It’s been a hot topic in Business Aviation these past few years, with increasingly sophisticated solutions coming to the market. What are the popular cabin connectivity solutions for your business jet in 2020? Brian Wilson offers an overview…
By all standards, 2019 was a monumental year for cabin Wi-Fi upgrades on business jets. Based on industry feedback, this trend will carry into 2020 as competition in the market has driven down the costs for hardware and data services.
Coupled with the insatiable appetite of today’s passengers to always be connected, installation facilities are augmenting their staffing to meet the demand.
Satellite-based systems, consisting of Ka- and Ku-band, dominated the connected cabin market in 2019. Most of these installations were tail-mounted parabolic antennas positioned under a radome, and most were installed on Super Mid-size, Large and Ultra-Long-Range Jets, due to the size of the antenna mounted under the radome. International Cabin
Connectivity: What’s on Trend in 2020?
Inmarsat: London-based Inmarsat has taken a strong industry lead with the introduction of Jet ConneX. Inmarsat’s worldwide Ka-band network has been very successful with the Large Cabin Jets and more than 500 installations have been completed.
Most of the leading OEMs have certified the system on their aircraft, including Gulfstream, Bombardier and Dassault, and data packages are provided by their approved Value-Added Resellers (VARs), including ARINCDirect, Satcom Direct and Honeywell.
Normally, there are five to six plans with varying data speeds and usage limits, allowing operators to choose a plan that fits both their budget and mission plan.
The higher-tiered data plans allow for video streaming, Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and even live TV. One operator claimed that Jet ConneX is capable of streaming data to 5-6 devices without any buffering. Data speeds reach 15Mb/s when you choose the top-tier plan.
ViaSat: Based in Carlsbad, California, ViaSat has made a successful transition into the business jet community, offering both a Ku- and Ka-band product line. ViaSat leases transponder bandwidth from existing Ku satellite providers; but owns its Ka network (commencing with the first satellite launch in 2004).
Since the company’s current Ka coverage is limited to the continental US, ViaSat leverages the expanded global coverage of its Ku network to offer a dual-band solution that it claims provides a seamless hand-off on most international flights. This dual-band solution offers data speeds up to 16Mb/s when using Ka, and up to 10Mb/s when using the Ku network.
ViaSat plans to increase its Ka global footprint significantly with the launch of three ViaSat-3 Ka satellites over the next 3-4 years, while at the same time committing resources and support to its existing Ku customers.
The company says operators who are satisfied with its existing Ku system are good to go. Those who want increased bandwidth and data speeds can easily switch to Ka. This is due to a form-fit functionality between the Ku and Ka hardware. Downtime is minimal as the boxes are exchanged and a minor wiring modification made. Though operators pay for the hardware upgrade, they receive preferential pricing.
Collins Aerospace: Introducing its new high-speed satellite communications system, LuxStream, Collins teamed with SES, which runs the Ku-band network with a constellation of 70 satellites. Service provider ARINCDirect completes the triage of companies and will manage the airtime with the operators and assist with configuration and support, and manage the software applications.
Data speeds will approach 25Mb/s in the US and 15Mb/s in other regions, and Collins claims coverage is global (excepting the polar regions). Operators will be able to use their VPN, stream HD content and use multiple devices simultaneously, and multiple data plans will be offered by ARINCDirect.
Collins manufactures the hardware, except for the tail-mounted antenna which was produced by Astronics and mirrors the ones from Inmarsat and ViaSat by mounting under a radome on top of the tail. Since ARINCDirect is also owned by Collins, operators will benefit from a single contact source for any concerns or issues they may encounter.
Domestic/US Cabin Connectivity: What’s on Trend in 2020?
Gogo Business Aviation: Broomfield, Colorado-based Gogo Business Aviation again captured the US domestic market with the launch of the Avance L5 product line.
This new product was the next generation series allowing legacy Gogo operators to upgrade to a faster, more enriched Air-to-Ground connectivity experience. The Avance L5 moved operators into a 4G spectrum, including streaming data like Netflix, YouTube and FaceTime calling.
Demand for the L5 product exceeded sales expectations and created a hardware backlog in 2018 and early 2019. Gogo rectified that issue with increased production of this popular product.
Other enriched features include Gogo Vision, movies and TV shows stored on the 4G box, allowing streaming content to 25+ devices at the same time without using any data from the ground. A moving map, Bloomberg news, destination weather and customization round out a power-packed solution.
Moreover, at NBAA-BACE 2019 Gogo announced it will have a true 5G solution in late 2021 called Gogo 5G. The new 5G product will work in conjunction with the Avance L5 system creating a redundant source for data and ensuring operators have continued coverage while flying in the continental US, most of Canada and Alaska.
Cabin Wi-Fi Upgrade: What are the Factors in Deciding?
When you break down the above offerings in a simplified approach, they share the following features:
- Tail mounted antenna, number of boxes and weight are consistent
- Coverage maps vary, but they cover almost all international routes
- Data plans have multiple offerings
- Data speeds are optimized for passenger experience
So why choose one over the other? The big factor, of course, is certification and radome selection/availability. If your aircraft currently has a Ku radome and you’re considering an upgrade to Ka, the radome will need to be changed. Moreover, if a Ka radome has not yet been certified for your aircraft type, additional costs and downtime will be incurred.
Even if your aircraft already has a Ku radome, this doesn’t mean it will work as efficiently with another Ku offering – and this is a shortcoming the MRO shops can easily overlook. You should ask them for proven transmissivity reports and efficiency ratings to safeguard against this issue impacting your upgrade.
And any system you choose should be scalable. All the satellite providers have plans to launch future-generation satellites. Will your existing system be compatible?
Will it require a simple software upgrade, or would the hardware need to be modified or even changed to become compatible? These would all require a certification amendment.
US-based operators with international travel needs would be wise to consider both the Gogo Avance L5 for domestic coverage and one of the satellite options for seamless global coverage, providing redundancy systems on board the aircraft.
Ultimately, there is one theme that has been consistent over the last few years and will not change any time soon… Aircraft without connectivity are far less attractive on the charter and pre-owned sales markets than those that do offer a good solution.
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