Inflight connectivity announcements in China are hard to get too excited about. Many prove to be vaporware or successful demonstrations that fail to grow into proper deployments. So one could be forgiven for thinking that the September 2018 announcement of Qingdao Airlines that it would bring wifi on board might never materialize. But this week the airline and satellite networking provider Gilat confirmed that the first aircraft equipped with the Ka-band satellite kit is now offering its connectivity services to passengers.
The first commercial flight occurred on 7 July as QW9771 from Qingdao to Chengdu. The aircraft in question, an A320 with registration B-8442, had the hardware installed months ago. Photos show a radome on the aircraft on 5 February 2020.
The system is reported to include significant streaming inflight entertainment content (2000+ selections) and 500+ shopping options as well. Chinese airlines are depending on the e-Commerce platforms to help justify the costs of installing the systems on board.
The service is provided by China Satcom, over CS-16 Ka-HTS satellite together with its partner China TDT LINK (contents/service provider to passengers). Gilat’s aero modem, Taurus, is powering the satellite connection. The entire Ka-band IFEC system was integrated by FTS, a leading Chinese system integrator, who received the STC/VSTC for this IFEC early this year.
For its part, Gilat is keen to further expand operations within China, noting that more than 3,500 commercial aircraft operate in the country and very few carry inflight connectivity solutions. “Gilat is proud to have been selected by our long-term partners China Satcom and FTS, and most pleased with the joint effort of integrating our proven IFC modem, Taurus, to enable opening of the Chinese skies for broadband connectivity,” said Yuan Si, China Country Manager for Gilat. Si continues:
Gilat views China as a strategic focus area, and this success marks yet another important landmark in Gilat’s vision of enabling plentiful quality affordable broadband connectivity everywhere. We look forward to continued collaboration with our strategic partners, to jointly reap the benefits of this multi-million-dollar China IFC market.
Success does not come easy in China
While the Chinese market remains relatively under-connected there is plenty of interest from suppliers in filling that gap. The FTS/Gilat integration efforts (which also should be flying on Donghai Airlines’ fleet of 737s soon enough) are the first Ka-band solution equipped on a Chinese aircraft.
But Viasat also announced a partnership with China Satcom in early 2019 to develop a similar offering using the same satellite capacity. Gogo also signed a deal in 2019 with APT Satcom, hoping to bring its 2Ku solution into the country. Eclipse Global Connectivity and Display Interactive teamed up earlier this year to launch a new venture based in Shanghai, with plans “to become an integral part of the Chinese IFEC ecosystem.”
And there are also the failed projects. Like the 9air trial that saw a single aircraft installed with the Global Eagle Ku-band solution and then no progress for years.
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