Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: Ahead of next week’s APEX TECH, SmartSky Networks president Ryan Stone explains the importance of participating on a connectivity panel with rivals like ViaSat and Inmarsat.

In advance of next week’s APEX TECH conference in Los Angeles, APEX Media was keen to find out why speakers from in-flight connectivity (IFC) companies are happy to get on stage and discuss their roadmaps, even when the competition is listening intently.

For this interview, we contacted Ryan Stone, president of SmartSky Networks, who will be joining the connectivity roadmap session on June 13 along with rivals like ViaSat and Inmarsat.

Ryan Stone, president of SmartSky networks

What are you going to tell the attendees of your session that they don’t already know?

Given that we’re a relatively new entrant in the commercial aviation IFC market, our main goal is to continue to inform airlines about our capabilities.  We also want to emphasize what makes us unique. We’re an air-to-ground (ATG) system that performs like a high throughput satellite service on the forward link, but we also have a significant return link and very low latency.

What’s the main point you want folks to walk away with?

ATG isn’t inherently bad or good.  With enough spectrum and a solid technology approach like 4G LTE with beamforming, ATG becomes an exciting IFC possibility.  Just like satellite, it isn’t all things to all situations.

How does SmartSky create its connectivity roadmap anyway? 

We’re a small collaborative company. We look for input from everyone, but at the end of the day we do what’s best for our customers, our private and patient investors and our employees.  We built our initial business plan on building a nation-wide ATG network for Business Aviation and made sure it was self-sustaining on that alone. Second, with the investment made in the network and aircraft architecture, it only made sense to roll out the system to commercial aviation customers. Our network design is very scalable, enabling us to grow and update the network as our business grows and technology evolves. 

Do you consider all possible disruptions and scenarios when planning ahead?

To the extent that it’s practical.  Our patents are very robust and broad, so they provide us a great deal of protection.  We also have a significant R&D pipeline to self-disrupt if possible, which in part is why we have so many patents even though we are a relatively young company (6 years old).

It is also important to let people know the art of the possible.

Why share this information on a panel with your competitors? Why not keep your plans to yourself?

We’re proud of the work we’ve done, and we think our technology approach is very complementary to the satellite operators.  It is also important to let people know the art of the possible. We were tight lipped about our spectrum choice until we got the validation from the FCC on our approach, as we announced FCC certification of our 2.4 GHz radio system in September, 2016.  We still have some cards we’ll keep close to the vest, but we think it is important to help airline consumers make informed choices, even if it means better informing our competition.

There are a finite number of aircraft in the skyŠ. Is there enough room for all the current players in the market?

I expect some consolidation. What that looks like is anyone’s guess.

Why should APEX TECH be on everyone’s conference agenda? 

The APEX TECH conference is a great venue to learn about new technologies impacting the industry and to get updates on current technologies and issues.  Given it’s an industry group, it tends to have a more informal vibe that enables interactive discussions with others in the industry and provides great networking opportunities.  I’m looking forward to being on the connectivity panel with so many of my peers in the industry.