin connectivity solutions, including Inmarsat’s new JetConneX high speed broadband services. Depending on the package and hardware installed in the aircraft, JetConneX connection speeds can go as high as 15 Mbps, enabling video conferencing and streaming, as well as the more-common needs such as connecting with office networks, sending and receiving email, web surfing and voice connections.
More information: www.arincdirect.com
South America's leading operator and provider of satellite communications solutions offers complete state-of-the-art solutions to customers in the Americas.
Who: Arycom offers systems and services for business turbine, commercial and helicopter aircraft.
What: Like most providers, Arycom offers services through multiple satellite systems, including Inmarsat, Iridium and ViaSat Yonder. Connectivity is as global as the satellite orbits, with connectivity speeds varying depending on the service option selected, resulting in speeds from a few hundred Kbps using older systems to 15 Mpbs with Inmarsat's JetConneX.
More information: www.arycom.com
Gogo Business Aviation
Originally known as Aircell, today Gogo Business Aviation is the business aircraft oriented division of Gogo Inflight Internet, which serves commercial, air cargo and private aviation (the roots of Aircell's business).
Who: Multiple options for equipment exist, including hardware sufficiently small and lightweight for smaller FAR Part 23 aircraft right up to VVIP, along with multiple service combinations.
What: Today, Gogo offers the full spectrum of services through Gogo Biz 4G, Gogo Biz, 2 Ku-band services and such familiar names as JetConneX and SwiftBroadband, and in-flight entertainment via Gogo Vision through Iridium.
More information: https://business.gogoair.com
Honeywell division BendixKing is well known for its cockpit avionics. Today the company also offers in-flight connectivity via its Inmarsat-compatible AeroWave 100 system.
Who: Light FAR Part 23 aircraft and up (including Piston Twins, Turboprops and Light jets).
What: Designed, sized and priced for smaller aircraft, the AeroWave 100 works through what the company calls “the world’s smallest footprint Inmarsat LGA” (low-gain antenna), enabling discreet installation even on smaller airframes.
An integrated GPS simplifies installation by eliminating the need to interface with an onboard position source, and new lighter components allow more flexibility on AeroWave’s location in the aircraft.
More information: http://bendixking.com
Honeywell is another provider of Inmarsat SwiftBroadband services for cabin connectivity, in-flight entertainment, and situational awareness via Iridium satellite connections and capabilities gained with the company’s acquisition of Satcom1 in 2015.
Who: JetConneX provides hardware and both cockpit and cabin connectivity for mid-sized and larger business jets.
What: For connectivity, Honeywell offers its JetConneX service, using Inmarsat's I-5 satellite network to serve up excellent global coverage and network availability (thanks to the network's high-speed capabilities). With speeds up to 15 Mbps, passengers traveling at Flight Levels can video-conference, upload or download large files, stream videos, surf the net – everything they can do on the ground.
Honeywell also offers Satcom1 cabin-connectivity plans through GoDirect with services geared to both flight deck and main cabin at competitive speeds and price.
More information: https://aerospace.honeywell.com
Last fall at NBAA-BACE the Business Aviation community learned that Satcom Direct, a leading supplier of global in-flight connectivity solutions, was acquiring phone maker TrueNorth in a marriage of complementary capabilities.
Who: Satcom Direct offers a broad range of equipment and service packages for the business-turbine aircraft cabin and cockpit.
What: Satcom Direct offers Internet services through Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband, Inmarsat JetConneX, ViaSat's Ku-band products, SmartSky Networks and others. It also offers voice services and a wealth of operational services to support flight requirements in terms of logs for aircraft and crew, and in-flight entertainment services.
More information www.satcomdirect.com
After its founding in 2009, SmartSky Networks launched its advanced air-to-ground network in 2011 providing the full range of high-speed access using its proprietary beamforming technology and ground-based 4G connections.
Who: SmartSky Networks delivers real-time bidirectional connectivity without the latency of satellite-based solutions to the business-turbine aircraft cabin.
What: SmartSky Networks' SmartSky 4G and SmartSky Select work through ground-based cell towers to provide up and down connections with equal multi-megabit-per-second speeds, allowing computer browsing, text and voice messaging, video conferencing, movie viewing, and multiple other service options through selected apps.
More information: http://smartskynetworks.com/
ViaSat offers a high-quality, high-speed cabin connectivity service over land and water via its global Ku-band network. According to ViaSat, its system is “built for tomorrow’s internet”, ensuring users enjoy a good solution to their communications needs for at least the mid-term future.
Who: ViaSat aims its satcoms solution at the business jet market, and supports hundreds of aircraft around the world, using the highest-capacity Ka-band satellites already in operation on commercial airlines.
What: Users are able to accomplish all regular office tasks (web browsing, email, etc.), and stream media and tele/videoconferencing, as well as watch HD IPTV and videos, and connect to corporate VPNs. They also enjoy predictable monthly fees. Service is available through all phases of flight including taxi, takeoff and landing, and coverage extends to over 90% of the world’s most popular flight paths.
More information from www.viasat.com
Prices and Choices
Investing in the hardware, installation, service contracts and accessories to provide a full range of aircraft cabin Office-in-the-Sky/In-Flight Entertainment capabilities begins by finding equipment approved for the airplane in question.
From there, the decisions should follow the same path as for selecting any other business service: Budget, Need and Expected Use level.
Wherever those decisions lead you, there will be providers that have a solution to fit your requirement, while allowing the flexibility to raise or lower the bar on the service package as needed.
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This article features in AvBuyer's 2018 Yearbook. Read the full edition here.