Trade shows bring out new hardware launches and the recent Satellite Show 2018 was no exception. Among the many vendors showing off new wares, Israeli inflight connectivity hardware provider Gilat launched its AeroEdge 6000 dual-band airborne terminal. The kit supports Ku and Ka-band connectivity in a single installation footprint, providing aeronautical broadband satellite communication for high-speed Internet and multimedia applications. The terminal includes Gilat’s ER 6000-A Ku/Ka antenna, SkyEdge II-c Taurus MODMAN, Ku/Ka Antenna Networking Data Unit (KANDU) and Wavestream’s Ku/Ka Radio Frequency Unit (KRFU). If the news sounds familiar there’s good reason for that: A similar announcement was made at the 2017 show. This hardware is the outcome of that partnership announcement.
— Gilat Satellite Net (@GilatSatNet) March 13, 2018
The terminal allows seamless transition between Ka-band coverage and Ku-band coverage, allowing an aircraft to take advantage of the best available satellite in any particular region, accounting for both performance and costs. This is, in theory, an ideal situation for connectivity service providers and for airline customers.
“We are pleased to bring to market AeroEdge 6000, a complete terminal with superior system transmission performance and efficiency. The terminal maintains application continuity with automatic beam/gateway and satellite switchover, and was designed to assure continuous gate-to-gate operation,” said Amir Yafe, Head of Products at Gilat. “The terminal recently achieved download speeds of 130Mbps in a live customer demonstration in China with dozens of concurrent users. This terminal is a major milestone in Gilat’s strategy to leverage our global IFC expertise and leadership for adoption to local markets and with regional service providers where different frequency bands are used in different flight routes.”
There’s just one little problem: No one seems to want the Ku-Ka combination product.
With a few thousand commercial aircraft carrying satellite-based wifi systems today only 10 ever ordered a Ku/Ka combination solution. Those Virgin America aircraft took the KuKa kit from Viasat, allowing for Ku-band service on flights between the mainland and Hawaii and Ka-band service over the CONUS. The system worked well enough, though switching between Ku and Ka is not quite as seamless as advertised, owing to the mechanics of the antenna kit needing to rotate and switch to the alternate antenna. Qantas also took a Ka-band solution from Viasat to deliver connectivity on its domestic and regional fleet. Given the option for a Ku/Ka solution there – necessary to deliver service on flights outside the Australia coverage area – the carrier declined that option, sticking with Ka-band only.
The problem, it seems, is in finding a airline customers that really want a Ku/Ka solution and a vendor offering a compelling version of such.
Global Eagle is the most likely service provider to still be considering a combination Ku/Ka offering for airline customers. The company has a new and significant airline order in the offing and its partnership with Hughes continues to grow. The latest deal includes implementation of the JUPITER Aero system that includes Ku and Ka-band satellites. Obviously implementing that on aircraft means needing hardware and the Hughes/Gilat partnership is no secret.
Both Ku and Ka band services are available today with a footprint that can be described as global coverage, especially for the commercial aviation market. The truly high-speed Ka-band service remains regionalized, though the regions covered are growing. Ku coverage is more mature with more different satellites delivering the service. Moreover, recent launches are dramatically increasing capacity in key areas and dropping the per-byte costs. The value-add of getting both Ku and Ka on a single aircraft seems to be outweighed by the additional cost, weight and complexity of a hardware kit that supports the combo.