Inflight connectivity – what can we expect in 2016?

A passenger using inflight connectivity via an iPad on an aircraft.The inflight connectivity market each year is never dull and 2016 should be no exception. But what can we expect in terms of news in 2016? “Get Connected’s” Steve Nichols takes a look.

It has been a long time in the making, but 2016 will finally be the year that Inmarsat’s high-speed Ka-band Global Xpress inflight connectivity system is launched across the world.

The company has all three of its initial I-5 satellites in position and recently announced they have now entered global Commercial Service Introduction (CSI).

A fourth GX satellite — Inmarsat-5 F4 — is currently completing construction and testing by Boeing in California. This satellite is likely to be launched in the second half of 2016 to provide additional GX network capacity.

The race will now be on to bring the service to the market – both for the business aviation sector and air transport.

Taking business aviation first, in its Jet ConneX guise it promises to deliver around 15Mbps to the tail-mounted Honeywell MCS-8000 antenna on business jets, or perhaps up to 30Mbps to the fuselage-mounted MCS-8200 antenna on VVIP aircraft.

Bizjets on static display
Bizjets on static display at Ebace.

“Get Connected” has a comprehensive feature on JetConneX, for you, written in partnership with SatCom Direct.

In the commercial aviation world the race will be on to get STCs available for the MCS-8200 antenna aboard a myriad of different platforms, where it will deliver at least 30Mbps and possibly more – we were originally promised up to 50Mbps.

Work is progressing around the world, with the Boeing 757 probably being the first platform to gain an STC as this was the test bed aircraft that Honeywell used.

Work is known to be ongoing on a host of other aircraft, including the Airbus A350 (with Qatar and Air Caraibes among others) and A380, plus the Boeing 747 and 777.

Honeywell MCS-8200 Ka-band antenna for Inmarsat's GX Aviation service.
Honeywell’s fuselage-mounted Ka-band MCS-8200 antenna for Inmarsat’s GX Aviation service.

There will no doubt be a surge of new GX customer announcements to join the existing ones of Singapore Airlines with OnAir and Jazeera with Rockwell Collins. Lufthansa will also fit GX to some of its short and medium-haul fleet.

ViaSat and Thales

You could be forgiven for thinking that Inmarsat is the only Ka-band provider on the market, but that isn’t true. ViaSat and Thales InFlyt Experience make an effective partnership with their regional Ka-band offering, available on JetBlue and United and that will get an added push this year with the launch of the ViaSat-2 satellite.

Thales meanwhile should get the OK for its regional Ka trial with Vueling very soon. This has been delayed since its original announcement earlier last year. Thales will be keen to announce further customers for both regional Ka and its Inmarsat GX offering in 2016.

Yahsat will also start trials this year of its Ka-band inflight connectivity with Etihad.

We mustn’t forget Ku-band either. Global Eagle Entertainment is currently fitting its equipment to flydubai’s Boeing 737 fleet and we can expect the first official roll-out of its inflight connectivity with the airline some time in the first quarter.

Panasonic Avionics announced in November that it has partnered with Astronics to bring its Ku-band connectivity to the business aviation market.

In September it also claimed to now have 51% of the air transport inflight connectivity market in terms of customers.

Panasonic Avionics' Neil James.
Panasonic Avionics’ Neil James.

Speaking at the APEX Expo in September, Neil James, Panasonic EVP Corporate Sales and Product Management, said that since AIX in Hamburg it had been awarded contracts for a further 394 aircraft. He added that since April 2015 it has completed 560 installations, with 2,659 further aircraft committed.

We mustn’t forget that the Ku-band Intelsat 29e, the first of its EpicNG high throughput satellites (HTS), is scheduled to launch on January 27, 2016.

Gogo should also have a busy year. Its 2Ku antenna is getting a lot of traction in the commercial market and recent tests showed that it could consistently deliver in excess of 12Mbps to the aircraft.

In November it hit a milestone with 2,500 commercial aircraft now flying with its connectivity solutions.

Out of the 2,500, it said more than 860 aircraft had been outfitted with the company’s higher capacity ATG4 air-to-ground solution and more than 150 aircraft are installed with its Ku-band satellite system.

This is just a snapshot of the news we can expect in 2016 – there will be plenty more, including further news on the all-important e-aircraft or e-enablement industry.

Rest assured that Get Connected will bring it to you as it happens. To make sure you don’t miss anything make sure you follow @getconnaero on Twitter and sign up to our free monthly e-newsletter.

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