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Rate of change

The growth of onboard connectivity continues at an astonishing pace. Aircraft Cabin Management reviews some of the main developments from a number of the Sector's leading players
 

Fuelled by passenger demand for use of their personal electronic devices (PEDs) on board, airlines and OEMs have had to respond. Inevitably, there have been delays caused by labyrinthine aviation certification requirements, as well as long lead times for satellite development. Completely free communication is also being held up by various regulatory authorities, both in aviation and within the telecommunications industry itself. However, as can be seen below, momentum has started to build and it looks set to accelerate.

 

The highest passenger expectations for connectivity are probably in North America, with second tier airlines such as Virgin America beginning to make significant investments for the future. Airlines that operate long sectors over water have been looking for continuous coverage; some longhaul leisure operators are now able to offer this and are reaping the benefits. As always, the scale of payment or level of free services varies between companies.

 

Gogo

Gogo added broadband connectivity technologies to nearly 1,100 commercial and business aircraft in 2015. In addition, the company has grown its backlog of 2Ku aircraft to more than 800. Gogo is now ramping up installations and expects to have most of those aircraft installed by the end of 2018. At the same time, its Gogo Vision product has been installed on more than 2,200 commercial aircraft, with over one million videos being watched via the service each month.

 

The company has signed with global satellite operator, SES, to utilise High Throughput Satellite (HTS) spot beam and wide beam capacity onboard the SES-14 and SES-15 satellites, which are scheduled for launch in 2017. The satellites will cover North America including Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada, as well as Central and South America, the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. Gogo will also have access to HTS capacity on an additional SES-12 satellite, which is also set to launch in 2017. This will offer high-powered spot beam and wide beam coverage over Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Russia.

 

The agreement will increase bandwidth, bringing more capacity and a better experience to Gogo TV, Gogo's live television product, driving overall costs per bit down significantly, says Anand Chari, Gogo's Chief Technology Officer. “Airlines already committed to 2Ku will be able to take advantage of this new arrangement once the systems are flying, without any equipment modifications,” he adds.

 

It is also developing a new modem with Gilat Satellite Networks. In laboratory testing, this system has already delivered 200 Mbps using Gogo's 2Ku antenna, but is expected to deliver 400 Mbps to actual aircraft, which will be more than enough to support the anticipated HTS capacity. It will also have the capability to simultaneously support IP streaming and IPTV. The new modem will begin flight testing on Gogo's Boeing 737 test lab in the coming months, with commercial delivery expected to begin in 2017.

 

The company has also broken into the Chinese market. It has brokered an agreement with Beijing-based Shareco Technologies to install its 2Ku inflight connectivity technology on 50 commercial aircraft for Shareco's airline partners, including Hainan Airlines and Beijing Capital Airlines. This is currently the largest inflight connectivity deal in China and the first airline agreement for Gogo in the country. In addition to connectivity, Gogo will also provide its Gogo Vision system. Gogo and Shareco will work together on necessary regulatory approvals to install the technology on these aircraft. The goal is to install all 50 aircraft within two years, following the execution of a definitive agreement.

 

Inmarsat

Inmarsat declared global Commercial Service Introduction (CSI) during December 2015 for its new Global Xpress (GX) constellation, which is formed of three Ka-band, high-speed mobile broadband communications satellites. A fourth GX satellite – Inmarsat-5 F4 – is currently completing construction and testing by Boeing in California. The satellite is now likely to be launched in the second half of 2016 in order to provide additional GX network capacity. During the course of 2016, Inmarsat will be introducing a series of market-specific, high-speed connectivity services powered by Global Xpress.

 

In the same month, it awarded a contract valued in the region of $600 million to Airbus Defence and Space to build the first two mobile communications satellites for Inmarsat’s sixth-generation fleet. The first satellite – Inmarsat-6 F1 (I-6 F1) – will be delivered by 2020. Uniquely for Inmarsat, the sixth-generation fleet will feature a dual-payload with each supporting both L-band and Ka-band services, the Ka-band adding to the GX constellation.

 

Associated with this, Honeywell Aerospace’s JetWave wireless inflight connectivity system – the exclusive hardware for aircraft to connect to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress constellation – has received FAA approval for the Boeing 757. This aircraft type has been Honeywell’s test bed, with more than 180 flight hours, as well as multiple tests that showed the system would stay connected to the GX network at various altitudes, angles and speeds, over land, water and through several different types of weather.

 

Panasonic

Also hitting the 1,000th aircraft installation mark is Panasonic Avionics, after a Boeing 777-300 of China Eastern Airlines was line fitted at the OEM and delivered in mid-December. Since then, Panasonic has equipped an additional 25 aircraft, bringing the total number to 1,025.

 

In total, over 50% of all airlines with connected aircraft have chosen Panasonic Avionics, with the company having approximately 70 airlines and 3,000 aircraft committed to its global broadband connectivity service. It expects to add an additional 12,000 to its network by 2025, with another 600 this year. Importantly, around a third of these installations will be carried out at the aircraft manufacturers, avoiding the need to contract third party MROs after delivery. It is also involved in growing maritime markets, as well as oil and gas operations.

 

Furthermore, Panasonic is moving into (HTS) Ku-band capacity, having signed agreements with SES and Telesat. With SES, like Gogo, the contracts are for the SES-14 and SES-15 satellites. The multi-year contract with Telesat is for capacity on the new Telstar 12 VANTAGE satellite. This became operational at 15oW in December 2015 and covers the Mediterranean, Europe and the Middle East. Panasonic will also be using the HTS capacity of  Telstar 12 VANTAGE, expanding its mobile broadband offerings in order to grow maritime markets in the Mediterranean and European waterways, as well as to oil and gas operators in the North Sea.  >>


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