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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Airfone Ends, New Year Pits Grrrilla Vs. Aircell

Chelsea Bryan

The Airfone air-to-ground communications network meets its end this New Year’s Eve Tuesday, Dec. 31. However, as Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 arrives, ASiQ Limited will deliver an alternative to the decommissioned service and Aircell costly replacement options. 
 
The new service, dubbed Grrrilla, is a combination narrow and broadband system that connects to global cellphone networks and shares the connectivity link with any device (Apple, Android, Blackberry) via Bluetooth for up to 12 simultaneous connections. Grrrilla adds a switch mode satellite service allowing pay-for-what-you-use full Internet mode. It does all this to provide in-flight connectivity at a fraction of the cost of Gogo Biz's Aircell.
 
While the Aircell ATG series air-to-ground systems — the Gogo Biz Airfone alternative — costs $57,000 for three people to connect, Grrrilla’s is $65,000 and connects up to 12 users. It also works over water; Aircell does not. For the monthly service, Grrrilla’s unlimited email/SMS data plan is priced at $799 while Gogo Biz charges $2,295 for an unlimited data plan. 
Image courtesy of ASiQ Limited
 
The Airfone replacement discounts Gogo Biz has offered for Aircell equipment and service expire today; add-ons like Gogo’s new smartphone-based Text & Talk service still require the equipment and voice plan service in addition to $9,995 in software upgrades — a very big cost differential from the Grrrilla solution. Such in-air Wi-Fi plus Iridium solutions, though expensive, have traditionally been the price of connectivity. 
 
“We needed to come up with a solution for people that didn’t really want to pay a fortune for Wi-Fi but still wanted the ability to check their email and send a message and also wanted something that was international, because the Aircell system is fantastic on the U.S. domestic market, but once you fly over water you lose connectivity,” said ASiQ Limited Chief Executive Officer Ron Chapman.
 
The pre-Grrrilla ASiQ Limited product Bizjet Mobile is an even cheaper one-year-old connectivity system that taps into the existing packet-data based Iridium or Inmarsat satellite networks and shifts data over global cellphone telco networks. For Bizjet Mobile, unlimited emails, instant messages, texts, calls and a personalized iPad cost $35,000, including a portable Iridium satcom device. Monthly service is $499 for U.S. service and $799 internationally.
 
While Aircell uses a tiered system to connect three or fewer devices for ATG 2000 and the whole aircraft with ATG 4000 and 5000, Bizjet Mobile and Grrrilla can automatically serve the whole aircraft without lag. This is because Bluetooth is not a shared-resource network like Wi-Fi; it doesn’t slow down as additional users jump on because each individual gets their own direct link to the global cellphone telco network. And where Aircell requires the aircraft to be grounded for installation, Grrrilla and Bizjet Mobile use a portable Iridium satcom device that plugs in and sets up immediately.
 
ASiQ Limited is able to provide these In-Flight Personal Area Networks (IPAN) at a low cost structure because of Bluetooth’s expanded range and speed since its first limited uses years ago, in addition to the lower certification costs compared to Wi-Fi. Bluetooth only uses 10 milliwatts of power, so it is completely safe for use on the aircraft and does not require extensive certifications like high-powered Wi-Fi networks do. “I’ve spent three decades in the airline world and we’ve developed standards that you test wireless transmitters to in order to certify them on board an aircraft. The more power you have the more complicated the standards,” said Chapman.
 
That explains why Aircell solutions are so high-dollar and ASiQ Limited’s solutions are not.
 
The one capability Bizjet is not equally optimized for is streaming live video. However, according to Chapman, most business aviation customers are more interested in email, calls, social media updates and the ability to communicate with family and share pictures through text. Leisure customers seeking entertainment are the source of high video demand.
 

 

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