Jetlab helps operators assess cabin electronics

 - January 29, 2007, 5:01 AM

Customer knowledge today about office-in-the-sky communications technology seems to be similar to the level of understanding of personal computers 10 to 15 years ago. Buyers then knew they needed a PC of some sort but many remained unclear about exactly what kind of computer they needed.

To some degree, over the last several decades, most professionals have become more comfortable with digital technology generally. But it still doesn’t hurt to have a knowledgeable and impartial friend to help make sense of the bewildering array of choices.

For operators struggling to make the right choices for cabin electronics hardware and software, Jetlab International wants to be that friend. “Brain your plane” is the company’s engaging motto, but it isn’t selling whole hardware or software systems. In fact, the solutions provider is selling its expertise in cutting-edge in-flight communications and entertainment systems.

The next big thing is broadband in the sky, promising Internet-connection and data transfer rates that will be fast approaching the speeds available on the ground. This year, Inmarsat will launch two massive new-generation I4 satellites as platforms for the broadband global area network (B-GAN), which will offer connection speeds of up to 432 kbps by about this time next year, although initially this will be available only for ground applications. The first two I4 satellites will cover about two-thirds of the globe, but Inmarsat has committed to launching a third unit soon after, which will extend the network across the Pacific Ocean.

According to Jetlab managing director David Todd, all satcom hardware manufacturers are indicating that substantial upgrades (for which detailed pricing is not yet available) will be needed to tap into B-GAN, which Inmarsat will market as Swift Broadband (as an extension of its existing Swift64 connection). This service is expected to be available by the end of next year.

Jetlab believes that many business aircraft operators do not need to make the leap to B-GAN right away. With dual-channel Swift64 service offering connection rates of 128 kbps, up to a dozen passengers can work online “reasonably well,” unless several of them are sending or receiving huge data or graphics files.

Jetlab can maximize the work-rate of Swift64 by providing data compression and acceleration software. It can also advise on issues such as whether an operator’s needs would be best served by setting up a virtual private network or by using a less data-hungry ISDN link. By creating bespoke servers to run the communications, the company can incorporate software that will automatically sense the data needs of users at any given time and switch to the most cost-effective connection mode.

Jetlab prefers to be involved in equipment specification and development at an early stage because there can be significant certification issues relating to the avionics configuration.

Once the kit is in the aircraft, Jetlab can manage and monitor the system. For onboard Internet connections, the company can add firewalls and virus protection, and it can also set up bespoke Web portals, giving direct links to news sources and e-mail that reflect customer preferences.

Jetlab is headquartered in Toulouse, France, and has offices in the UK and the U.S. Frank Genin, a veteran of the satellite communications business, leads the firm, which has also undertaken highly specialized projects such as creating secure data networks and wireless local area networks for various private, government and military aircraft.