Live tv coming to the oceanic bizjet cabin

 - October 9, 2006, 1:53 PM

Live tv over the ocean? It’s not possible today, and traditional direct broadcast satellite television providers are unlikely to have a business model for such services anytime soon. But Boeing and Rockwell Collins do.

The companies are testing technology that would broadcast tv programming toalmost any location in the world over the Ku-band Connexion by Boeing satellites normally used for Web surfing. The service would allow passengers flying over the oceans (and other areas not covered by commercial direct broadcast satellite television service) within the Connexion coverage area to watch a certain number of tv channels while simultaneously accessing the Internet and e-mail, according to the companies.

The launch customer for the service is Singapore Airlines and Rockwell Collins plans to introduce the service to business aviation customers through its developmental eXchange broadband satellite service, due for certification later this year.

Bruce Thigpen, director of business and regional systems marketing for Rockwell Collins, predicts that the company’s ability to provide tv programming over the oceans will help differentiate the eXchange service from competing airborne broadband data offerings.

“We think that we have a really good product already,” he said, “but the real discriminator is going to be our ability to rebroadcast tv.”

Boeing’s network operations center will rebroadcast a limited number of tv channels, perhaps four or five, giving passengers a limited selection of news, sports and entertainment programming to tide them over until the airplane is again within the land footprint of satellite direct broadcast services in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, which eXchange also will support.

The first passengers to experience live tv over the oceans could be those flying aboard Bombardier business jets. Rockwell Collins offered additional details of its plans to launch the eXchange broadband data services in the Bombardier Global Express, Global Express XRS and Global 5000 later this year. The company reported thatthe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted an experimental license to test and deploy the service, clearing the way for flight and laboratory testing. If all goes to plan, Collins expects FAA certification of the hardware package by year-end.

The Collins eXchange hardware and service offering will be among the first to use the Connexion by Boeing high-speed satellite link. The two companies signeda strategic agreement a year-and-a-half ago to develop the service for the business aviation market. According to Collins, the FCC license will allow its engineers to transmit and receive data on a specific set of radio frequencies in the U.S., the first step toward bringing business aircraft passengers the full suite of data and tv services.

As described, eXchange will use the Rockwell Collins Tailwind 500 multi-region direct broadcast satellite tv system to access the two-way broadband data services available through the Connexion satellites. The eXchange system will integrate with Collins’s Airshow 21 integrated cabin electronics system. Passengers will use eXchange to access the Internet, send and receive e-mail, receive news, weather and destination-specific information and watch tv, Collins said. There was no word on what it might cost to watch tv over the ocean, but prices for data connectivity are expected to drop as competition heats up.

Broadband Competition

The main competitor to the Collins/ Boeing system is Inmarsat, which currently offers Swift64 data services to the aviation market. The most noteworthy difference between the two services is their data connection speeds. A single channel of Connexion can send and receive data at 432 kilobytes per second (kbps), or about the speed of a typical DSL setup in a home or office. Conversely, a single channel of Swift64 provides a connection speed of 64 kbps, or about the speed of a dial-up modem.

But it is the L-band I4 satellites that represent Inmarsat’s future. Called SwiftBroadband, the system will provide spotbeam coverage of most of the earth at guaranteed speeds of 432 kbps. Inmarsat launched the first I4 satellite from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in March and plans to launch a second satellite before the end of the year. SwiftBroadband services for the aeronautical market are expected next year, giving Boeing’s Connexion service a serious rival. When SwiftBroadband services are introduced to aviation, they are expected to cost significantly less than the current Swift64 service, experts say.

Still, Collins views its antenna technology and oceanic tv capability as key reasons buyers will choose eXchange over SwiftBroadband. With eXchange installed in a business aircraft, passengers flying over most of the globe will be able to access the Internet and send and receive e-mail. Onboard wireless networks will let passengers flip open their laptop computers and access the service seamlessly, Collins said.

Over the U.S., Europe and the Middle East, passengers will have access to the full lineup of tv programming satellite tv carriers in those regions offer. As the aircraft leaves the land coverage area for satellite tv, the eXchange system will revert to the Connexion satellite to receive tv channels.