June 6, 2017

The Next Journey for In-Flight Connectivity: Three Key Steps Forward


The Global Connected Aircraft Summit takes flight this week in Arlington, VA, and our very own David Harrower, VP of International Sales and Business Development, will speak on “Operations Technology – Future Connected Benefits.” David will join executives from Rockwell Collins and Honeywell on Thursday at 11:15 am to examine the latest developments in the “connected aircraft” trend and how satellite solutions providers are helping airlines meet the challenges and maximize the benefits of in-flight connectivity (IFC).

Today, passengers consider IFC a must-have, and it increasingly guides their decision on which airline to fly. Yet passenger connectivity alone cannot justify the business case for bringing VSAT onboard. Moving beyond an exclusive focus on passenger connectivity means re-imagining the in-flight experience and operations from top to bottom. “Fully connected” now means cockpits with electronic flight bags to improve aircraft operations. It means increasing communication between the crew, cockpit and ground maintenance teams to allow for better predictive aircraft management and reduce repair delays. And it also means equipping cabin crews with the latest mobile technology to improve customer care.

However, this broader scope equates to managing a global wireless network in the sky that serves a much broader suite of sophisticated applications vying for bandwidth, with more aircraft coming online. In this context, it is increasingly difficult to ensure a reliable, consistent service, and manage costs. In his presentation, David will focus on three key requirements to address these challenges as we embark on the next leg of IFC.

  • #1 – Harnessing Greater Satellite Capacity: For the industry to grow, airlines need access to abundant, cost-effective high throughput capacity with global coverage. High Throughput Satellites (HTS) deliver increased data rates to the passenger and lower their cost per bit. And airlines are embracing HTS, at a 3:1 ratio in 2016 over FSS Ku-band, according to NSR. Another critical step forward is to integrate capacity across all orbits, so that service providers can have access to a much larger and diverse bandwidth pool. 
  • #2 – Improving Quality of Service (QoS): It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage bandwidth across a contended network that spans multiple beams, aircraft and end users. While the industry is primarily focused on increasing data throughput rates, there is much more to the solution. How bandwidth is managed at a network level determines overall QoS across aircraft and maximizes the investment in capacity. Airlines must be equipped to select the best available bandwidth based on different satellites and beams, and dynamically allocate that bandwidth across aircraft and multiple application suites. Further, as an industry, we need to explore inter-roaming agreements between service providers. This will provide a whole new dimension to bandwidth sourcing flexibility. 
  • #3 – Bringing Smarter Technology Onboard: A major area of improvement for IFC encompasses onboard satellite equipment. We are seeing innovation in flat-panel aero antennas to increase speeds and reduce airline OPEX, as well as antennas that embed a terminal system on a chip and support multiple satellite bands so that airlines have more choices to connect to the best available capacity. Another key trend is the development of software-defined modems, which represent a revolution in remote router technology. Airlines can add throughput and network functionality over the air to dramatically reduce the need to replace hardware. This extends product field life, and minimizes aircraft downtime and certification processes. 

A Platform for the Future   

The value of IFC is expanding, yet networks are becoming increasingly complex to manage. Thankfully, an impressive range of satellite innovations can help airlines take their networks to the next level. Airlines need an open platform that supports the broadest range of solutions. That’s our commitment at iDirect – what’s driving our technology innovation and industry partnerships. And it’s the only way to win in this fast-developing market.

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