In a world of proliferating air/ground communications options, EMS Satcom is here in the Canadian pavilion (Hall 3 Stand F37) to show how its antennas, radios and servers can help airline, government and private operators get connected.
According to Neil Mackay, COO with the satellite communications specialist’s parent, EMS Technologies, traditional VHF aside, his company’s equipment is used by customers of every current service. In fact, he reckons, “If you’re an aircraft and you can talk to the ground, whether you’re a helicopter, business aircraft, military or transport jet…there’s an 80-percent chance you’ll be using EMS one way or another.”
At the lower end of the data-rate scale, using the Iridium satellite constellation, EMS Skyconnect provides data services for applications such as helicopters over the Gulf of Mexico, where operating altitudes of less than 1,000 feet keep them below radar coverage. “They’re required to keep reporting their position, so we have a very big mapping service that we provide to the oil and gas people via Iridium,” Mackay explained. “We also have an Iridium phone that we sell to business aircraft, and so on.”
EMS is also a strong player in the Inmarsat market, supplying its high-speed data line of products both directly to end users and to avionics majors Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales. “There’s a good chance if you’re using an Inmarsat system, that the technology in the aircraft will be an EMS solution,” he said.
The technology supports Inmarsat services including the new SwiftBroadband. “SwiftBroadband is a global GSM-based data and voice service; you can get close to a megabit per second if you have the right equipment on board,” Mackay explained. AeroMobile and OnAir, which provide cell phone connectivity using the Inmarsat network, do not buy EMS equipment, he added, “but their service depends on our equipment being on the various aircraft. Quite a few airlines are installing it and we have a strong usage in business jets.”
The technology EMS provides includes antennas, radios, wireless access point servers and compression systems for the cabin, Mackay said. “We have servers and a connectivity device called a CNX, which provides wireless access and acts like a mini-PBX as well so that more than one user can use it at any given time,” he explained. Military aircraft such as the French navy’s Dassault Atlantique II and Falcon 50 also use Inmarsat as the datalink for transmitting imagery back to shore.
Another field where EMS is active is in support of the new Gogo ground-based broadband service offered by AirCell in the United States and already adopted or being tested by five North American airlines. “It’s the most rapidly growing broadband service in the United States,” Mackay said. “We provide the equipment on board the aircraft that talks to the antennas on the ground and the wireless access within the cabin.”
Finally, there are the emerging Ku-band services hoping to pick up the baton that Connexion by Boeing dropped earlier in the decade. Commonly used to relay television and other broadband signals to fixed terminals on the ground, Ku-band is just starting to happen. Panasonic has announced a service called exConnect, and EMS is supplying the fuselage-mounted antenna that communicates with the transponders on the satellites.
“Connexion by Boeing tried to be a broadband service for both long haul and short haul,” Mackay commented. In the end, “the cost of the equipment was much too high, but it whetted the airlines’ appetite.” Now the airlines are trying to get it back but “it’s very expensive. You have to rent space on satellites round the world, then not all satellites are to the same standard, so you need a very complex antenna that will work with all of them.”
EMS is no stranger to the field. “We’ve done this sort of thing before for the U.S. military,” Mackay said. “While commercially it’s new, this sort of service has been available to the military for some time and we have been transitioning some of our military capability into the commercial network.”
And the company does not restrict itself to the offboard communications equipment. “We provide the connectivity within the aircraft as well,” he said. “One of our divisions–called EMS Formation–provides data storage and wireless access points as well. If you go back eight years, you really couldn’t connect to an aircraft very well. Now, through one or more of our services you can get a lot of data on board the aircraft. So the next thing you have to have is a lot of good storage to be able to manipulate the data on board, and we also are involved in providing storage and servers on board,” he concluded.