AIX: Inmarsat says GX Aviation IFC is getting ‘rave reviews’

Frederik van Essen, Inmarsat Aviation’s Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development.
Frederik van Essen, Inmarsat Aviation’s Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development.

Inmarsat now has more than 250 GX Aviation inflight connectivity installs under its belt with 1,300 aircraft in the backlog. The 250th aircraft to be equipped was for Air New Zealand, and Inmarsat says this shows the take-up for GX now spans the globe.

Speaking at a media roundtable at AIX, Frederik van Essen, Inmarsat Aviation’s Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development, said GX Aviation is getting “rave reviews” from people who are using it.

“Airlines are queuing up to get it on their aircraft and GX has won 12 awards so far in 2017/18 — it is great to see the recognition GX is getting in the marketplace,” he said.

“The performance we are seeing is stunning and people say the inflight connectivity experience blows them away.”

Van Essen said the rollout continues with Qatar Airways now equipped with GX Aviation on its Boeing 777s and the service coming up on its Airbus A3350s.

Inmarsat also confirmed a deal at the show with low-cost Indonesian airline Citilink, although “Get Connected” first announced that contract back in March.

The deal was signed in partnership with Lufthansa Technik, Lufthansa Systems and Indonesian tech company Mahata Aero Teknologi and will see a retrofit of 50 of Citilink’s Airbus A320s with the GX Aviation in-flight broadband service.

Qatar Airways Boeing 777 aircraft with the radome for GX Aviation.Qatar Airways Boeing 777 aircraft with the radome for GX.Qatar Airways Boeing 777 aircraft with the radome for GX.
Qatar Airways Boeing 777 aircraft with the radome for GX Aviation.

Van Essen claimed Inmarsat GX Aviation is the only inflight connectivity network with full contiguous high throughput satellite (HTS) coverage around the world.

“Other companies are still using a patchwork of coverage, with some wide-beam and not spot-beam satellites,” he said.

“Our next step is the launch of our very high throughput satellites (VHTS), adding additional capacity where it is needed over busy hubs. Data speeds are likely to go up too, but we are primarily aiming at adding capacity.”

“We will shrink the area of each spot-beam cell giving a lot more bandwidth in a particular area, where it is most needed” he said.

“One VHTS satellite will have more capacity that the whole current network and airlines won’t have to do anything to take advantage of them. The first GX I-5 VHTS satellite is planned for launch in 2019 and then we will have the I-6s, with both L-band and Ka-band, in the early 2020s.

“We are aggressive at innovating and have some very exciting technology on the drawing table — we will be making announcements about this in the near future,” Van Essen added.

He also said Hawaiian Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, and United Airlines are now signed up for Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) service, which will launch officially next week in Montreal.

“The FAA has now given FANS approval for SB-S, which gives a fully-secure broadband link to the cockpit with IP traffic. This opens up the possibility of having cockpit applications, like Honeywell weather radar and crowd-sourced weather data, over a reliable L-band link,” he said.

SB-S provides satellite-based ACARS capability over IP that is then routed across the existing ACARS network. He said in the future we can expect more cockpit avionics to be integrated with inflight connectivity.

Van Essen added that 200 aircraft are also now flying with Jet ConneX (JX), the name for the business aviation arm of GX Aviation. Gulfstream recently had its 100th aircraft equipped and JX now has 40 plus type certificates and STCs.

“It is literally running off the shelves,” he said.

Both GX and JX use connect to the satellite network using the JetWave terminals and fuselage- or tail-mounted antennas by Honeywell Aerospace.

An LTE ground station for the EAN. Image: Deutsche Telekom.
An LTE ground station for the EAN. Image: Deutsche Telekom.

David Fox, VP Inflight Connectivity, Deutsche Telekom, also said that the ground network for the new European Aviation Network (EAN) is now complete, with 300 LTE sites installed, up and running, and with contiguous coverage for the 28 EU member states plus Switzerland.

“Overall, we are now in the final stages of optimising the network and plugging a few gaps that need to be covered,” Fox said. “There are some non-EU areas that want to get on board with EAN too, such as the Balkans.

He said EAN can deliver up to 100Mbps to the aircraft with a total capacity of 90Gbps.

“EAN has three antennas on the aircraft so you always have coverage,” he said. “They are also tiny – the antennas are about the size of a Coke can and there is a major weight saving too.

“EAN also allows us to make smaller incremental steps and increase the technology as required. For example, with the ever-increasing demands we are seeing for data, we can react quickly. Capacity won’t be a problem as EAN can be scaled as needed.

“We can just add new panel equipment to an existing mast or add a new mast. That is so much easier than launching a new satellite,” Fox said.

“EAN is LTE on steroids,” he said. “We are actively working with Nokia to look at increasing the speeds and efficiency of data links. In other words, EAN will benefit from all the research now going into 5G telecommunications.

“We are also looking at making the journey onto the EAN network as seamless as possible for passengers and working on bundling EAN usage into existing mobile phone tariffs.

“From a timing perspective, we have the satellite launched and the network in place. The launch customer, IAG, is test flying the equipment as we speak and the decision as to when they wish to go live rests with them,” Fox said.

But what about the reported spat with Viasat, which recently saw a war of words erupt after a Belgium court annulled Inmarsat’s Complementary Ground Component (CGC) authorisation for EAN?

“Viasat is doing everything it can to delay EAN,” Fox said. “We are backed by a solid regulatory network and we are confident that it will be resolved very quickly,” Fox concluded.

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