Holographic Beamforming

Image via Pivotal Commware

APEX Insight: What does a breakthrough in the field of electromagnetic physics have to do with PaxEx? Faster, more efficient in-flight Wi-Fi.

Travelers are consuming more and more data, so networks will need more throughput – while ideally consuming less power. Telecommunications equipment supplier Pivotal Commware isn’t interested in delivering anything less than gigabit Internet to moving passenger jets.

Pivotal’s Holographic Beam Forming (HBF) technology sends targeted radio waves directly to individual devices to enhance Internet connectivity. These radio waves are shaped in a manner similar to how a hologram is formed by manipulating light. For example, if traditional wireless broadcasting is equated to the house lights in a theatre, HBF is like a spotlight, delivering higher-capacity, more efficient data transaction to specific targets.

Brian Deutsche

Brian Deutsch, CEO of
Pivotal Commware

Mobile phone network carriers are Pivotal’s mainstay test partners. It first got into the game to provide Access-in-Motion: ship-to-shore and ground-to-air. That could mean drone telemetry, but also delivering a targeted “spotlight” of high-speed Internet to a passenger jet as it soars across the world.

As is often the case with hotel Wi-Fi, customers are equating a slow connection with not being connected at all. “This has to change,” Brian Deutsch, CEO of Pivotal Commware, told APEX Media. “There’s no way customers will put up with this!”

Look beyond streaming Netflix mid-flight, Deutsch challenged: Tomorrow’s passengers will expect 3D gaming, virtual reality and augmented reality in the air once these experiences become common on the ground. Meanwhile, the cabin is a challenging environment – it’s full of data-hungry users using their devices at once in very close proximity.

HBF antennae can be formed to a surface, Deutsch explained, which has positive implications for aerodynamics. Information is exchanged second-by-second between the aircraft and the ground, interfacing with existing airplane tracking technologies. The transmission beam only hits that particular plane, while the spectrum it uses can be simultaneously redeployed to beam signals to other planes. Passengers could enjoy home and office Wi-Fi speeds when they travel, while operators can drive additional revenue.

Pivotal Commware obtained $17 million in funding earlier this year, including a major investment from Bill Gates.

Pivotal obtained $17 million in funding earlier this year, including a major investment from Bill Gates. Deutsch’s company is primarily working with mobile-network providers and mobile virtual network providers (MVNOs). Customers will eventually be able to natively hit their cell phone carrier directly without using Wi-Fi at all, according to Deutsche – and that’s what the carriers want. They’re content providers in their own right, and they don’t want to give up that connection with their customers just because those customers are in the air.

The revenue opportunities are varied with this setup: The airline could make deals with various providers for pay-per-flight fees or there could be a usage fee similar to a roaming charge – or perhaps call it a soaring charge. “You just use your phone like it’s your phone,” said Deutsch. “You don’t have to do anything special…but it takes a gigabit to the airplane to do that!” 

Jordan juggles deadlines across various time zones as he writes about travel, culture, entertainment, and technology.