Jim's enthusiasm for the customers and his willingness to invest in company research and development has established SD as a leader in satellite communications and connectivity for aviation, marine, government, and mobile customers.
Jim Jensen answers Elite Wings Questions
You are best known as the Inventor of the Global One Number. A true revolution in simplifying Business aircraft connectivity in the 1990s. can you give us a quick overview of the connectivity business landscape during these early years?
As an engineer by trade, I had worked in the industry for a while, and as a junior engineer recognized what others hadn’t. In the 1990s, I was researching the latest in satcom and what that meant for the industry and saw that the industry needed a reliable satellite signal to and from business jets. There was a growing need for a single, global provider of communications for aviation. The whole industry had issues that needed addressing. Billing was a mess. An aircraft operator wouldn’t necessarily know how many bills would be received, from which company, or for which sector of the world. Planning budgets was a challenge, to say the least. The infrastructure just hadn’t been developed; aircraft flying at 600mph relied on communication technologies devised for the maritime industry, which typically travels at around 10knots (about 18kmh). The technology literally could not keep up with the customer.
1998 saw the Eureka moment happen as I realized I could solve the problem with Global One Number (GON). This pioneering technology, which received its official patent in 1999, and is still available today and operating on around 7000 aircraft, supported a system that enabled direct dialling to an aircraft’s assigned telephone number while in flight, no matter its global position. Before GON, a caller would have to know where the aircraft was, look up several corresponding numbers, and eventually dial a 15- to 20-digit number to reach the aircraft. The system revolutionized calling aircraft, and two months later, I signed up the first customer. Twenty-five years later, we find ourselves in a very different place.
Satcom Direct was founded around innovation and addressing customers’ needs. How can a company keep that spirit for 25 years now?
Several factors have kept the business ahead of the business aviation innovation curve. Satcom Direct is an independently owned business which supports pioneering innovation and enables the company to keep reinvesting, developing and evolving. Innovation is in its DNA, and I like to think that my vision, combined with my team’s capabilities, drives us forward.
Two key points are vital in understanding this consistent evolution. SD positions the customer and innovation at the core of everything. Our team builds products that are not just market-driven but customer-inspired, and that invariably means creating products that nobody else does. The company’s strategy for conducting in-house development is a real differentiator from others in the space.
"While the future cannot be predicted, our team of experts has an eye for what will be the next trend and anticipates what is needed to meet and exceed the expectations around this."
There are a lot of activities in Aviation connectivity mostly driven by increasing commercial aviation cabin connectivity adoption. How do you see that impacting the Business Aviation connectivity landscape?
There is often an exchange between the two aviation communities, but at SD, we are inspired not by other sectors but by the needs of our very specific marketplace. We design our products from the ground up for our customers and do not repurpose existing technology. It is not in our DNA to try and repurpose; we are innovators, which is why we now hold 18 technology patents. This is a testament to our pioneering spirit and core DNA of creating services that suit the specific requirements of our customers.
Equipment size reduction is having a big impact on the business, which is not an issue for commercial aircraft. Previously it was only the large aircraft that could carry the weight of an antenna, and the equipment needed to be connected, but just as we saw with the cell phone movement, equipment is becoming smaller.
In response to increased data demand, we’re pleased to have delivered the industry’s first purpose-built business aviation antenna series. The Plane Simple® antennas consider the unique needs of business aviation. The first antenna, a tail-mounted Ku-band variant, connects with Intelsat FlexExec, the industry’s first dedicated business aviation airtime service.
We’ve also moved towards a data management model to better manage aircraft operations. Aircraft are flying digital platforms, and the ability to transfer big data, analyze it and digitize flight ops from first flight to end of life makes managing the asset paper free, more efficient, and much more convenient for the flight department. It also retains asset value. With our open architecture development philosophy, we are creating the business aviation flight department of the future – this is quite different to commercial operations.