Rockwell Collins outlines roadmap for connectivity business

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Craig Elliott, Rockwell Collins VP Sales and Marketing
Craig Elliott, Rockwell Collins VP Sales and Marketing

Cedar Rapids’ giant Rockwell Collins has been quietly putting the finishing touches to its future inflight connectivity plans, based around Inmarsat’s Ka-band GX system and OneWeb’s low earth orbiting satellites.

The company has been a little quiet on the inflight connectivity front recently, but Craig Elliott, Rockwell Collins VP Sales and Marketing, told “Get Connected’s Steve Nichols at Aircraft Interiors, Hamburg that the company has been positioning itself for the future.

“We have been getting ready to be ‘boldly involved’ in the future connectivity marketplace,” Elliott said.

“Wireless IFE, embedded IFE and connectivity are three legs of a stool that make a unique passenger experience happen. From our perspective connectivity is an absolutely crucial part of that.

“Connectivity is an enabler, which is one of the reasons we acquired ARINC,” he said.

ARINC brought its Cabin Connect wireless connectivity product to the party. Virgin Atlantic became the launch customer for Cabin Connect product in 2013 when it equipped three Airbus A330s for an initial 12-month trial.

Cabin Connect provides a wireless internet “hotspot” in the cabin, allowing an airline’s passengers to access the internet directly from their own personal devices, including laptops, smart phones, tablets and gaming devices.

On the A330s it uses the aircraft’s existing Cobham HGA 7001 antenna, Honeywell MCS7200 terminal and a single-channel Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (SBB) 432kbps connection.

The three A330s are still flying with Cabin Connect, but the future is now unclear after Gogo announced in 2014 that it will partner with Virgin Atlantic to offer its 2Ku in-flight connectivity services on the airline’s existing fleet.

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“Cabin Connect on Virgin is fully operational and doing very well,” said Elliott. “It is part of our holistic package.”

But with Ku-band and Ka-band offering multi-megabit speeds, SBB no longer looks attractive on new installations.

Luckily, the answer is just on the horizon. Rockwell Collins is a Value Added Reseller of Inmarsat’s GX Aviation Ka-band service and once fully launched will no doubt provide Cabin Connect with the shot in the arm it needs, complete with its [up to] 50Mbps connection speeds.

Rockwell Collins was originally slated to be the main supplier of the Inmarsat GX hardware, until talks broke down and Honeywell quickly stepped in to secure the deal.

Rockwell Collins has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with OneWeb to be the exclusive developer and provider of satellite communication terminals for the latter’s global aviation high-speed broadband service.

OneWeb is building a constellation of more than 600 low earth orbiting (LEO) satellites that, when launched, will be the largest telecommunications constellation, providing approximately 10 terabits per second of low-latency, high-speed broadband.

This won’t really be in place until 2018-2020, which means it is GX that will support Rockwell Collins’ broadband products for the next few years.

“We are going to be building the antenna and the terminal for OneWeb which will provide up to 500Mbps to the aircraft over Ku – that’s unheard of,” said Elliott.

“These are the kind of investments we are making long term. They are pieces of a puzzle that help us bring our comprehensive solution to the marketplace,” concluded Elliott.

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