With the number of airline passengers forecasted to double by 2037, demand for in-flight connectivity is growing. Innovation in satellite communication technology is making it possible for airlines to open the door to a whole new level of in-flight connectivity.

SES, Thales and ThinKom have demonstrated low-latency, high-throughput in-flight connectivity by switching seamlessly between SES’s geostationary (GEO) and O3b medium-earth orbit (MEO) satellite beams. The test was conducted on a Gulfstream G-III business aircraft equipped with the Thales FlytLIVE connectivity solution and ThinKom’s Ka2517 phased-array airborne antenna.

Engineers on board the test flight from Florida to Nicaragua recorded throughput in excess of 265 Mbps, which enabled 4K video streaming, super-fast social media networking, e-commerce transactions, audio conferencing, interactive gaming and web browsing. For comparison, the average fixed broadband download speed in the US is around 125 Mbps.

“This proof-of-concept demonstration introduces an operational hybrid network that will provide satellite network redundancy with continuous and seamless high-speed internet in areas otherwise hindered by congestion,” said Philippe Carette, CEO of Thales InFlyt Experience. “The system offers a consistent passenger experience gate-to-gate.”

The test saw dozens of switches successfully completed between GEO and MEO beams, as well as between multiple MEO satellites within a beam. In practice, this delivers the best of two worlds: the network resiliency of GEO and the fibre-like high performance from MEO. The GEO/MEO service has already been delivered to cruise ship passengers, providing network speeds of up to 1 Gbps.

“The world’s first low-latency, high-performance broadband aero experience is closer than ever before with this tremendously successful demonstration of MEO and GEO interoperability,” said Steve Collar, CEO of SES.