SmartSky Secures Funding to Deploy 4G ATG Network

Cessna Citation Excel operated by SmartSky Networks. Photo: SmartSky Networks.

Cessna Citation Excel operated by SmartSky Networks. Photo: SmartSky Networks.

SmartSky Networks has officially raised enough equity funding to achieve the deployment of its nationwide air-to-ground 4G network.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based inflight Internet provider’s latest round of funding features the company’s closing of more than $170 million in multi-tranche Series B financing. Adding the latest sum of financing to what’s already been accumulated, SmartSky has now raised $250 million in equity capital, enough funding to deploy its coast-to-coast network in the U.S.

Haynes Griffin, chairman and CEO of SmartSky Networks, said the company is now “moving rapidly” toward the deployment of the network this fall. The majority of the sites being used will be operational by then.

SmartSky has described its network as an open connectivity ecosystem, with 60 MHz of unlicensed spectrum and 4G beam-forming technology, which delivers a signal that locks onto an aircraft to deliver unrestricted access to the internet. In previous interviews with Avionics, SmartSky President Ryan Stone said that by the time the company achieves complete coverage across the U.S., its system would have nearly 20,000 beams and the ability to add more beams to enable the system to expand as demand grows.

“The SmartSky 4G LTE network goes live nationwide this year, our patented solution cracked the code on how to use 60 MHz of unlicensed spectrum to deliver the ultimate airborne Internet experience,” Stone said during the new product launch presentation at the 2017 Aircraft Electronics Assn. (AEA) convention earlier this month.

Onboard equipment required to enable aircraft connectivity with the network includes software-defined radios that have built-in frequency flexibility for international use. It is manufactured by general aviation avionics original equipment manufacturer Avidyne.

Over the last year, SmartSky has accomplished several industry agreements and milestones toward the deployment of the new network. In March 2016, the company formed a partnership with Bombardier to offer its network for in-service Bombardier Challenger, Learjet and Global business jets. That was followed by an April 2016 announcement of a partnership with Clay Lacy Aviation to provide hardware sales and installations as well as supplemental type certificate development on Gulfstream G200, G-IVs, G-IVSP and G-Vs.

Back in September, the Federal Communications Commission certified SmartSky’s 4G radio system. At the 2017 AEA convention, SmartSky unveiled its newest mobile application development platform called “SkyTelligence,” which provides companies in various segments of the industry to use various elements of their air-to-ground network to develop their own smartphone- and tablet-based applications.

Griffin expects installations of SmartSky aircraft equipment on aircraft operated by the company’s “early bird” customers to begin next quarter.

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