Swift64 ushers in several Internet-in-the-sky systems

 - January 30, 2007, 11:00 AM

Choosing the right data satcom system has never been easier thanks to an array of choices from manufacturers. Several suppliers are now offering high-speed data satcom equipment that uses the Inmarsat Swift64 satellite link, a digital network operating over the same satellites that carry voice and low-speed data signals.

Swift64 can deliver Internet connection speeds in flight of as high as 64 kbps for single-channel systems or 128 kbps when two channels are bonded together (and even faster using data-compression techniques). While perhaps not as fast an option as most executives are used to in their offices, Swift64 handles typical Web surfing and e-mail transfers with little trouble. For this reason, it has found ready acceptance aboard business airplanes.

Prices for data satcom receivers, antennas, routers and file servers vary depending on the type of installation. Typically, the cost of entry starts at about $150,000 for an onboard data terminal, the heart of the concept, and rises by a few hundred thousand dollars after adding associated equipment such as an antenna, satcom transceiver, network file server, router, wireless hub, data ports and so on. Airtime charges also vary depending on the service provider, but in general Web surfing runs about $10 a minute, compared with the $7 per minute it costs to make an Aero-H satcom call.

Depending on what equipment already exists aboard the aircraft and the level of complexity required, it may be possible to get by with a relatively simple installation that uses a router but not a file server. A server is not necessarily required to set up an on-aircraft network because a router by itself can serve as a makeshift functional network. The addition of an onboard file server, however, adds flexibility (such as for file and print exchange and wireless connectivity) that may be desirable for some passengers.

In most cases corporate networks can be accessed over a virtual private network directly through an IT dial-in connection. Aboard the aircraft, passengers connect their laptops to the Ethernet connection, which signals the router to connect to the corporate servers. The procedure is identical to the one the CEO would follow while working on his laptop from his hotel room.

Below is a round-up of broadband aerial systems:
EMS Technologies HSD-128–
Not content with the speeds offered by the Swift64 data service, EMS Technologies has introduced optional acceleration equipment designed to boost the overall performance of the satellite datalink. The HSD-128 high-speed data terminal from EMS Technologies can be installed alongside an existing multi-channel voice satcom or it can operate as the aircraft’s sole satcom by using its Aero mini-M circuits for voice calls. Compatible with any Arinc 741 Aero-H/H+ antenna, the HSD-128 is capable of providing uncompressed data rates of as high as 128 kbps.

The addition of an optional data accelerator, called the cabin network Xcelerator (CNX), can boost throughput by up to 400 percent, according to the manufacturer. By using data-compression techniques and so-called bit-level caching in conjunction with a ground-based network accelerator, the CNX concept can speed corporate data traffic by compressing and optimizing it for faster loading on board the aircraft.
EMS technologies also recently introduced the HSD-X, an expander module that adds another channel to the two-channel HSD-128 system. Two expander modules can be added to the HSD-128, the company said, for a maximum of four 64-kbps channels reaching 256 kbps of total throughput.

Since production of the $130,000 HSD-128 began in 2001, EMS Technologies has built more than 200 systems, most of them serving aboard VIP-converted airliners, large-cabin business jets and even helicopters.

An innovative use of the technology has been developed by the Australian Coast Watch, which has installed an HSD-128 terminal in a Hawker for coastal surveillance of drug runners. Before Swift64, when the Coast Watch located a ship carrying dubious cargo, the crew would shoot some video, land back at base send the tape to headquarters in Canberra and then wait two days for government reviewers to give the go-ahead to stop and search the vessel. By that time the ship would be gone. Now, with 128-kbps streaming video, the Hawker crew can send live images back to Canberra, allowing the reviewers to determine whether a ship should be detained on the spot.

Honeywell/Thales HS-600/HS-700–Honeywell and Thales Avionics will soon begin offering the new HS-702 high-speed data communications system, which supports voice, fax and up to 128-kbps data connections. According to Honeywell, the companies plan to start delivering the HS-702 this quarter.

Adding the HS-700/702 to a Honeywell/ Thales MCS-4000 or MCS-7000 satcom system gives buyers the option of operating two independent data channels at 64 kbps or linking both channels for data rates of up to 128 kbps. When used in conjunction with the seven-channel MCS-7000 satcom system, the HS-700/702 will provide access to nine channels to support communications, including telephone, fax, Web browsing, e-mail and video conferencing.

Honeywell and Thales in 2002 introduced their first high-speed data terminal, the HS-600. Capable of two-way connections at speeds of 64 kbps, the terminal can be integrated with any Honeywell/Thales satcom system, a family that spans the MCS-3000, -4000, -6000 and -7000.

Customers who purchase the HS-600 or HS-700 data systems can also opt for the NSU-4 network server. The pros of working in a network server environment on board an airplane are higher transfer rates, access to corporate VPNs and wireless network setups. The limitations are that decompression of data is required on the ground and links to VPNs cannot be optimized, meaning slower throughput while connected to the VPN.

Rockwell Collins HST-900–Rockwell Collins has introduced the HST-900, a data terminal that operates in conjunction with an existing SAT-906 antenna and high-power amplifier. The system is compatible with Ethernet, ISDN and RS-232 interfaces and allows for simultaneous use of high-speed datalink and voice services through the Aero-H/H+ SAT-906 satcom system.

As a companion to the SAT-906, the $133,200 HST-900 uses the existing high-power amplifier and high-gain antenna of an already-installed Aero-H satcom. Like other data satcom products on the market, the HST-900 enables the operation of bi-directional 64 kbps of Swift64 data in either Mobile ISDN or mobile packet data service (MPDS) modes. Proprietary software is added to the unit that allows it to manage the power resources of the high-speed data channel, as well as the traditional, aero channels.

At last fall’s NBAA Convention, Collins and Connexion by Boeing announced an agreement to provide broadband data connectivity for the corporate aviation market with the rollout of Collins eXchange, a rival to Inmarsat’s data service that will combine the real-time satellite communications capabilities of the Connexion by Boeing broadband network with Collins’ Airshow 21 cabin-information and entertainment system architecture and hardware.

Connexion by Boeing’s pact with Collins will expand the Connexion offering to the corporate jet arena, making it possible for business aircraft passengers to receive and exchange information through geosynchronous satellites operating in the Ku-band at upload speeds reaching five megabytes per second. Denny Helgeson, vice president and general manager of Collins Business and Regional Systems, said Connexion by Boeing is the first service using the Ku frequency band of the radio spectrum, the same as that used by direct-broadcast commercial television. In response, Inmarsat soon plans to launch its I4-series satellites, which will provide similar data rates as Connexion. A third entrant into the market, Arinc is developing SkyLink, also a Ku-band hardware and service offering.

Thrane & Thrane Aero HSD+–Danish firm Thrane & Thrane recently introduced its first satcom, the Aero-HSD+, which integrates global voice, fax and cockpit communications and includes two high-speed Inmarsat Swift64 data channels linked together to provide a 128-kbps data rate.

Company officials said Aero-HSD+ is smaller, lighter and more compact than its competitors’ data systems. It combines the Aero-H+ and Swift64 Inmarsat services, and is available in two versions. The four-channel configuration provides a single Swift64 channel and the five-channel eight-MCU box features two Swift64 channels to achieve the 128-kbps data capability for ISDN, MPDS and fax. (With MPDS the user pays only for the volume of data transmitted, not for the connection time.) The Aero-H+ service provides two global voice, fax and PC modem data channels and one packet data channel for cockpit communications.

Aero-HSD+ can be upgraded to the next-generation I4 Inmarsat high-speed satellite platform by swapping LRUs, according to the company. The system is slated to become available to customers at the end of this year. List prices (excluding high-gain antennas and installation) are $175,000 for the four-channel configuration and $232,000 for the five-channel version.