Panasonic, APSATCOM announce "XTS" satellite plans

Years in the offing, some details on Panasonic Avionics‘ first “eXtreme Throughput Satellite” (XTS) are finally known. The global inflight communications and entertainment provider will team with Chinese satellite operator APSATCOM on the launch of APSTAR-6D. The new satellite design is “tailored to put capacity where it is most needed” including “multiple gigahertz of new Ku-band capacity over China and high-density routes around East Asia including Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia using narrow XTS spot beams.”

This is a truly exciting milestone for connectivity customers across Asia, especially China. From the very beginning, we knew China was the fastest growing market for inflight connectivity, and we worked tirelessly with partners to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals to expand service in this key region. With APSTAR-6D, we now have the future capacity we need to best serve customers in China and across Asia with an unmatched global connectivity service. – Andy Fellows, Vice President of the Asia, Japan and China Regions for Panasonic Avionics

It is no surprise that the demand in China continues to grow. That country is set to surpass the USA in total air passengers by the middle of the next decade and regulators are finally relaxing rules around the use of mobile phones for wifi connectivity on board. The growth of passenger numbers and their connectivity demands presents an unprecedented surge in demand for connectivity bandwidth, much of it in specific, high traffic flight corridors. The XTS architecture, with multiple narrow spot beams, is well suited to deliver the desired performance.

Outside of China the satellite will provide similar high-density coverage to other major metropolitan areas as well as broader coverage of the region, including parts of the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Southern Oceans and Australia. Similar to the recent Eutelsat 172b satellite the new APSTAR-6D adds coverage to oceanic areas that were woefully limited.

Since 2009, APT has provided Panasonic Avionics with key satellite capacity that serves the Asia region.  APSATCOM is pleased to continue this relationship with APSTAR-6D, the latest milestone in improving satellite communications services for the Chinese and Asian mobility markets. This new satellite is an ideal solution for Panasonic’s roadmap for inflight connectivity services both in China and throughout Asia. We believe that its unique design will help Panasonic deliver unmatched satellite communications services for many years to come. – Jason Li, CEO of APSATCOM

One significant open question about the new satellite is just how much bandwidth it will deliver and exactly where. Early reports on the APSTAR-6D design from mid-2016 suggest it will offer 15-30 gigabits per second of total throughput. This is an order of magnitude greater than the 1.8 Gbps of Ku-band throughput offered by Eutelsat 172b but still an order of magnitude below the total capacity of ViaSat-2 that recently entered service over the Americas.

Read More: More bandwidth, more blocking to improve the Panasonic inflight connectivity experience

It is also unclear that the 15-30 Gbps number is still accurate. Over the past few years PAC has talked extensively about the XTS constellation and its need to frequently return to the drawing board to adjust capacity and coverage areas as demand is growing faster than the company can secure capacity in orbit. Yes, 30Gbps is a lot of bandwidth but when talking about potentially serving 8,000-10,000 aircraft in Asia over the 15 years satellite lifespan it is necessary to think very, very big.

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The APSTAR-6D satellite is being built on the Chinese DFH-5 bus and is expected to be orbited by the Long March 3B launch vehicle in early 2019. It is an all-electric propulsion satellite and will enter service later in 2019 after reaching its orbital slot a 134 degrees east. It is part of a constellation of satellites APSATCOM is currently planning to deliver a global coverage footprint with high capacity Ku-band service.

Seth Miller has over a decade of experience covering the airline industry. With a strong focus on passenger experience, Seth also has deep knowledge of inflight connectivity and loyalty programs. He is widely respected as an unbiased commentator on the aviation industry. He is frequently consulted on innovations in passenger experience by airlines and technology providers. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .