Panasonic Avionics has entered the next stage of its in-flight connectivity solution evolution, with activation of the first extreme high throughput satellite (XTS). The APSTAR-6D satellite launched last summer and is now ready to serve airline customers with additional Ku-band capacity in the Asia-Pacific region.
Our third-generation communications network delivers the targeted, flexible use of extreme high throughput capacity, ensuring we can meet the needs of our airline customers with cost-effective and reliable high bandwidth services well into the future.– Ken Sain, Chief Executive Officer of Panasonic Avionics Corporation
Panasonic Avionics (PAC) worked with owner and operator APSATCOM to design the Ku-band payloads on board APSTAR-6D, including multiple tiers of capacity depending on the geography. The highest capacity XTS spot beams focus on delivering a major boost over China as well as high-density routes around East Asia, including Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Additional HTS spot beams provide a broader coverage footprint including the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, Australia and the Southern Oceans. Finally the satellite also includes wide-beam coverage to support the live television multicast and similar solutions.
A critical component of activating the XTS network is migrating all active aircraft to the latest Gen-3 modem platform. The hardware first started to install in 2017 and that deployment was beset by unexpected delays. Panasonic now expects to compete that task of fitting its 2,500-strong in-flight fleet next month. More than 1,000 of those aircraft were fitted with the Gen-3 hardware from the outset.
Long in development, many changes
The company has been talking about the XTS constellation since at least 2015. At that time the plan was for PAC to commission payloads covering North America, Europe/Middle East, and Japan/Hong Kong/Eastern China. These would fly on partner satellites but be engineered to the company’s specifications and fully dedicated to PAC’s mobility customers. They were also initially expected to launch around 2018 and be in service before the end of the decade.
By mid-2016 that plan morphed into six payloads, mixing terrestrial and overwater coverage to support the company’s growing in-flight connectivity demand. The launch timing slipped a year, but the company was still optimistic on the service activation.
But at the time PAC VP of Global Communications Services David Bruner suggested that the goal was still to get the coverage activated in geographic sequence covering North America, Europe/Middle East, and then Asia. Bruner also suggested that “they are all going to happen so close to each other the order doesn’t really matter.”
The design shifted again in early 2017, with the 6 payloads consolidating to three satellites, each offering XTS spot beams and a (relatively) high capacity wide-beam solution for the three geographies. And that appears to be where the design will stay, though the sequence and timing of the deployments continued to shift.
Expanding the XTS Network
Now, in 2021, the first is finally part of the XTS network finally online the company can focus on expanding its capacity in other markets. Next up is Eutelsat 10B, planned for launch in 2022.
That satellite will include a high-capacity payload, covering the North Atlantic corridor, Europe, the Mediterranean basin, and the Middle East, delivering expanded throughput in some of the busiest air traffic corridors. The satellite promises approximately 35Gbps of total capacity once in service.
But, like the APSTAR-6D satellite, Eutelsat 10B is not fully dedicated to PAC. Of particular interest on that satellite is that Gogo previously contracted for some of the Ku-band capacity it delivers over Europe and the Middle East. How that holds up given the sale to Intelsat remains to be seen.
Jeff Sare, Vice President, In-Flight Connectivity Solutions at Panasonic Avionics, describes the APSTAR-6D entry into service as the “latest step” in a journey of “long term investment in its high bandwidth, global Ku-band network.” In addition to calling out the Eutelsat 10B investment Sare notes, “Additional capacity commitments are also planned.”
PAC has not provided any details on who it will partner with for the Americas XTS payload nor an updated timeline.
A favor to ask while you're here...
Did you enjoy the content? Or learn something useful? Or generally just think this is the type of story you'd like to see more of? Consider supporting the site through a donation (any amount helps). It helps keep me independent and avoiding the credit card schlock.