Thales is preparing for an anticipated explosion in demand for in-flight Internet connectivity with the opening of its new Connectivity Suite─a facility with its own satcom connection in which the company’s engineers and airline clients can assess and refine Internet-enabled equipment for both the cabin and the cockpit. According to Alan Pellegrini, head of Thales’ in-flight entertainment systems, the connectivity market for in-flight broadband service will expand very quickly over the next 10 years, to more than 12,000 aircraft.
Last year saw an increase in airline interest in connectivity to the extent that almost 25 percent of the 98 requests for proposals that Thales fielded included connectivity requirements as part of a wider demand for in-flight entertainment systems. Thales believes that over the next 10 years the L-Band SwiftBroadband technology, on which it bases its TopConnect systems, will account for 59 percent of the market, with Ku- and Ka-based systems taking 25 percent and air-to-ground systems the remaining 16 percent. However, Pelligrini predicted that Ka-band, which can deliver more data, albeit with a larger, heavier antenna, will eventually overtake the Ku-Band favored by Thales’s main rivals.
Thales engineers are working on applications that compress data to reduce the bandwidth needed to run TopConnect systems. They are also using the new Connectivity Suite at the group’s Crawley, UK facility to test the functionality of onboard systems with personal electronic devices when using Wi-Fi, voice-over-internet-protocol and GSM cellphone service. Cockpit applications cover voice and data connections, as well as Internet-enabled electronic flight bags.