China remains, somewhat surprisingly, one of the least connected aerospace markets in the world. Once again, however, there are hints that could change with the deployment of a massive air-to-ground network. Backed by local airlines, telecom companies, and – most importantly – the government, efforts are once again underway to deliver a trial ATG network in the country.
Initiated and driven by the Airbus China Innovation Centre (ACIC), 5G Air-to-Ground broadband connectivity shall be now developed by Airbus Customer Services with the aim to provide best industrial solutions with leading technologies for retrofit implementation.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between China Mobile (Shanghai) Industrial Research Institute, a subsidiary of China Mobile focusing on transportation and ACIC provides for cooperation on industrialization and pilot phase flight route trials for the application of 5G Air-to-Ground (ATG) connectivity in China. This cooperation covers new service solutions in connected cabin, cabin experience and digitalization.
The companies agreed to jointly address the 5G ATG market in China and to explore synergies for new end-to-end broadband connectivity services. The technical maturity for operation shall be validated in a joint effort, with the check of RF compatibility at aircraft level, including potential interference risks in C band with Radio Altimeter.
After certification, the system operation and business value shall be demonstrated and reviewed in an in-flight service evaluation over Chinese flight routes. Airbus signed a separate MoU with China Southern to jointly define pilot case system embodiment and joint in-service evaluation.
The MoUs also cover joint exploration of business models to achieve a viable offering for all the parties involved in this business. This includes end users, who will benefit from the broadband connectivity in flight.
The network and aircraft hardware will evolve from the SkyFive platform. In August 2020 the company announced a strategic partnership with ACIC to develop a native 5G solution for ATG networks in China. At the time of that announcement the company believed gigabit speeds to each aircraft were viable. The new plan suggests 400Mbit to start, which is still a sizable connection.
SkyFive recently reconfirmed that hardware used in China is a slightly different technology stack from its other deployments around the globe, including the European Aviation Network (EAN) it helped deliver for Inmarsat Aviation. But, as SkyFive Chief Operating Officer Dr. Ammar Kahn previously noted, this allows for delivery of a native 5G offering rather than an upgrade of older networks maintaining backwards compatibility.
Among the 5G technologies included in the development are beam-forming and frequency reuse, as well as the radio spectrum allocation.
More on 5G ATG in China:
- SkyFive makes major 5G inflight connectivity progress in China
- Next Gen ATG 5G moves forward in China
- SkyFive targets ATG network expansion on a global scale
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