Business & GA, Commercial

The 2-in-1 Orb’Phone

By Theirry Dubois | September 1, 2001
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Belgian-based Euro-GSM is offering a dual, in-flight telephone system that can use the Iridium and the Globalstar satellite nets simultaneously or either system independently. The company’s Orb’phone system is intended to virtually assure quality satellite coverage. Users can take advantage of Iridium’s worldwide coverage and of Globalstar’s high voice quality, at prices lower than Inmarsat’s.

Orb’phone has been in service with several French executive-charter operators since September 2000. Business jet operators are the company’s main target.

Orb’phone has two external lines. One line of Iridium and one of Globalstar or two lines of one satellite service can be installed. If cards for both services are installed, the two systems may be used simultaneously in flight.

The Phone Bill

According to Yves Hendrickx, Euro-GSM’s managing director, the price for Orb’phone is lower than an Inmarsat installation. "Installing Orb’phone costs around $34,000; the communication [charge] is about $1.65 per minute on both Iridium and Globalstar," he tells Avionics Magazine. Hendrickx adds that an Inmarsat installation costs "more than twice the price of Orb’phone, and the communication [charge] is six times higher."

The Orb’phone is flexible, allowing users to make changes. If the user buys, say, an Iridium card and wants to change it some time later, he or she may then buy the other card without having to alter the whole installation, Hendrickx explains. He adds that operators who invested in an Iridium configuration just before the company went ailing should feel comfortable with Orb’phone.

According to Hendrickx, the system is easy to fit into the aircraft because the handset is wireless. "There is no need for removing the aircraft interior," he explains. In addition, a passenger may start a conversation on this handset in the FBO (fixed-base operator) lounge and continue it inside the aircraft, without being interrupted. Crewmen can use the Orb’phone handset, too, as an interphone inside and around the aircraft.

Iridium offers seamless global coverage. Facsimile is available at 2400 baud; the Internet is accessible at a 9600 emulated baud rate. Globalstar now offers near-worldwide coverage above ground but far less over the oceans. Via Globalstar, the Internet is accessible at 9600 baud, "above North America only," Hendrickx says.

Approval ‘Routine’

The fixed equipment for the Orb’phone has a Federal Aviation Administration Technical Standard Order (TSO). Euro-GSM takes care of supplemental type certificate (STC) approval procedures and certification procedures for each type of aircraft. Hendrickx says this is "routine work" on most aircraft. However, on Falcon 900 trijets, the number-two engine composite cowl has to be modified to accommodate the antenna, which for all aircraft features a flat, low-drag design.

The antenna weighs 0.86 pound (0.39 kg) and the main system weighs 7.7 pounds (3.5 kg). Total power is 50 watts, five of which are for the antenna.

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