SmartSky enhanced ATG network is based on a long list of patented technology advancements, such as assigning a unique, private connection to each aircraft, so no bandwidth is shared. Network symmetry for connections optimizes bandwidth and minimizes latency to provide responsive data transfer to and from the aircraft, enabling real-time two-way communications for the cockpit, cabin and ground crew — including transmitting aircraft performance data, situational awareness applications, live video streaming, video calls, cloud applications, gaming – and of course, voice and text. Accessing 60Mhz of unlicensed spectrum means unparalleled bandwidth and patented network architecture transmits above ground noise, minimizing harmful interference. All of this is available at competitive pricing to make multi-gigabit usage levels both possible and cost-effective.
Brit Wanick, Vice President Marketing & Partnerships answers Elite Wings questions.
In a market with such a wide range of offerings of cabin connectivity solutions, what does SmartSky brings to the market?
When envisioning a premium, private inflight experience, you imagine it powering an office-in-the-sky environment, just like you have on the ground. Unfortunately, that is not exactly reality – primarily because inflight WiFi is notoriously unreliable. Even 15 years after becoming widely accessible, inflight WiFi still doesn’t work all that well unless only a couple of people are doing a few limited activities such as streaming a movie, shopping online, accessing email (avoiding images and large attachments), and texting. Common disclaimer screens on current cabin WiFi connections include language like this, “In order to provide a top-notch experience, we prohibit access to certain high-bandwidth applications, websites, and video conferencing services”. Ironically, that long list includes the very applications that would make the connected experience actually top-notch. With your airborne connectivity needs going far beyond a few basic tasks – shouldn’t airborne connectivity be just like connectivity on the ground? SmartSky thinks so.
Smartsky has been in the news for some time now while constructing a next-generation ATG network for the US market. Now that your network is live, can you share the latest updates?
If you’ve followed SmartSky recently, you know that it officially launched commercial operations at NBAA-BACE in October 2021. If you’ve followed SmartSky the past few years, you know the network launch was originally planned for much earlier. Suffice it to say, a few things have happened since the originally planned launch date – including a few (major) course adjustments. Most fundamentally — rather than build a network like what’s already out there — SmartSky founders decided to capitalize on the much greater capacity available in the 60 MHz of unlicensed (WiFi) spectrum band and mitigate some of the more challenging aspects of providing ATG connectivity and WiFi to business aviation such as tower to tower handoff at 500 MPH, eliminating bandwidth sharing between aircraft, and addressing ground noise and interference from terrestrial WiFi use, to name a few. These efforts resulted in over 235 patents and greatly enhanced technology that, now in operation, enables the previously elusive connected aircraft ecosystem.
What about aircraft hardware?
Of course, accessing the innovative network requires innovative hardware. The SmartSky Flagship system weighs in at a mere 32 lbs., can be upgraded through software-defined enhancements, and is router-agnostic, enabling a new level of choice and interoperability. The smaller LiTE system will be available later this year. Once you have a SmartSky shipset installed, the rest of the choices are yours, not SmartSky’s. With the installation is complete, you don’t even need to take a test flight to ensure everything is working. SmartSky’s patent-pending SmartCart testing apparatus verifies end-to-end system connections right in the maintenance facility. Talk about innovative!
How do all these innovations enable the connected aircraft ecosystem?
Besides dependable, responsive, and secure inflight WiFi for the cabin, you get the capability for concurrent capture and transfer of aircraft performance data so that the ground team is ready to address any maintenance items identified during the flight, before the aircraft lands; access to live, crowd-sourced turbulence data and other real-time situational awareness applications, and the ability to share data for insights to improve the flight experience. But even that isn’t as impressive as the feedback from users flying on the network. “Just like being on the ground.” “Extraordinary.” “Spectacular.” These are just some of the comments from flights that included two to three times as many devices as occupants, expanding the boundaries of prior expectations and consuming multiple gigabits of data during the trip.
Best of all, the network is live, and hardware is in-stock and available for installation, now. Numerous STCs are complete with more in progress and available soon. Authorized dealers across the United States can complete the installation while SmartSky’s service provider partners provide service plans and activation that fit your needs. If you want to see it firsthand, the SmartSky account team is visiting locations across the country, and you can schedule a meeting or even fly on a SmartSky-equipped aircraft to experience it for yourself. The wait is over.