Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband finds new applications

An Inmarsat I-4 satellite.
An Inmarsat I-4 satellite.

Often in the shadow of Inmarsat’s upcoming Ka-band Global Xpress (GX) service, SwiftBroadband (SBB) is getting a new lease of life thanks to a service upgrade, a new satellite and new applications.

At an educational event held at Inmarsat’s City Road headquarters in London, connectivity specialist Eclipse outlined how the L-band service is still the weapon of choice for many of its business and military projects.

SBB was launched in 2008 and is delivered by Inmarsat’s I-4 satellites

The service, which is used by up to 7,500 aircraft, was boosted recently with the addition of Alphasat – a next-generation satellite that has taken the place of the I-4 that used to serve the EMEA region.

Charlie Clark, Inmarsat’s Value Added Reseller Manager, Business Aviation, said that satellite is now being relocated eastwards towards Asia to add more capacity to Inmarsat’s L-band network.

SBB has traditionally been able to deliver up to 432kbps to an aircraft fitted with a high-gain antenna or around 200kbps to a lightweight “sharkfin” type.

But Eclipse’s Shaun Flanagan explained how it has been bonding two or more channels together to deliver upwards of 2Mbps.

“This has been used to stream video to the ground from intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft,” Flanagan said.

Aero+ Velocity IP aggregation and four channels of Inmarsat’s Swift Broadband's X-Stream service, gave a 1.4 Mbps connection.
Aero+ Velocity IP aggregation and bonding channels can give much faster connections.

He showed a video that demonstrated the quality of the video stream, which to all intents and purposes was as good as the video recorded on the aircraft itself.

“By bonding SBB channels we can achieve much higher data rates than you would normally expect. This has a lot of applications in military and business markets,” Flanagan said.

Eclipse also talked about the new high data rate (HDR) mode on SBB that was introduced after a software upgrade to the satellite fleet.

HDR over SBB can deliver up to 700kbps, but only as a streaming service. That is, it has to be switched on and the service is then charged by the minute, not by the kilobyte.

HDR’s long-burst data-interleaving technology can also be used on helicopters – traditional SBB was never effective on rotorcraft as the blades “chopped” up the signal too much to make it usable.

Eclipse says Honeywell offers an HDR upgrade for its class six and seven terminals.

A software change is needed for HDR to be enabled on the HSD-400i/HD-710 and Aspire 200 terminals. While the software upgrade is free, there is an activation charge of $60,000 for the single channel terminals and $80,000 for two-channel variants.

A new service called LAISR – L-band Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance – will also be available soon. Designed for Government use, the service destroys myths about the maximum speeds available via L-band. Using leased bandwidth, it can deliver up to 10Mbps using a special modem and reserved spectrum. Eclipse says that realistically you can expect about 4-5 Mbps to a high-gain antenna, but this is still around 10 times faster than normal SBB speeds.

The LAISR service is designed to meet the high-speed, beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) connectivity requirements of military and government Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (AISR) missions across the globe.

LAISR allows the transmission of high-definition full-motion video and data from manned and unmanned aircraft.

SBB is also getting a new lease of life with aviation safety services. Hawaiian Airlines is currently testing SBB Safety on its Boeing 767-300 fleet.

SBB Safety enables voice and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System/Future Air Navigations Systems (ACARS/FANS) data transmissions when aircraft are flying over oceans, improving safety and efficiency in oceanic airspace.

The system enables the transfer of data messages using Inmarsat’s SBB connectivity via a secure, dedicated “pipe” to the cockpit. The ACARS message is encapsulated into an IP “message”, which is then stripped out on the ground before being fed into the ACARS data network (in this case ARINC’s).

Surprisingly, Inmarsat has embryonic plans for the future launch of more L-band satellites for the SBB service. So rumours of its imminent demise have been grossly exaggerated!

To make the most of the opportunities available, Sean Flanagan said that Eclipse recently formed a new company in the UK – AeroSatcom. This is a joint venture with NSSL Global to create a new solutions provider that gives them a direct technical interface with Inmarsat and exposure to new markets.

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