Thales sees strong future for Ka-band connectivity

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Dominique Giannoni, Thales' CEO, Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity
Dominique Giannoni, Thales’ CEO, Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity, at Farnborough 2014.

Thales sees Ka-band systems as the future of inflight connectivity, with high data throughput complementing its IFEC and other product lines.

Speaking to Get Connected’s Steve Nichols at the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow, Dominique Giannoni, Thales’ CEO, Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity, said that it has been a busy 12 months for the company, culminating in its acquisition of Florida-based LiveTV from JetBlue last month.

“Thales is ambitious for IFE connectivity. Some time ago we identified that we needed to be a strong connectivity player, but our portfolio was lacking.

“We were already engaged with Inmarsat SwiftBroadband and its GX Aviation Ka-band system developments, but we believed we needed to go further.

“The acquisition of LiveTV is a great complement to our existing portfolio,” he said, hinting that the name “LiveTV” may vanish once it is fully integrated into the Thales family.

“We can now offer a whole range of equipment, from low-cost systems from LiveTV, right up to our new TopSeries AVANT premium IFEC offering. We also have TopSeries AVA, which is our wireless streaming media solution.”

LiveTV has given Thales an “in” with airlines who want regional Ka connectivity in the US, building on the back of its existing installations with JetBlue and United and giving it the infrastructure it needs for further developments.

LiveTV had equipped more than 700 aircraft with a range of connectivity services.

“We are now busy seeing how we can integrate LiveTV into the Thales family and leverage the advantages that gives us.”

Viasat also plans to launch ViaSat-2 in 2016, which is designed to cover a broader footprint in North America, Central America, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and to bridge the North Atlantic. It also recently announced a partnership with Eutelsat to allow “roaming” between each other’s Ka networks, both of which will offer Thales more coverage.

Thales is also a value added reseller for Inmarsat’s GX Aviation Ka-band system, so does that create a conflict of interest?

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“No, not at all,” Giannoni said. “We are platform agnostic, but the equipment and skills needed to operate over both Viasat and Inmarsat’s Ka-band satellites is similar, even if the two systems are not compatible.

“But if you look at the aircraft, the servers and the cabin network are the same, so the interface between the two is what is important – it becomes platform agnostic.

“We are working with Honeywell on Ka-band GX. Thales is line-fit offerable for IFEC on the Airbus A350 and we aim to be line-fit with GX as well.”

So has Thales shut the door on Ku-band?

“We waited for Ka as we didn’t want to compromise performance. We get good feedback from JetBlue and United and we think Ka offers the best solution going forward. Global Xpress will ultimately offer airlines the same experience, but with global coverage.

“Ultimately, our customers are the airlines and the only question is ‘how can we best serve them?’.

“For now we are looking at Ka, but we mustn’t forget air-to-ground (ATG) either,” he said, referencing AT&T’s ambitions to launch a rival to Gogo’s North American ATG network and Inmarsat’s embryonic plans for a Europe-wide equivalent.

“There are also plans for an ATG network in China too,” he said. “As 4G and later technologies develop and offer higher bandwidths it will become even more important.”

Giannoni added that Thales now has ambitious plans for connectivity, not just for IFEC, but also aircraft e-enabled operations.

“Thales is uniquely positioned, with offerings for passenger entertainment, avionics and air traffic management (ATM). This means we can see opportunities to help airlines with efficiencies gained via connectivity.

“Higher bandwidths will lead to new opportunities, including new value-added services,” he concluded.

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