With Generations Y and Z now representing the majority of business aviation passengers, providers of air-to-ground (ATG) and satcom connectivity to business jet cabins estimate that most passengers will use broadband in flight as they would Wi-Fi in their homes – for streaming, video games and even interaction in virtual reality.
New 5G ATG and satcom network equipment set to spruce up cabins and cockpits of business jets will improve bitrates so much over existing in-flight broadband capabilities that content consumption activities will become all just possible in consumer electronics will soon happen on board as well, according to Sergio Aguirre, president of Gogo Business Aviation, whose 5G ATG broadband network goes live this year.
Activities such as watching 8K ultra-high definition videos – and even higher bitrate content such as virtual reality videos and, potentially, 3D holographic videos – have become possible at home, thanks to rapid advances in technology. of consumer electronics, Aguirre said. . As business jet cabin connectivity rates continue to increase, these activities will also become possible on board, especially video games, now a frequent in-flight entertainment activity among millennial passengers who now represent two-thirds of Gogo’s total customer base.
Gogo Business Aviation’s Avance L5 air-to-ground connectivity system requires two antennas mounted at the bottom of the aircraft fuselage.
These new capabilities – and the growing ability of business jet broadband systems to deliver video content simultaneously to each passenger’s personal device – depend on what Satcom Direct’s senior vice president, Michael Skou Christensen, called “an evolution that has already begun” in increasing connectivity bit rates for cabins and flight decks.
The company provides satellite communication solutions to business aviation customers, but does not operate its own satellites. Satcom Direct provides satcom Wi-Fi hardware and antennas of its own design and offers its customers connectivity packages in partnership with four of the major broadband telecommunications satellite operators.
“We’re already far down the line in terms of providing real-time content in the cabin,” Christensen said. “A lot of bizav already does a lot of these things. Everyone is on conference calls, we can see that from the user patterns we observe. The new networks will provide the basis for future growth.
Behind the move towards ever-increasing connectivity is the launch by various satellite vendors of new generations of satellites in Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO), Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). New satellite constellations, such as the three ViaSat-3 GEO Ka-band satellites that Viasat plans to launch from this summer through mid-2023, can transmit and receive information at rates much higher than their predecessors.
Satcom Direct works with several satcom network operators to provide connectivity services, but also markets the Plane Simple compact antenna system, which it has mounted on its Gulfstream G550.
For example, said James Person, Viasat’s sales and business development manager for business aviation and VVIP aviation, the company’s existing ViaSat-2 satellites can deliver peak bitrates of up to 100 Mbps to cabins (for less than $50 per gigabyte) and ViaSat-3 satellites will be able to deliver up to 1 GB per second to each aircraft.
“Viasat already had the world’s largest capacity satellite network for aviation,” Person said. “ViaSat-3 will increase the capacity of our aviation network by approximately eight times.”
However, the ViaSat-3 satellites will do more than make the increase in raw bit rate capacity and throughput per plane possible, but will easily cope with short-term local spikes in connectivity demand, according to Person. Some of these spikes are a result of the fact that 85% of all business aviation activity takes place in North America and Europe, which make up only 15% of the world’s total area.
Other peaks in connectivity demand occur because “corporate jets tend to show up in the same place at the same time,” Person said. “The same place” could be Teterboro Airport at 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning or an international concentration of planes ferrying passengers to a major event like a FIFA World Cup soccer final, the Davos conference or the annual Super Bowl in the United States.
“There’s a huge demand for connectivity” at these times, Person said. “Peak demand can be 100 times higher in concentrated areas.” Today, connectivity rates to aircraft in these areas at peak times are suffering, but ViaSat-3 satellites will be able to adjust capacity on demand in any part of its coverage area. Each ViaSat-3 will direct as much of its overall transmission capacity as necessary to any temporary peak concentration area and reduce coverage to locations that need less capacity.
Other LEO and MEO constellations will be able to offer peak speeds of at least 75-100 Mbps, as will Gogo’s 5G ATG network in North America. But most planes don’t typically use 100 Mbps, Aguirre said. In a study analyzing per-aircraft usage across “a multitude” of Gogo’s peak city pairs for business jet Wi-Fi consumption, the company found that per-aircraft consumption averaged about 25 Mbps.
So “talking about speed can be very misleading,” Aguirre said, especially when satcom connectivity providers talk about bitrate speed without noticing that radio waves have a much longer distance to travel in both directions between their satellites and airplanes in flight as radio. waves between aircraft and an ATG network.
“Nowhere in the speed discussion is latency brought up, and that’s extremely important,” Aguirre said. The farther the satellite is from the aircraft, or the greater the number of satellites a signal must pass through, the longer the response time will be in a real-time phone or video call between a passenger and someone on the ground .
The many new satcom constellations that companies are launching today, along with the regional 5G ATG network created by Gogo, will result in such capacity and competition that consolidation will inevitably occur on the one hand and collaborative partnerships on the other hand, said Christensen.
The proposed acquisition of Inmarsat by Viasat is an example of expected consolidation. Still pending a final decision from the UK government on whether it will allow the purchase of a strategic UK national asset by an American company, the deal would create a dominant force in the airline telecommunications sector. If approved, it would almost certainly spur other satcom vendors to merge.
Gogo’s plan to partner with satellite operator LEO OneWeb to offer a global ATG-satcom connectivity network is an example of the planned collaboration between existing connectivity providers. Global service requires only one Gogo Avance LRU, utilizing its multi-carrier capability, for connectivity.
Connectivity will be “fast and affordable” and provide “best-in-class global performance,” Aguirre said. “We want to give everyone in business aviation the ability to have an exceptional broadband experience, no matter where or what size aircraft they’re flying.”