Sponsored Feature: The inflight connectivity landscape has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. From being a relatively slow, but nice to have, add-on for business aircraft, it has become a fast, essential service, offering an experience close to what passengers see on the ground.
But the question is, what comes next? What can we expect to see with future inflight connectivity systems?
Mark van Berkel, president of SD Avionics (formerly TrueNorth, before it was acquired by Satcom Direct in 2016), said: “I think what we will see is a change to a software-defined approach to avionics. That is, there are currently a lot of different hardware platforms with a lot of different software applications running on them.
“But just as your phone is driven by its applications we may see a change towards the hardware being installed at the factory and different being software defined.”
Van Berkel said we are already seeing this with the development of software-defined radio, where a hardware box can run as a HF, VHF or UHF radio by the application of different software.
Components, such as mixers, filters and modulators/demodulators, have been traditionally implemented in hardware, but a software-defined radio allows a digital device to emulate them through an application.
The end result is a smaller, lighter unit that can be updated just through the installation of new software. The military and cellular phone industries have been avid adopters of software-defined radio technology, and we can expect to see more of it on business and commercial aircraft too.
“We already have more than enough processing power available – your iPhone has more computing power than the computers NASA used to send men to the moon,” van Berkel said.
“But if you have a common hardware platform, with all the right interfaces and buses, you can have less wiring and more capabilities, just through software.”
SD Avionics provides an app-based solution for inflight connectivity on business jets, which simplifies upgrades. Its systems are found on a range of aircraft types including Bombardier, Gulfstream, Dassault Falcon, Boeing Business Jets and Airbus Corporate Jets.
Van Berkel also noted that the market is seeing a shift towards a more content-driven approach to inflight connectivity.
“When we talk about content, we tend to think of movies. Taking your iPhone as an example, content now includes maps, Facetime, teleconferencing and much more,” he said.
And what else can we expect? A number of innovative antennas for inflight connectivity are under development.
For example, SD is a reseller partner for Astronics Corporation’s new FliteStream T-Series tail-mounted Ku-band connectivity system.
The system, which is now certified and in production, was recently demonstrated on a Gulfstream G-IV aircraft in the skies above Las Vegas during the NBAA business aviation trade show in October 2017.
Passengers who used it reported seeing a minimum of 4 Mbps connectivity, with it commonly reaching more than 7 Mbps.
Another innovation expected to come into service this year is SmartSky Network’s new 4G LTE-based air-to-ground network. SD is SmartSky’s exclusive distribution partner with provisioning and support services.
More information will be made available at SD’s popular “Connecting with Customers (CwC)” seminar, which is being be held on February 19-22 2018, in Austin, Texas.
Jim Huntoon, SD’s Director of Sales-Strategic Partnerships, said: “The now FAA-certified, future-ready performance afforded by SmartSky 4G LTE will be a key part of the conversation.
“We are excited to see this new technology come to market, bringing a new level of speed and reliability to business aviation connectivity.”