Mitsubishi has this week unveiled designs for a new super-thin aircraft antenna, which they say will enable high-speed WiFi connectivity even on the smallest of aircraft. Working with Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), the company has developed the Ka-band antenna to have the lowest profile of any antenna in the world, at less than 3cm in height.
But great things come in small packages, as Mitsubishi says that its active electronically steered array antenna (AESA) can deliver satellite broadband at speeds beyond 100Mbps. Added to this, the company has worked with Tohoku University and Tohoku MicroTec Co. to develop an accompanying radio-frequency integrated circuit for an envisioned millimeter-wave V-band (40 to 75 GHz) AESA that will be capable of delivering inflight connectivity at even faster speeds.
The new antenna is thin and small enough to be installed on any size of aircraft, and is proven to be capable of operating even at high latitudes. This is a positive inclusion for the future of both commercial and business aircraft connectivity, as it future proofs the antenna’s capabilities for worldwide use.
Mitsubishi says that the Ka-band antenna should be ready to market by 2023, and the V-band after 2027.
A look at the new antenna
The development of super thin and lightweight antennas is crucial to some types of aircraft. While larger passenger jets can accommodate larger radomes without too much impact on efficiency, business jets and smaller planes do not have the space to install them on board. When it comes to electronically steerable antenna (ESA), the problem is even further exacerbated due to the requirement for space for the devices that drive the mechanics.
Mitsubishi says it has solved this problem by incorporating the antenna elements, the RF combiner and the RF-ICs into a single circuit board. These are then built into the AESA to achieve a profile of less than three centimeters.
Mitsubishi further says that it has developed a proprietary millimeter-wave antenna with a hollow cavity inside a printed circuit board. This development not only improves the antenna’s efficiency, but also delivers high performance even at high latitudes. The manufacturer says that the antenna retains efficiency of operation even at angles as acute as 20 degrees.
Accompanying the new antenna is Mitsubishi’s proprietary Ka-band RF-IC, which serves to amplify satellite signals whilst still reducing noise. The new amplifier has a power added efficiency rating of 29.1%, which the maker says is 1.8 times greater than its existing RF-IC product.
A competitive marketplace
Mitsubishi is entering a competitive and increasingly crowded marketplace with its new ESA. At the end of last year, we saw Gilat proving its ESA in flight, while ThinKom just last month tested its super thin antenna to achieve a near zero drag rating. Both Phasor and Astronics are forging ahead with small, low profile ESAs too.
Electronically Steerable Antennas are beneficial to airlines both in terms of drag and quality of connection. Because the seek out the strongest signal, aircraft can stay connected in more locations around the globe. Added to this, advances in amplification technology means these antennas can be incredibly thin and low drag. Despite all the efforts to advance ESA’s on commercial aircraft, there is still not one in active service. Clearly, Mitsubishi is keen to enter the race.