Even pre-COVID-19, consumers had come to expect omnipresent access to high-performing connectivity, including in-flight. Despite this, passenger take-up rates remain low due to factors such as reliability of service and users being unaccustomed to paying single-use fees. The result? Neither passengers nor airlines want to pay for in-flight connectivity (IFC).
ST Engineering iDirect’s VP Product Management Sean Yarborough and head of Mobility Andrew Faiola describe the importance of advanced mobility when it comes to getting the best out of IFC, should airlines decide to take the plunge.
Striving for Service Differentiation in the New Normal
As aviation rebounds from the pandemic, there is competition among airlines to win back passengers and build brand loyalty. Choosing the right internet service provider is a high-investment endeavour that will dramatically affect how an airline sets itself apart. In addition to allowing passengers to stream content or keep in touch with friends, IFC must also improve flight operations. It should meet the requirements of today and years to come.
The Importance of the Ground Segment Can’t Be Underestimated
To achieve true broadband connectivity on an aircraft requires a set of products, technologies and capabilities that can collectively be called “advanced mobility.” These are part of the ground segment, which comprises all technology that is not on the satellite itself, such as modems, gateways and waveforms.
For example, while the aircraft travels at 600 miles-per-hour, modems on the aircraft need to automatically connect across multiple satellite spot beams within a short period of time, maintaining a constant IP session. This process, called beam switching, is a key determinant of the passenger’s Quality of Experience (QoE).
High-speed IFC also requires the management of satellite bandwidth over a complex, distributed network, automatically adjusting to changing traffic demands.
Advanced Mobility Offers the Highest QoE
At any given moment, there are thousands of aircraft operating around the globe, each with varying bandwidth demands over the course of its journey. Bottlenecks can occur if network traffic is not prioritized correctly.
Behind the scenes, satellite operators and service providers use advanced mobility in the form of sophisticated network management systems to pool capacity across numerous spot beams and automatically allocate service in real time. Airlines can manage the use of bandwidth across their entire fleet through prioritized service levels based on multiple criteria, including regulatory compliance, bandwidth profiles for individual aircraft or even specific onboard applications.
Furthermore, to make signal handoffs imperceptible to passengers, advanced mobility uses technologies referred to as automatic beam switching and fast reacquisition after blockage.
Onboard modernizations further ensure a positive experience for the passenger. Flat-panel antennas (FPA) – which improve aerodynamics and reduce fuel costs – rely on spread spectrum technology to reduce risk of adjacent satellite interference when transmitting from the aircraft to the satellite and on adjustments for the high skew angle FPAs create. Multicast overlays support content distribution to a fleet. Aero-optimized modem boards and new waveform technology enable very high data rates, lower operating costs and powerful bandwidth sharing for an instantaneous connection likened to a terrestrial network.
Ready to Scale for a Connected Future
Above and beyond the aforementioned features of advanced mobility, it is essential that an airline accounts for scalability. Total cost of ownership heavily depends on the flexibility to build out infrastructure in line with demand. An optimal mobility network will consist of a pathway for unlimited service growth when it is needed, including the ability to scale the number of terminals without impacting performance, customization or efficiency. As new constellations and networks materialize, a mobility network and advanced mobility features become the basis of a true broadband experience for passengers in-flight.
1 Multicast overlay enables an operator to offer broadcast and unicast services simultaneously in the most efficient manner
2 An aero-optimized modem board is a modem module architected specifically for operation on commercial aircraft
3 Waveform technology encompasses the manipulation of radio waves between satellites on orbit and antennas on Earth. The newest innovation in waveform technology, ST Engineering iDirect’s Mx-DMA, incorporates the best features of previous return link technologies, self-optimizes based on traffic and terminal mix, and scales in throughput and efficiency regardless of the number of terminals.