Deutsche Telekom and Inmarsat, together with technology partner Nokia, have announced the completion of the ground network component of the LTE-based European Aviation Network (EAN).
The combined complementary air-to-ground and satellite system will provide seamless connectivity over land and water, with a more than 75 Mbit/s connection speed to the aircraft.
Around 300 base stations across all 28 member states of the European Union, plus Switzerland and Norway, form the ground network for the EAN. The completion of the network follows Inmarsat’s successful launch of its EAN satellite last summer, which has since been extensively tested in orbit and has been fully operational since September 2017.
Inmarsat says the system is on target for the first passengers to use the service by the end of the first half of 2018.
Rolf Nafziger, Senior Vice President, International Wholesale Business at Deutsche Telekom, said EAN is also designed to fulfil not only current but also future passenger demand for inflight connectivity as the integrated LTE ground network is fully scalable to meet increasing connectivity needs in the coming years.
Nafziger said: “The service has been trialled during several flights to test the integrated satellite and complementary LTE ground network. The test flights have confirmed that EAN meets its design performance in practice, providing low-latency performance of less than 100 ms.”
He said airlines will be able to install the small and lightweight EAN equipment quickly and easily, typically during overnight breaks for individual aircraft and turnaround times for entire fleets of just a few months.
The aircraft hardware includes three tiny antennas that can each fit in the palm of your hand – one on the top of the fuselage for the satellite link and two on the bottom for the ground network.
International Airlines Group (IAG), which includes airline brands British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, is the launch customer for the new service and has already commenced installations of EAN equipment on aircraft.
Frederik van Essen, Senior Vice President at Inmarsat Aviation, said: “EAN is the world’s first dedicated aviation connectivity solution which effectively combines space and ground-based components, overcoming the traditional limitations of inflight internet.
“Bringing connectivity to the skies is a complex effort and we could only realise this through strategic collaboration with our European partners.”
Van Essen said the EAN was designed to cope with Europe’s 22,500 flights per day and 500 million passengers per year.
Thorsten Robrecht, Vice President Vertical Network Slices at Nokia, added: “EAN’s ground network had to meet technical prerequisites that are quite different from ‘normal’ LTE networks – it needs to work at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, at heights of 10 km and requires large cells of up to 150 km.
“Our joint endeavour breaks the technological boundaries between ground and air on connectivity.”
Robrecht explained that the ground segment has to be able to handle the varying Doppler shifts caused by aircraft flying towards and away from the ground stations. He said sophisticated algorithms are used to compensate for the shift.