Operators adding or upgrading an in-flight connectivity system face a dizzying array of options. Dave Higdon speaks to the industry leaders to discover how an operator cuts through the choices to find what's best for them...
According to Brian Wilson, national key accounts director, Gogo Business Aviation, it’s best to begin with the very basics. “What is critical to know is what you're starting with. What kind of aircraft will use the equipment?”
But that's just the opening question. The answer doesn't necessarily simplify the selection process. Instead, it will narrow down some of the options while expanding others.
Irrespective of whether we spoke with Gogo, Satcom Direct or ViaSat, the elements an operator must weigh up follow a familiar pattern: What is your aircraft type (the antenna shape and size alone can limit a system’s application to your jet)? What kind of use do you anticipate needing (i.e. streaming, texting, phoning or viewing)? Where on the planet will you be flying? How many people might simultaneously use the connectivity service?
These factors all influence the choices available. With a goal of finding the right level of service, the challenge focuses on getting the best fit – not too much, not too little, but just right for the operation and passengers.
Savings Through Applied Options
Gogo’s Brian Wilson has been “getting these questions for years”. Here’s how he helps users sift through the options to find the right fit for them.
“Where are they flying? The guy with a King Air is probably mostly domestic,” he establishes. “The guy with a Gulfstream will probably be doing more international flying.
“Moreover, how do they use the aircraft? Is it a company aircraft? If so, it will need office services. If it's a personal aircraft for mom, dad and four kids aged 6-16, the priorities are going to be different.”
These questions come up again and again.
“Once you've told me what you fly, where and how you use it, and how many people usually travel on the aircraft, I can narrow the 15-or-so options down to three or four.”
Irrespective of the options, though, in Wilson’s experience the client’s boss usually wants to select “the best” until they learn about the $500k installation cost, plus the $10k-$30k monthly service charges. “That’s when we move from the boss wanting ‘the best’, to the boss enquiring ‘what else do you have?’
“We give them multiple options because of the cost differentials,” he explains.
This analogy is how Wilson solves the first part of the equation. But Wilson stresses an important point: Unlike plans for terrestrial high-speed connectivity, when streaming while speeding through the sky there is no unlimited streaming plan for in-flight connectivity.
Wilson (and others we interviewed) suggested that some operators flying internationally should consider installing two systems for their aircraft: One terrestrial-based system (like Gogo's Avance L5 product package) for low-coast domestic use, and another satellite-based system (such as Gogo’s upcoming Ku-satellite band) for international operations.
Use can then be managed to minimize the service costs.
More information from https://business.gogoair.com
Satellites Make you Global
Viasat's James Person was keen to note the benefits to Large-Cabin Jets in having global coverage and high-speed connectivity. “We recommend these owners consider our dual band solution which provides system redundancy, near global coverage and Ka-band speeds up to 16Mbps to the aircraft with global Ku-band data included at no additional charge.”
But not every operator wants to invest in such a solution. Some look to cost efficiency as opposed to connectivity speed. “There are other considerations for value operators too,” Persons explained. “Perhaps they’re the aircraft’s second owner; maybe they just don’t want to invest much in the aircraft.
“Viasat’s Ku-band solution, providing near global coverage, offers plans up to 6Mbps and can be installed for under $400k by a qualified MRO on a G450 (for example).”
Persons observes that owners must also evaluate whether the connectivity equipment on their jets today can meet the data and speed demands of tomorrow’s data-rich applications.
To help meet such demand we offer the Global Aero Terminal 5510 dual-band Ka-band/Ku-band antenna, enabling aircraft to take advantage of Ka- and Ku-band coverage today, and then stay current as we bring on more high capacity global Ka-band satellites without the need to swap out hardware.
Whether Ka- or Ku-band, Viasat systems use the same three LRU form factor and wiring to ensure the in-flight connectivity system is future-proofed.
More information from www.viasat.com
An Open-System Approach
Satcom Direct drew a large crowd to its NBAA-BACE press event in which it unveiled its new open-architecture approach to outfitting business aircraft with the best in-flight connectivity hardware, software and service for their needs.
SD Xperience is focused on end-to-end solutions rather than an internet service, as explained by Satcom Direct's Jared Maynard. “There used to be only a few options. Now there are many, many more, both in equipment and services. And that increase has made it really, really complex.
“We found the best way was to approach this on a client-by-client basis, focus on their mission and expectations, and help simplify the process. That's what the SD Xperience is all about,” Maynard explains.
Essentially Satcom Direct works with the client to define the best mix of hardware, software, and connectivity services that meet their requirements, helping with the installation and configuration process, and providing the service and support once operational. “We have the largest selection of hardware, software and networks in the industry. We leverage this portfolio to build unique solutions that deliver the best user experiences possible,” Maynard explains.
“We might make the router, Honeywell supplies the antenna, Inmarsat provides the network, and we tie it all together with our software… The result is a complete pre-flight to post-flight solution that generates one monthly bill for the whole package.”
More information from www.satcomdirect.com