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“Sometimes the speed of light is an inconvenience,” said Mark Richman, manager, Global Communications Services, Panasonic Avionics, as he began Day Two with a keynote address at APEX TECH

Richman was describing the challenges in providing seamless, high-speed, high-bandwidth satellite connectivity to every airline passenger. With the geostationary satellite constellation sitting 23,000 miles above the Earth’s equator, there’s a quarter-second delay in a data connection with a satellite. This delay isn’t an issue for one-way transmission of video, but in-flight internet connectivity requires special data management processes.

“Our consumer customers want a lot,” says Richman, “but it’s a shared resource, and we need to find the right balance between guaranteed availability to the aircraft, while providing availability to everyone in the aircraft.”

New antenna technologies, coupled with advanced, high-power satellites, will soon increase the available in-flight bandwidth. “Aero antennae are getting very creative,” says Richman. Right now, mechanically-pointed antennae are most commonly found in the streamlined fairing on top of aircraft fuselages, while electronically-steered, phased-array antennae are starting to appear. Both antenna types have their advantages and disadvantages, and the use of each type is driven by the specific requirements and routes of each airline.

80 percent of airline traffic is concentrated over only 14 percent of the Earth’s surface.

Airplanes fly all over the planet with large variations in traffic density. Entire fleets move on 24-hour cycles, such as the daily North Atlantic aircraft “migration.” Interestingly, 80 percent of airline traffic is concentrated over only 14 percent of the Earth’s surface. In order to maintain connectivity, Richman says that global satellite networks manage and scale their services to provide coverage and capacity. With the ongoing evolution in satellite design, the latest High Throughput Satellites (HTS) Ku-band satellites will add high-bandwidth spot beams, augmenting current services.

The technological challenges are just one side of meeting the connectivity expectations of the passenger sitting in 20C, who wants to check their Twitter feed. Regulatory approvals must be met in every jurisdiction that a connected airline serves. “Worldwide coverage requires authorizations in over 200 countries,” says Richman.  “In some countries, the rules are well known, with well-established procedures. In other cases, we don’t know what the rules are.”

In-flight connectivity is only going to get better, according to Richman. “We can go to the customer and answer the question, ‘Can you provide Internet to our plane?’ and say ‘Yes, we can provide Internet to your plane. It is rocket science, but it can be done!’”