What are the short- and medium-term development goals in private jet connectivity? Dave Higdon speaks to Satcom Direct’s Jared Maynard and Gogo Business Aviation’s Brian Wilson about the hopes and possibilities for operators…
Not too long ago the alpha and omega of in-flight connectivity involved using a flight phone and paying staggering per-minute connections. But only for those aircraft so equipped.
Then about 20 years ago entrepreneurs, engineers and innovators began finding ways to expand on that spartan service level, first adding text messaging capabilities, then narrow bandwidth computer networking, and finally easing into high-speed, wide bandwidth internet connectivity.
Today, some of these systems' services rival the high-speed internet we use on the ground, in our offices and homes. So where does in-flight connectivity go from here?
The overall aim is for greater speed on global networks becoming available on a growing number of aircraft. Much of the growth in access is sought aboard ever-smaller aircraft as engineers and designers continue to invent more-compact hardware that uses less power to sustain their connections to a global network.
We can give you a hint about the heading of this technology, and its short-term course is moving towards matching the performance of terrestrial networks, if not easing ahead in the longer-term future.
Business aircraft, from heavy twin propjets through to the largest Bizliners, enjoy a wide range of options, and the speed and bandwidth of those systems is accelerating steadily.
The use of terrestrial networks continues to grow relentlessly, with a 17% one-year gain in using computers to monitor production machines, a 30% increase in use of networks to support asset performance management, and growth in using IT systems to monitor customers, their habits and satisfaction levels, according to IFS.
Expect airborne systems to catch up and work to keep pace, according to various observers. Hearing executives of aircraft OEMs and in-flight internet systems providers echo one another in their outlooks leaves little doubt about their goals and ambitions.
We asked executives from various airborne-connectivity providers to gain their perspectives. Following are the thoughts of Jared Maynard, aircraft resale sales manager, Satcom Direct.
“We can already see a glimpse of the future right now,” he offers. “Just take a step back and look at the enormous increase in Wi-Fi installations (Air-To-Ground (ATG) and Satellite) on business jets over the past twenty-four months.
“Look at the growing list of airlines that offer inflight Wi-Fi and look at the millions of connected cars on the road each day. Everything that flies in the future will likely be connected in some manner. I’m confident that this will expand well beyond jets into turboprops, piston aircraft, drones and even eVTOL transport.”
Asked about the immediate priorities for taking jet connectivity forward in the short- and medium-term, Maynard points towards the ‘Three Cs’ – Capacity, Compatibility and Cost.
“As more aircraft are added, network capacity needs to outpace demand,” he elaborates. “In the past, capacity issues and network congestion have led to poor user experiences and slow adoption.
"Use of high-throughput satellite constellations and steerable beams will be necessary to target resources and remedy coverage/capacity issues that are common in high-traffic areas.
“In terms of compatibility, compact, lightweight, high efficiency satellite antennas are needed for smaller airframes. The mechanically-steered antennas currently used for Ka- and Ku-band networks are too large for most jets. Recent advances in electronically steered flat panel antennas will bring significant advances in speed and capabilities to this underserved global market,” he forecasts.
“Meanwhile, the average price per Megabyte for Ka- and Ku-band satellite connectivity is now less than $0.50,” Maynard reveals.
“Costs for equipment and installation have also started to drop. Competition between service providers, increased capacity, usage-based billing, and new equipment options for a wider range of aircraft are creating downward pricing pressure. If these trends continue, it will rapidly accelerate worldwide adoption,” he concludes.
Gogo Business Aviation
Brian Wilson, director, key accounts, Gogo Business Aviation offered perspectives on the immediate priorities taking jet connectivity forward in the short and medium term.
“The biggest priority is and will continue to be to create an experience for passengers similar to what they have on the ground,” he explains. “It was reported the average age of the business traveler has dropped to a new low of 39. These folks envision that they can do in the air what they do on the ground, including social media, streaming content, VPN and more).”
Concerning the challenge to expanding that experience, Wilson adds, “The race is always in the antenna; therefore, if you and I could create a 12” x 12” x 2” formal fuselage antenna that could fit any aircraft and deliver no less than 15Mb/s we would be billionaires.
“Unfortunately, the industry and technology is just not there yet. Ku- and Ka-band have delivered speeds that fit the 10-30Mb/s range, but that is only for the very privileged due to the size of the antenna (only fitting large size aircraft); installation costs of between $500k and $800k; and monthly service fees above $10k (and reaching $25k to $30k).”
With these challenges still to be solved, Gogo has continued to adapt to give customers a better product. “Gogo delivered the new Avance L5 product that provides an upgrade path from our Air-to-Ground (ATG) system,” Wilson offers.
“The L5 is still an ATG system covering the US, southern Canada and Alaska, but it delivers speeds capable of allowing streaming content - Netflix, Facetime calling, playing YouTube videos – while flying.
“This innovative product has been a phenomenal success; we are sold out throughout 2019, and by the end of 2019 we will have more than 500 aircraft flying with L5 and 5,000 aircraft flying with both L5 and legacy ATG.”
Gogo owns the network, has exclusive rights to the bandwidth and can ensure no other company can create a product that interferes with its system. “We’ve reached our short-term priority by giving passengers what they want: faster speeds, more capabilities and a better experience,” Wilson continues.
And for the medium-term? “As I stated, the race is in the antenna. An antenna that will of course be on the top of the aircraft, so it is satellite-based in lieu of ATG,” Wilson offers.
“This will just augment our ATG system, not necessarily replace it, meaning aircraft will use ATG in the US and switch to satellite when out of coverage areas.
“This should be seamless to the passenger as our advanced router will provide for switching of networks without interruption. The biggest advantage, of course, is seeking worldwide coverage or the closest you can get to that.
“Gogo is following its phenomenal success in Commercial Aviation with the 2Ku system and is introducing a Ku system for business jet aircraft for late 2019 or early 2020, and has also been named an equipment and service provider for Certus (Iridium Next).
“The point I’m making is that to reach the next level of the passenger experience at a price they can afford and give worldwide coverage, Gogo is either creating new products to fit that demand or partnering with the emerging companies slated to dominate the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite systems,” Wilson concludes.
More information from https://business.gogoair.com or www.satcomdirect.com