|The Inmarsat satellite network that will deliver aviation broadband. Photo: Inmarsat
[Avionics Today 03-25-2015] Honeywell and Inmarsat’s JetWave MCS 8200 completed over-the-air testing of the onboard datacom system earlier this month, possibly bringing them one step closer to delivering the global broadband to aviation that companies are striving toward and passengers are hungry for. The new system will deliver satellite-based In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) via the satellite operator’s Global Xpress network, and claims it can enable speeds at 40,000 feet similar to those we’re used to on the ground.
“The system will provide up to 33 Mpbs to the business and general aviation aircraft and up to 49 Mpbs for the air transport and regional aircraft,” Joseph Palovick, director of broadband cabin solutions and product management at Honeywell Aerospace, told Avionics Magazine. This should, Palovolick claims, allow business and commercial passengers to use the Internet in ways customers have come to expect but haven’t yet seen. “Passengers will be able to do everything from real-time social media updates and emails, to live-streaming TV while in flight, and from virtually anywhere in the world with an experience similar to being at home or in the office,” he added.
The new system is the result of a 2012 agreement between the two companies and aircraft manufacturers and airlines are already showing confidence in the system. Bombardier Business Aircraft announced its decision in September to be the launch Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) with plans to equip aboard the Global 5000 through 8000 aircraft platforms alongside a retrofit option for aircraft already in service.
“Our customers want to be online everywhere they go,” said Eric Martel, president of Bombardier Business Aircraft at the time of the announcement, noting that passengers expect to “experience the same level of connectivity in the air that they have come to expect on the ground without a drop in connectivity performance once they leave their homes or offices.”
The companies’ hope to deliver this kind of connectivity in the Ka-band network that Inmarsat’s satellite constellation is currently providing over the Indian Ocean, Americas and Atlantic Ocean. With the launch of the next satellite in the second quarter of this year, the band will come available over the Atlantic Ocean and deliver complete coverage. After the last satellite is launched, Palovick believes the Ka coverage it provides will offer a much higher speed than the Ku-band offerings that are on the market today.
“It will offer coverage on international flights where Ku coverage is not available and offer significant coverage advantages over other Ka-based solutions,” said Palovick. “It is the answer to limited bandwidth on flights, by providing the same high-speed connection in mid-air that you would get on the ground.”
While Honeywell and Inmarsat’s Ka-based JetWave hardware will offer coverage advantages, the industry still has shown a healthy demand for Ku-based solutions as well. For example, Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) recently announced a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for its Ku-band satellite connectivity system on the Boeing 777. GEE has also made its Ku-band system available on new Boeing 737s, giving airlines ordering 737s the option of including pre-installed satellite connectivity.
Palovick admits that the system is still susceptible to a certain amount of atmospheric or rain fade, however, but that there is some margin built into the link budget to account for it.
The system uses Honeywell’s onboard equipment to enable connectivity in two configurations: one for large air transport-grade aircraft in which it uses a steerable directional antenna system mounted on the fuselage, and the other for corporate business aircraft in which the antenna is mounted on the tail. The antenna is then combined with a number of components within the aircraft skin that function together to provide the connectivity system.
The hardware is currently in full certification testing and entering into DO-160 environmental and electromagnetic interference certifications, after which the companies will now look to prove the system on flight tests in the second quarter of 2015. If all goes as planned, the system should be available to connect to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress constellation network later this year for the cabin and eventually, for the cockpit should regulation allow.