What connectivity options are available for business aviation?

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There has never been a better time to think about fitting inflight connectivity to your business aircraft.

The latest high speed systems allow streaming video, high-speed broadband internet access, email, VPN access, video calling and conferencing, voice and SMS text messaging, and much more in the cabin.

And the flight deck is not forgotten either with wirelessly-updated flight maps, real-time weather updates and ATC messages.

There are multiple options for inflight connectivity providers, each having its own benefits, advantages and limitations.

Iridium has been a mainstay for business operators for some time. Using a constellation of low-earth orbiting satellites, Iridium’s biggest plus has been the small antennas needed for the system to work. Often only the size of a hockey puck, this has meant installation costs could be kept low.

The data speeds of around 2.4kbps are good enough to offer voice services and basic e-mail services, but not fast enough for video or large file transfers.

Iridium is authorised for critical air traffic control communications (Safety Services) for aircraft operating in oceanic airspace. Iridium also has plans for a new service called Iridium NEXT, featuring a constellation of 66 satellites and a number of in-orbit spares with the launches starting in 2016.

And, Iridium is not the only option. The higher Ku and Ka-band radio frequencies now being used by other providers means data throughput speeds are increasing dramatically.

ViaSat’s Ku-band Yonder® and Ka-band Exede in the Air® high-speed connectivity services promise cable-like performance, plus seamless connections around the globe.

Yonder® offers up to 1.5 Mbps to the aircraft and up to 128 kbps off with STCs for a host of aircraft including Gulfstream, Boeing (BBJ), Cessna and Bombardier.

Passenger on bizjet using a phoneViaSat Yonder® currently has extensive coverage throughout the world and there are plans to extend this further over the next few years, especially over parts of North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Far East and Northern Scandinavia.

ViaSat Exede® in the Air takes speeds even higher thanks to its Ka-band performance. Exede® boosts cabin-available speeds up to around 12-15Mbps. The USA is covered by ViaSat-1 and Europe is covered by an agreement with Eutelsat for coverage over its KA-SAT satellite. ViaSat-2 is also coming in 2016, and will expand coverage over the Atlantic Ocean, plus add additional capacity over Canada and Central America

But ViaSat is not the only player in the Ka-band market. Inmarsat is due to launch its Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band service to the aviation community at the end of this year.

Honeywell is building the antennas and avionics needed for aircraft wanting to use GX. The bizjet offering is called Jet ConneX (JX) and will offer up to 50Mbps to VVIP aircraft and up to 33 Mbps to bizjets.

Narrow and wide-body aircraft can be fitted with a fuselage-mounted antenna while smaller aircraft, such as bizjets, will use a tail-mounted parabolic dish antenna.

Tipping the scales at just 9lbs the lightweight bizjet antenna can easily be balanced on one hand.

Kymeta, which features Bill Gates as a backer, has also been commissioned to develop a smaller lightweight flat panel antenna for GX, although we are unlikely to see it for a couple of years.

So with GX coming online soon, is that the end of Inmarsat’s slower SwiftBroadband service? Far from it. Inmarsat expects the two services to be complementary, not for GX to replace SwiftBroadband.

Jen Marts with Cobham's SB200 antenna.
Jen Marts with Cobham’s SB200 antenna.

As well as offering data speeds to the cabin of up to 432kbps – enough for emails, small file transfers and phone calls using Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) – there is a lightweight version known as SB200, which uses smaller, lighter antennas and is therefore well suited to bizjets.

Data speeds give a similar experience to that of a typical hotel Wi-Fi connection.

Inmarsat is also currently flight testing SwiftBroadband for aviation “Safety Services” – air traffic control (ATC) instructions passed from the ground to aircraft. This will allow Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) data messages to be passed over a SwiftBroadband satellite link.

So as you can see, there are lots of different inflight connectivity options for the business aviation community.

Satcom Direct is a premier Inmarsat Distribution Partner, Iridium Service Partner, and ViaSat Yonder’s preferred reseller, supporting flight departments worldwide. It is also the first business aviation communication provider to provision and validate its services over Inmarsat’s new Ka-band GX network.

Talk to Satcom Direct to find out what would be best for you.

Website: www.satcomdirect.com

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