SmartSky 4G LTE gets closer to commercial launch

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SmartSky Networks logoSmartSky Networks is getting closer to the full commercial roll-out of its 4G LTE-based air-to-ground (ATG) inflight connectivity service and has completed its first media demonstration.

The company’s Citation Excel took flight recently from Melbourne International Airport with the media encouraged to do multiple things online simultaneously.

SmartSky says they conducted real-time video calls with colleagues across the country. They also seamlessly streamed movies (no buffering), and used their phones to do everything from check their calendars to search the web.

It says they also easily accessed corporate clouds, and successfully sent and received data on multiple VPN sessions.

“Basically, we said, put us to the test,” says SmartSky Networks Vice President, Product Management Eric Brooks, who was on the flight.

“They experienced what we’ve been saying from Day One: SmartSky delivers on the promise of office-like internet access in the sky.”

Following the flight, the media participated in a debrief at the Satcom Direct hangar, then toured Avidyne.

SmartSky partners with Avidyne for the manufacture, certification and support of its air-to-ground wireless connectivity products.

SmartSky and Avidyne have worked closely to develop specialised products for business aircraft, including airborne radios and antennas.

Avidyne secures Parts Manufacturing Authorization (PMA) for new hardware, provides ground- and flight-test services, and develops the initial Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for installation.

After the tour, the group returned to the Satcom Direct (SD) hangar for an interview with SD Senior Commercial Director Derek Donahue and Director of Sales-Strategic Partnerships Jim Huntoon.

SD has achieved many firsts since its founding in 1997, including its patented Global One Number (GON) simplified calling to an aircraft in flight.

SD serves as SmartSky’s exclusive customer service and support provider. The company offers many value-added services and products, including the industry’s premier airborne router.

SmartSky says its patented 4G technology with beamforming and efficient air-to-ground network gives passengers an office-in-the-sky experience and operators a new, better way of managing their aircraft communications.

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SmartSky says an analysis of the data operations revealed.

  • Multi-GB per hour actual data consistent throughput.

  • Actual peak speeds well in excess of 10 Mbps, with individually run speed tests showing high multi-Mbps bidirectional data rates, as well.

  • Average return link traffic representing nearly 25 percent of the data. The company says no other inflight connectivity network supports these crucially needed ratios to run the popular applications customers want, need and expect to use.

  • Average of more than 50 seamless beam handovers per flight, proving the most difficult engineering aspect of the system works, and demonstrating the system’s inherent scalability.

SmartSky’s 4G LTE nationwide network includes secure data centres strategically located in California, Colorado and Virginia that are already operational.

SmartSky is manufacturing its proprietary antennas and ground stations, and deploying them nationwide on existing cell towers as the equipment rolls off the production lines.

It’s working with the three leading U.S. tower companies: Crown Castle, SBA and American Tower. Together, they own a vast majority of the existing towers across the country.

These three along with a fourth company, Powder River Development, are delivering the additional steps necessary for installation at each site, such as delivering high-capacity fiber optic backhaul links.

SmartSky works with Datapipe and Equinix to host its virtual core (or software) at their facilities in California, Colorado and Virginia.

The nearest centre to a customer’s aircraft is always sending and receiving data. Those close gateways to the internet mean low latency, which eliminates communication lag time.

It says having three centres also makes the system more fail-safe. For example, it can provide backup in case a massive storm takes one centre offline.

SmartSky 4G LTE is due to go live across the US in mid-2018 for business aviation operators.

For a limited time, customers can sign up to take advantage of SmartSky’s Network Launch Promotion, which rewards them with bonus data. It also includes an unlimited data option (subject to terms and conditions) that represents the lowest price per GB in airborne connectivity.

“SmartSky 4G LTE is the only system that can deliver multi-Gigabyte-per-hour data rates inflight, bi-directionally and with low latency,” says SmartSky Networks President Ryan Stone.

“The meaning of that doesn’t truly hit home until you experience it. The promised revolution in connectivity is under way.”

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