What are the tell-tale signs your jet’s cabin connectivity solution is becoming outdated? Trevor West asked industry insiders Jared Maynard and Nancy Walker for their tips and suggestions…
Worn seats and weathered sidewalls tell you your cabin needs updating. Signs that your cabin connectivity system is obsolete can be just as telling, and the two leading indicators are the equipment and functionality, according to Satcom Direct’s Jared Maynard and Nancy Walker, SmartSky Networks.
Starting with the equipment:
- Is it less reliable now than when new?
- Do errors frequently occur, and are reboots necessary?
- Does the performance of the system satisfy the requirements of your mission?
“These are all common signs that you need to start considering a replacement,” notes Maynard, aircraft resales sales manager at Satcom Direct. Limited parts availability and difficulties getting the equipment serviced are other red flags, he says.
“There are a lot of systems still flying that are actually at or near the end of their [service] life. In other words, you can’t fix it when it breaks.” If you ignore the age and support available for your equipment, “you could be forced to upgrade when you need to repair it,” Maynard warns.
What do Your Payment Methods Tell You?
Your payment method can also provide a quick check on the state of your technology: Do you pay for connectivity by the minute, or by data volume?
“The former is the hallmark of circuit-switched connections, such as Inmarsat Swift64 and Iridium data systems,” explains Walker, Chief Commercial Officer, SmartSky. “These systems are slow, costly to operate and deliver a poor user experience.” Today, IP connectivity has supplanted circuit-switched connectivity.
Indeed, the cost of service is another indicator of obsolescence. Could an upgrade provide you significant savings? “For a fraction of the cost, [current systems] can deliver a lot more value,” notes Maynard. “Usually it has to do with increased capacity and more efficient protocols.”
Security is another equipment obsolescence issue. Many legacy connectivity systems have components made by ZTE and Huawei, both of which have been linked to state-sanctioned industrial espionage. “The latest security protection is only available on networks free of China-made ZTE and Huawei equipment,” says Walker.
Firmware or Software Upgrades
Another equipment check is to consider when was the last time the manufacturer released a firmware or software upgrade for the product? These updates can breathe new life into hardware, improving reliability and performance, unlocking new capabilities.
“Most modern systems are updated on a regular basis, so if a long period of time has passed since the last release, maybe they’re shifting resources to a new product and yours is being left behind,” Maynard elaborates, adding, “It’s a lot like a cell phone. If it’s older, they stop providing updates and you can’t reap the benefits of all the new features.”
But functionality is just as important as equipment in separating the up-too-date solution from the obsolete. “Any connection that does not provide an office-like experience should be considered obsolete,” says Walker.
There is a simple test: Compare what you can do in the cabin with what you can do with your phone, Walker suggests. “Everything you can do on the ground with your mobile telephone you should be able to do in the air.
“If you cannot get connectivity that rivals what you have on the ground, then it is time to look for a different solution.”
Note that a perfectly up-to-date system can also become functionally obsolete if your mission changes. For example, a domestic company that expands into international operations will need a solution to match, “so when you travel to London you have [Internet] coverage throughout the flight,” Maynard says.
Ready to Upgrade Your Jet Connectivity?
Both Satcom Direct and SmartSky Networks offer solutions for obsolete connectivity. The Satcom Direct Router handles onboard Internet connectivity and a variety of proprietary data management services, and the company is also a value-added reseller for Inmarsat, Intelsat, Iridium, Viasat, and SmartSky.
SmartSky’s recently launched 4G LTE Air-to-Ground (ATG) network, using proprietary beam-forming technology, will provide coverage for 80% of the airspace used by Business Aviation flights over the Continental US by July 2019, and full coverage by year’s end.
If you’re ready to upgrade and are evaluating current technology solutions, you should focus on the connectivity’s throughput, latency and bidirectionality.
Throughput Explained: The actual amount of data that a system transports is known as throughput, and this is typically used to compare network performance. The maximum amount of data that a system can transport is known as bandwidth, and this is typically used to measure capacity.
New Ka/Ku-Band satcom systems typically provide throughput up to 30 times greater than the systems they’re replacing, notes Maynard.
Latency Explained: The time it takes data to be sent and receive a reply is the latency. “The higher the latency, the more the effective bandwidth appears to shrink,” says Walker.
All else being equal, ATG networks offer much lower latency than satcom solutions. Even traveling at the speed of light, data going from an aircraft, to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit 22,000 miles above the Earth, to a ground station connected to the Internet, and back can’t compete with a simple aircraft-to-ground station connection for latency.
The ultimate practical test of this quality is live onboard video gaming, says Walker. “It easily and quickly demonstrates latency. You’ve got to know where opponents are moving in real time” in the gaming environment, and milliseconds are critical.
Bidirectionality Explained: Referring to the ability of a system to handle data in both directions is bidirectionality. Most have typically rated poorly, often in a 90-10 ratio of download to upload speeds. Thus, you might be able to stream a movie, but with poor bidirectionality you can’t stream the equivalent amount of data from the aircraft back to the ground.
Age of Equipment: A Reliable Sign of Obsolescence?
The age of equipment alone can also provide ample evidence of obsolescence. “The average period between cabin technology upgrades used to be ten years or more,” according to Maynard. But with the rate of innovation today, “many flight departments are now planning to evaluate new options every five years.”
Says Walker, “If a system is greater than five to seven years old, operators should be looking at what [replacement] options are out there.”
Of course, the ideal solution to dealing with obsolete connectivity is to avoid having it onboard in the first place. “Operators need to be thinking annually – at a minimum – about their connectivity solution, and more frequently if they are not getting the performance they desire every time they connect,” says Walker.
“Customers should always be up-to-date on what is happening in connectivity technology, and they need to do due diligence on what the latest offerings are in the marketplace.”
Maynard suggests shopping around. “Capture as much information and data as you can. The better educated, the better safeguarded. Ask each network about their future plans. Evaluate how new technology can enhance safety and streamline your current workflows and operations. Will you be locked into one system, or can you [instead] pull from a variety of different sources to build the best solution?”
You also need to plan ahead and anticipate future needs. “Just because [a new system] meets your expectations now, doesn’t mean it will meet them in a few years,” Maynard concludes.
More information from www.satcomdirect.com or www.smartskynetworks.com