Airlines and aircraft owners will soon have another set of satellites to consider when planning their approach to inflight connectivity. SES and Thales demonstrated a blend of high-throughput and low-latency services switching seamlessly between SES’s geostationary (GEO) satellites and the O3b medium earth orbit (MEO) constellation. The test aircraft performed dozens of switches between the GEO and MEO satellites as well as between beams on specific satellites.
The test aircraft, a Gulfstream G-III, was fitted with the Hughes JUPITER Aeronautical airborne modem system and the Thinkom Ka2517 phased array antenna for the test flight. The aircraft flew from Melbourne, Florida to the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua for the tests. The companies announced throughput in excess of 265Mbps, powering a variety of use cases, including 4K video streaming, super-fast social media networking, e-commerce transactions, audio conferencing, interactive gaming and web browsing.
This proof-of-concept demonstration introduces an operational Hybrid network that will provide satellite network redundancy with continuous and seamless high-speed internet in areas otherwise hindered by congestion. The system offers a consistent passenger experience gate-to-gate; Ka-band coverage on routes where GEO satellites do not currently exist; and is fully compatible with the new SES-17 satellite built by Thales Alenia Space that is scheduled to enter commercial service in early 2021.– Philippe Carette, CEO, Thales InFlyt Experience
This is not the first demonstration of an inflight connectivity solution switching between orbital planes. Nor is it the fastest connectivity speeds recorded. But it represents a solution that can deliver consistent and very high speeds today, not at some theoretical point in the future when more satellites are funded and launched. Previous demonstrations focused mostly on switching to test satellites outside the GEO plane, not production systems.
The world’s first low-latency, high performance broadband aero experience is closer than ever before with this tremendously successful demonstration of MEO and GEO interoperability. Driving scale and performance into our customers’ networks is fundamental in delivering the best passenger experience in the skies. Our cruise customers have long experienced the benefits of the combined power that low latency MEO- and GEO-based connectivity brings to network performance and resilience. This innovation is now on its way for connected commercial and business air travel.– Steve Collar, CEO of SES
The system works today and has capacity to spare, but future growth is also part of the plan. SES expects to launch its O3b mPOWER satellites beginning in 2021, adding significant additional capacity to the MEO constellation. The new SES-17 satellite also targets a 2021 launch date, adding significant Ka-band coverage over the Americas. The mPOWER satellites are expected to be backwards compatible with existing modem and antenna technology while also increasing the coverage footprint from 50 degrees off the equator to include the poles, thanks to some of the MEO satellites operating in inclined orbits.
The blend of GEO and MEO satellite services has already shown solid success in the cruise industry, delivering gigabit performance to ships from major cruise lines around the globe. SES hopes to bring a similar level of performance to the skies, “by enabling different operational models, including blanketing of large dense traffic routes, bolstering of capacity around major airports, or even following individual aircraft from take-off to landing – all at record speeds and with low latency.”
This program also marks the first public acknowledgement of Thinkom’s Ka2517 antenna package in use on a commercial aircraft. The company has acknowledged test programs on other types, including 737 and A320 families, but kept quiet on specifics. In a market where electronically steered phased array antennae still hold great promise but lack a firm delivery timeline, the mechanically steered phased array solution from Thinkom promises some of the fastest beam switching times on the market. That’s especially important as the number of switches grows in the MEO or low earth orbit planes.
That the antenna package can fit on the Gulfstream family of jets also opens up the business aviation market for this level of service. To date the smaller fuselage size has generally translated to smaller antenna packages and less efficient throughput from the satellites. Between the lower latency and the more efficient throughput this platform could truly deliver a mobile office in the sky, anywhere on the globe.
More from NBAA 2019
- Embraer and Flexjet sign for 64 new biz jets
- Gogo secures AVANCE L5 certification for Embraer Phenom 300 Business Jets
- Viasat, Gulfstream announce STC for inflight wifi on G280
- Gogo builds partnerships for 5G network development
- SES, Thales, Thinkom raise the bar on inflight connectivity performance with GEO/MEO blend
- Live from the CRJ550: PaxEx Update 25 Oct 2019