Inmarsat’s 11-month-old Swift64 high-speed data service, based on the Inmarsat-3 constellation, has carved out a niche in government and corporate aviation. As of December, more than 100 terminals apparently had been sold, and five manufacturers were building 64-kilobit/sec satcom equipment. Despite the chill in the air transport market, airlines are said to be requesting the technology.
The Australian Customs Service is fitting its fleet of Dash-8 Coastwatch aircraft with EMS Technologies’ HSD-128, which allows dual-channel, 128-Kbit/sec data throughput. The equipment will be used to transmit real-time video, stills, voice and data. Two aircraft are in service and the remaining three will be equipped. EMS and its distributors have sold about 100 HSD-128 systems, split about 60/40 between the government and corporate markets.
Government and corporate customers employ high-throughput circuit mode–or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN)–communications, paying for connection time. Applications include video conferencing, large file transfers, high-quality voice, and electronic collaboration programs, such as mission planning.
"We finally have a data link at a data rate that allows users to do these things," says Ray Larkin, director of sales, aeronautical satcom products for EMS Technologies. In the U.S. government sector, video conferencing appears to be the most important capability, he adds. (Teledyne Controls provides the EMS equipment and a complementary Smart Cabin Office Suite for the business aircraft market.)
Other EMS government applications include senior officer transport and communications installed on U.S. Air Force versions of the Boeing 757 (C-32A), Gulfstream V (C-37A), Gulfstream IV and IV-SP (C-20B), and Boeing Business Jet (C-40B). Rockwell Collins also has sold Swift64 gear to "U.S. government entities" and expects that area to be a good market, says John Friesz, marketing manager for satcom products. The company is well-positioned in the government VIP aircraft market and the military sector, providing satcom for KC-135 and C-17 aircraft. (EMS competes with Collins in the VIP market and also supplies Collins’ HST-900 high-speed transceiver.) Collins expected supplemental type certificate approval for its first business aircraft installation in December or January.
EMS also offers a roll-on/roll-off, "palletized" version of its HSD-128 for U.S. Army airborne command post applications. The ruggedized Viper terminal allows personnel to share mission planning applications with counterparts on other aircraft while en route to their destination. The equipment can be used on U.S. Air Force C-17 and C-130 troop carriers. EMS is working to provide customers reliable 256-Kbit/sec (compressed) data transmissions.
Honeywell expects to obtain type certification approval of the single-channel Honeywell/Thales HS-700 on the Gulfstream G550 by mid-2003. "Tens of units have been sold," says Bill Rowell, marketing manager for satcom products. The HS-700 shares the high-gain antenna with Honeywell’s existing MCS-7000 satcom system. The HS-700 will be offered as an option on Gulfstream’s new G400, G500 and G550 aircraft. Honeywell/Thales’ first-generation Swift64 box, the HS-600, is a retrofit option on legacy Gulfstream GIV, GIV-SP and GV aircraft. There also are HS-700 customers for the Bombardier Global Express and Dassault Falcon 2000EX and 900EX.
Honeywell/Thales and Collins plan to migrate to dual-channel, 128-Kbit/sec capability. Honeywell/Thales expects to introduce a two-box, 128-Kbit solution, the HS-700/HS-702, by December 2003. A successor 128-Kbit/sec system, the HS-720–expected by June of 2004–will be integrated into a single 4-MCU box.
Inmarsat also is bringing out an "always on," mobile packet data service (MPDS), suitable to "bursty" data applications like short e-mails. Packet data service customers will pay for data sent rather than the time used. The EMS HSD-128 MPDS upgrade received full Inmarsat type approval in December 2002, the first company to do so. The HSD-128 also is the first high-speed data terminal that can simultaneously operate an ISDN circuit switched connection and a packet data connection.
Inmarsat planned to launch an MPDS beta test program with three or four customers in January, according to Simon Tudge, the company’s marketing manager for aeronautical business. The program–not part of the approval process–will allow applications providers, service providers, avionics manufacturers and customers to fine tune their Swift64 systems in a controlled environment. A key issue will be setting up the server to choose between circuit or packet mode, depending on the size of the application.
Air Transport Next?
The next step for Inmarsat high-speed data is air transport. About 1,400 air transport aircraft already are fitted with high-gain antennas using Aero H or Aero H+ systems for cockpit or cabin communications.
In December Rockwell Collins was negotiating with two or three airlines to begin trials of Swift64 in a mixture of Boeing and Airbus aircraft early in 2003. The trials primarily would involve cabin applications, but one trial involves an "operational interest," Friesz says.
Honeywell expects at least one or two airlines to adopt its initial two-channel offering, the HS-700/HS-702, with an upgrade path to the HS-720. The company planned to begin technical coordination meetings with Airbus in January, leading to eventual certification on the A340-600 and A330. Similar discussions will be held with Boeing.
Teledyne Controls also is talking with the airlines, according to Jody Glasser, senior director of business development. And Teledyne is looking at how to measure usage down to the individual seat level, he says. This will be important for fractional-owned and air transport aircraft, if services are billed, and will help characterize cost/benefits.
Inmarsat also plans to launch two new Inmarsat-4 satellites in the first half of 2004. This development targets high-data- rate land/mobile users, but aerospace services–code-named Swift Small Spot–are expected to begin by mid-2005.
The satellites will feature 200 small spot beams and 19 regional beams, as well as a global beam. The wide spot beams could provide between 64 and 128 Kbits/sec service and the narrow spot beams, up to 432 Kbits/sec in a broadband global area network (BGAN). (That could work out to around 340 Kbits/sec because of network variables, according to Collins.) The narrow spot beams are expected to allow for a higher data rate or smaller antenna, says Tony Busby, Inmarsat’s general manager, aeronautical business.
Honeywell plans a BGAN product for mid-2006, Rowell says. The MCS 7200 would fill the two spare card slots in the existing MCS 7000 satcom system with technology to support 432-Kbit/sec Inmarsat-4 service, he adds.
BGAN-type data rates would mean lower cost per data unit, says Friesz, who anticipates an evolution to "usable data rates" for widebody aircraft–"seemingly real-time communications for Internet-type applications in the passenger environment."