The SmartSky in-flight connectivity network is coming online. The company announced “completion of all technical milestones and the opening of the first fully operational coverage zone” of the system. This enables route-based flight demonstrations and marks a major pivot point as it moves towards certification and commercial launch.
It’s a testament to the strength of our technical team and supplier-partners, as together we’ve successfully developed and fielded a feature-complete, game-changing service based on an optimal mix of proven 4G LTE and emerging 5G technologies that have been adapted to and optimized for the aviation use-case.– Dave Claassen, SmartSky’s Chief Technology Officer
Perhaps most important in this announcement is that SmartSky says it solved the inter-tower handoff challenges that previously beset the program. SmartSky conducted 200-plus hours of flight testing and reports “seamless site-to-site handover across varying speeds, altitudes, and ranges with consistently high data throughput above both rural and densely populated urban areas” to reach this milestone.
That is a major accomplishment, solving one of the final, major technical impediments to the network deployment.
Reaching the corridor activation comes a couple months slower than the company anticipated, “driven by our software development program coupled with extensive flight testing of the network” according to company spokesman Brit Wanick. This cascades into the nationwide rollout plan. Wanick says the company “now expects to have between 80% to 90% of all flight hours covered by year’s end, to materially achieve full CONUS in 1Q2022, and perhaps see just a few outlier sites creep into 2Q2022.” The company’s most recent prior guidance expected CONUS deployment completion by the end of 2021.
Activating the Southeast Corridor is a major milestone, but does not quite open the door to aircraft installation and activations.
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Of course, this is not the first time the company has laid out a timeline for completing the network deployment and activating the service. But with the inter-tower handoffs solved it does appear this one might stick. To that end the company notes “Technical and business challenges are faced by all companies attempting to deliver innovative products and systems” but that it is “confident in our ability to complete the deployment of the network and usher in and operate the next generation of communications and information tools for the connected aircraft ecosystem.”
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