Telecommunications provider AT&T plans to build a new air-to-ground network in the continental U.S. to support faster, fourth-generation (4G) inflight broadband service for airliners and business jets. Avionics manufacturer Honeywell has an agreement in principle to be the exclusive supplier of onboard hardware, the companies said on April 28.
AT&T’s network, available as soon as late next year, will be based on the global 4G LTE (long-term evolution) standard and use spectrum the company says it already owns. Passengers will be able to connect to the network via Wi-Fi-enabled devices for texting, streaming video and browsing the Internet at speeds faster than those provided by 3G technology, the standard Gogo in-flight Internet uses. The system could also improve airline operational communications, such as for real-time aircraft data transmission. “AT&T has the expertise, spectrum and financial strength to transform airborne connectivity,” the Dallas-based company said. “In-flight connectivity is a natural fit for AT&T, which over the past six years has invested more than $140 billion in its wireless and wireline networks.”
Honeywell will supply antennas and other hardware enabling access to the network. Its system is being developed to work with Inmarsat’s L-band and new Global Xpress Ka-band satellite systems as well, for which Honeywell also provides hardware. That could extend passengers’ Internet connectivity beyond the U.S.
Gogo says it has equipped more than 2,000 commercial airplanes and 6,500 business jets with in-flight connectivity. This year, Gogo is launching faster ground-to-orbit (GTO) hybrid technology combining its air-to-ground cellular network and Ku-band satellite communications. The system uses satcom for receive-only transmissions to the aircraft and the cellular network for transmission to the ground. Virgin America is the airline launch partner.