In a world where we’ve never been so connected, Business aviation is no exception. Today’s business jets passengers expect to be connected, productive, and entertained – anywhere they fly. With an ever-evolving technologies breakthrough and more and more sophisticated commercial offerings, it pays to understand the connectivity ecosystem evolution and what solutions are available or soon to be.
CABIN CONNECTIVITY ECOSYSTEM
Business aviation connectivity relies on the availability of communication networks covering the geographic area of operation. There are two types of networks used in aviation: Communications Satellites based network (SATCOM) and ground stations-based network called Air-To-Ground (ATG).
Communications satellites works like a relay station: signals transmitted by the aircraft are picked up by the satellite’s receiver antennas, the signals are filtered, their frequency changed and amplified, and then routed via the transmit antennas back down to Earth.
Air-to-Ground (ATG) isn’t much different than your cellular connection. An aircraft communicates with a ground station, within a target range and line-of-sight bearing. With ATG, the ground station antennas serve aircraft that pass through their airspace, like the way your cell phone connects while you’re in a moving car.
A large offering of cabin connectivity hardware is available in the market for either line-fit installation by the aircraft manufacturer or as a retrofit by MRO centers. The hardware can be divided into three main sub-systems, the antenna system including the radome and steering electronics, the avionics transceivers allowing for data reception and transmission to the antenna, and the cabin subsystem allowing for laptops, tablets, and smartphones to connect to the cabin network.
Most communication networks rely on business aviation dedicated service providers. These service providers offer tailored plans typically on a monthly subscription basis, as well as 24/7 technical support, billing, and value-added services to help manage usage and optimize bandwidth. These added-value services usually include:
WIFI Call & Text
Since the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) banned in-flight use of most cell phones and wireless devices in 1991. citing the reason of ground cellular network interference. Service providers have developed alternative Wi-Fi call and text apps allowing aircraft passengers to place and receive calls and texts on their personal cell phones, using their own phone numbers anywhere in the world.
Acceleration and compression technology
Acceleration and compression allow for significant bandwidth capacity increase. Most service provides offers cabin equipment that optimize connectivity costs and improve passengers experience.
Ground to Air Call
This service allows for direct dialing to reach an aircraft in flight, regardless of its location through a unique airplane telephone number.
Satellite networks have seen a large evolution in the last few years with the introduction of record-breaking high-capacity satellites allowing for ground-like connectivity speeds, reduced costs and highly optimised coverage. Satellite network technology varies by satellite orbit and frequency-band usage.
LOW EARTH ORBIT (LEO)
LEO Constellation uses satellites evaluating on an earth-centered orbit at a low altitude of 2000 Km or less. The lower altitude allows for smaller satellites with less powerful amplifiers. However, each satellite is only able to observe and communicate with a fraction of the earth at a time, meaning a constellation of many satellites are required to provide continuous coverage with each Satellite continuously communicating with neighboring satellites. The only fully operational LEO constellation is Iridium using 66 active satellites at 781 Km altitude to achieve full global coverage
GEOSTATIONARY ORBIT (GEO)
GEO satellites operates in a circular earth-centered orbit with an orbital period that matches the earth’s rotation on its axis of 24 hr. The synchronization of rotation and orbital period means that the satellite stays at the same position in the sky where antennas can permanently point them. The GEO orbit is located at 35,786 km above the earth’s equator and concentrates most communications satellites. A minimum of 3 GEO satellites is required to cover the earth. There are currently over 400 active satellites in GEO orbit.
MEDIUM EARTH ORBIT (MEO)
MEO Constellation uses satellites evaluating on an earth orbit altitude over 2000 Km and below the geosynchronous orbit. The GPS satellites constellation operates in MEO orbits. Communications satellites that cover the North and South Pole are also put in MEO.
L-BAND (1-2 GHZ)
The L-Band is still the most used frequency in business aviation satellite connectivity. Designed mainly to provide cockpit safety services. the global coverage of L-band satcom networks allowed for a large offering of first generation Low-speed cabin connectivity solutions.
KU-BAND (12 - 18 GHZ)
The Ku-band concentrates the largest number of regional satellite offerings. Developed originally for direct television broadcasting, the performance of Ku-band systems has improved in recent years, with typical speed now around 18 Mbps, which is enough to enable standard video streaming.
KA-BAND (26 - 40 GHZ)
The Ka-band has more available capacity and is more efficient in its use of bandwidth. The Ka-band can achieve a speed of up to 33 Mbps, which is more than enough to enable live streaming of HD video and exceed the speed of many ground-based Wi-Fi services.
AIR-TO-GROUND (ATG) NETWORK
While satellite systems are the only method to provide connectivity for long overwater routes, ATG is the perfect solution for large overland territories and high-density area. The first fully operational ATG network was deployed by GOGO over the continental US. New technologies are allowing these networks to soon offer 5G capabilities over US, Europe and China
Although in recent years, aircraft antenna technology has highly evolved allowing for even more compact and higher throughput capability. antennas are still the “bottle neck” that currently restricts the type of connection speed available to aircraft. different technologies exist depending on the frequency band ranging from electronically steered phased array antennas to the most common mechanically steered dish antennas.
FUSELAGE MOUNTED ANTENNA
Ideal for large commercial air transport and their bizliners derivative. These antennas provide the highest performing broadband inflight connectivity. When most of KA and KU-band antenna are still mechanically steered, a new generation of electronically steered array antennas are in-development and should deliver more compact ultra-reliable KU and KA-band connectivity.
Traditional gimbaled antennas rotate on two axes (Azimuth and Elevation) to maintain orientation toward the target satellite regardless of aircraft location or altitude.
Mechanically-phased-array antennas highly revolutionized airborne antenna design. Rather than physically pointing toward the target satellite, these antennas create a beam in the desired direction by mechanically rotating a series of internal plates. Compared to gimbaled antennas, they are lower in profile and more aerodynamic, effectively reducing the amount of drag.
TAIL MOUNTED ANTENNA
Designed to be mounted on top of the vertical stabilizer, these antennas are specially optimized for business aircraft and small military/government aircraft, tail-mounted antennas are available for L /Ku and Ka-band. These antennas save weight and space, but also causes less drag and noise compared to fuselage-mounted installations.
Air-To-Ground (ATG) Antennas
Compared to the Satcom networks, The ATG networks are accessed through much smaller antennas mounted on the bottom and side of the aircraft.
HOW TO SELECT ?
Voice Over IP
Mb / Hr
Gb / Hr
Gb / Hr
Latency refers to the amount of time it takes for a packet of data to move from one point to another over an internet connection. While latency is inherent in all communications, the degree of latency varies. With satellite-based connectivity, the latency is higher compared to Air-To-Ground connectivity, as the path data must follow is much longer when routed through high altitude orbiting satellites.
When most networks will advertise their network capability in terms of MIR – Maximum Information Rate -which is the theoretical maximum to which your bandwidth can increase as bandwidth becomes available. It’s important to evaluate the network CIR -Committed Information Rate – which is related to the guaranteed speed rate. CIR can be important for corporate or government operated fleet offering critical real-time applications access to their passengers.
With highly sensitive data transiting through business aviation connectivity, operators need to make sure that their service provider partner can meet their company’s cybersecurity standards and policies. From Identifying any system vulnerabilities to active intrusion detection system, business aviation specialized service providers have developed large state of the art cybersecurity offerings.
Only Iridium LEO satellite constellation currently provides 100% of the earth coverage including the north and south poles where GEO satellites are impossible to reach. Iridium should be joined by new generations of MEO satellites with high latitude coverage. Inmarsat is planning to add polar coverage when GX10A and GX10B Highly Elliptical Orbit satellites will enter service in 2023.
Developed mainly to serve the aviation and maritime markets, global satcom networks use at least three GEO satellites to achieve global earth coverage. Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite Organisation) was the first civilian organisation to operate a global Satcom networks in both L and Ka-band frequencies.
Regional Satcom networks combine existing 3rd party satellites capacity to build a highly optimized network coverage focused on aviation high traffic routes. These networks can add or remove capacity based on their customer base. We find these networks mostly on the Ku-band where a large satellite capacity exists today.
Terrestrial networks exist mainly over continental USA, Canada, and Europe. using ground stations, these networks offer a low latency high-speed network for low to medium range fleet operating within the network coverage.
AIRCRAFT INTEGRATION CAPABILITY
Helicopter operators have three options for communications — air-to-ground, satellite, or cellular service. When Air-to-ground and cellular are good options for most operators. Overwater and remote area operations require Satcom connectivity. L-band solutions are available to access Iridium or Inmarsat networks. recent developments are aimed to reduce rotor induced packet loss that highly impact connectivity performance.
Many avionics suppliers have been developing small and lightweight form factor connectivity platforms to fit on the space constraint of Turboprop and Light jet. In the USA ATG solution from GOGO with AVANCE L3 system offers a highly compact solution ideal for these aircraft category. A large offering of L-band compact solution is available for International operators using Inmarsat L-band network. The new generation of Iridium Certus terminal should be soon available offering unprecedent connectivity capability in a compact form factor.
Similar to the turboprops, light jets are benefiting from the latest developments of small and lightweight form factor connectivity platforms to fit on the space constraint of these jets. In the USA ATG solution from GOGO with AVANCE L3 offers a highly compact solution when in the rest of the world Inmarsat L-band and the new generation Iridium Certus offers best compact solutions.
The even increasing range and size of the medium jets allows for the introduction of broadband Satcom connectivity solutions that were in the past reserved for large and long rage jets. The main new offering is the Ka-band broadband from Viasat, available as a factory-installed option on Challenger 350, Gulfstream 280, and Embraer Praetor midsize jets.
The large and long jet segment is benefiting from an ever-growing offering of cabin connectivity. the latest Ku and Ka-Band offerings from leading Satcom networks are all targeting this market segment where connectivity is a must to have.
Bizliners are highly benefiting from the latest development in-cabin connectivity that more and more airlines are installing. the latest development of low drag high-performance fuselage-mounted antenna allows for connectivity speeds equal to the best you can get in the ground.