Collins, Boeing to offer broadband for bizjets

 - March 19, 2008, 7:52 AM

Rockwell Collins and Connexion by Boeing are teaming to create a broadband satellite data service for business jets that will fly first aboard Bombardier’s Global 5000 and Global Express XRS. Through an agreement announced last month to provide broadband data connectivity for the corporate aviation market, the new service–Collins eXchange– will combine the Ku-band satellite communications capabilities of the Connexion broadband network with Collins’ Airshow 21 cabin information and entertainment system architecture and hardware.

Connexion by Boeing, a division of the aircraft manufacturer, is on the verge of beginning full airline operation of the Internet-in-the-sky service aboard Lufthansa, SAS and Japan Airlines long-haul passenger airplanes. The pact with Collins expanding the offering to the corporate jet arena will make it possible for business jet passengers to receive and exchange information through geosynchronous satellites operating in the Ku band at upload speeds reaching five megabytes per second–on par with land-based broadband connections.

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 in commercial airborne data applications. The Ku portion of the radio spectrum is the same as that used by direct-broadcast commercial television.

Without discussing specific terms, Boeing and Collins executives said Connexion by Boeing would provide the enabling technology for two-way, high-speed connectivity via satellites operated by “several providers.” Late this summer the Boeing unit signed agreements with international satellite operators Eutelsat and Intelsat to lease transponder capacity for its mobile broadband information services. The deal with Eutelsat covers key areas of Europe and Asia; the Intelsat contract will allow satellite service for transatlantic airline passengers starting next year. Intelsat will provide use of its 907 Ku-band Spot 1 beam for real-time transmission and reception of Web pages, e-mail, data and graphics and entertainment programming.

An ‘Exponential Shift’
Collins eXchange will handle the on-aircraft end of the link, marketing and selling the user equipment and program services (much like a home cable or satellite TV service provider), said Bryan Vester, senior marketing director for Collins Commercial Systems. The cost of subscribing to Collins eXchange, as with home TV services, will vary with the extent and amount of services and programming the subscriber selects. Connexion by Boeing will continue to manage marketing of its near-global broadband data coverage to government customers.

The agreement makes Rockwell Collins the exclusive marketer of the Connexion by Boeing broadband service to operators and manufacturers of “super-midsize and larger corporate aircraft.”

Saying that the market considers current data-transfer technology insufficient, Helgeson commented that “128 Kbps is not [fast] enough. The customers want what they have in their homes and offices. This agreement represents an exponential shift in how information and entertainment is provided.” He added that, for the first time, business jet passengers will be able to receive data “at speeds comparable to ground-based broadband systems.”

Collins will use its new Tailwind 500 dish antenna with direct-broadcast satellite TV reception capability as the interface between Airshow 21 cabin equipment and the Boeing-provided satellite data. The antenna will be mounted atop the vertical tail of host aircraft as with other satcom antennas on super-midsize and larger business jets.