The newest twin-aisle aircraft will also be the first to take advantage of an improved satellite connectivity architecture from Inmarsat‘s GX Aviation. Dubbed “smart pipe,” the system allows for multiple virtual connections to be provisioned across a single satellite link. Airlines can segment traffic into the separate “pipes” to separate passenger data from operational aircraft information, for example. Moreover, the system allows for different performance metrics to be applied to each of the “pipes” within the overall satellite stream. It will fly initially on the Boeing 777X for an undisclosed customer.
This is a significant milestone in developing the truly connected aircraft and reinforces Inmarsat’s key role in serving the aviation industry with a suite of operational and passenger connectivity services. The results from initial tests for our ‘smart pipe’ are promising and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with Boeing in preparation for the forthcoming entry into service of its new 777X aircraft.– Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation
More than just a Quality of Service play
Defining performance parameters for different types of traffic can be handled, to some extent, through Quality of Service (QoS) configuration and traffic shaping hardware. But Inmarsat sees this offering as a step beyond the basic QoS options. Kurt Weidemeyer, VP Strategy & Business Development for Inmarsat Aviation explains, “What we’ve done is created a completely separate pipe. So at the network level, we can assign a different quality of service, a different size to that pipe.”
As an initial use case Weidemeyer describes a desire by one 777X airline customer to transmit live video off the aircraft. Somewhat surprisingly, however, this is not about passenger safety or security. It is about cargo. “Some people pay a lot of money to ship certain items in the cargo hold, they want it at any time be able to get a video, yes, my stuff is still there on the aircraft. That’s one of the that’s one of the first use cases.” Should network congestion or other circumstances create challenges for the overall satellite connection, that video feed can be protected better with the smart pipes implementation.
Pushing operational value
While cargo hold video is an extreme example (though also one paid for by the customer, so financially compelling straight away) Inmarsat sees other opportunities to segregate airline operational data from the passenger traffic. Either the aircraft manufacturer or the airline can choose to add an extra data network to the GX connection on the aircraft, allowing engine health, avionics health, on any other type of telemetry to be offloaded from the plane.
This does not replace the SwiftBroadband-Safety services that run on L-Band; there are security and performance reasons to keep that traffic isolated and on a dedicated link. But delivering a discrete operational data link within the overall data network allows for some creative data management and routing options.
Adding integrators to the connectivity environment
Not only can the different policies be applied to the separate pipes, but Inmarsat can deliver those connections via different 3rd party integrators. Weidemeyer describes a scenario where the same antenna, ModMan and other hardware on the aircraft can support multiple VARs, “one VAR selling passenger service, one VAR selling operational data,” with separate SLAs and other contract details. And it can all be delivered across the GX link.
“The goal is that we can have third party application providers come in and use that pipe and sell directly to the airline,” Weidemeyer explains. “That’s going to be down the road right now. It all depends on the devices and the architecture is sitting there.” And as newer aircraft are being designed with some of these architectures natively the opportunity to easily integrate them continues to grow, something Weidemeyer is all too aware of.
“We just have to connect to it.”
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