Honeywell e-mail trials use Iridium satellite link

 - May 12, 2008, 7:06 AM

Honeywell is now demonstrating its Inflightmail airborne e-mail service aboard the company’s Citation V. As configured, the system transmits data through the Iridium low-earth-orbit satellite network using an Airsat 1 satphone and onboard computer server.

Starting this month Honeywell plans to test Inflightmail using higher-speed Inmarsat satcom connections, with the eventual aim of sending large e-mail message attachments from the airplane to the ground and vice versa using Inmarsat’s new Swift64, a 64-kbps data service.

Inflightmail uses Honeywell’s Total Aircraft Information System (TAIS), an onboard server and router system designed to serve as an airplane’s “network in the sky.” TAIS enables a variety of airborne cabin service and operational applications, said a spokesman, all linked to the aircraft’s air-to-ground data connection.

The higher the connection speeds, the faster e-mail messages can be sent and received using the Inflightmail service. But even with the admittedly slow speed of the Iridium service, which transmits at about 9.6 kbps, text-only e-mails can be sent with ease, and require only about a 30-sec satcom call to push the data through.
The onboard TAIS server works with different types of e-mail applications, which means that users do not need to run any special software or change the configuration of their computers. The system also uses compression and encryption techniques to minimize the amount of transfer time required while still ensuring security.

The Honeywell TAIS system consists of components on board the aircraft along with a complementary set of software applications running in the ground-based Honeywell Data Center (HDC) in Phoenix. The HDC contains a number of servers connected to communication links and facilitates the transfer of e-mail from the Internet or corporate networks.

The Inflightmail system has the ability to use wireless communication transmissions between the onboard server and the passenger’s laptop computer to help minimize weight and system installation costs. Optional to the system is a wireless local area network (LAN) unit, which allows up to 11-mbps data transfers within the cabin.

Randle Jennings, Honeywell product marketing and sales manager, said Honeywell offers a network server unit (NSU) that contains an Ethernet hub, communications interface and all necessary inputs and outputs. Inflightmail is Internet based, meaning passengers can use laptop computers and existing Internet browser software to access their e-mail. The system is also compatible with common e-mail programs such as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, Netscape Messenger and others, said Jennings.

He said Honeywell offers several methods for passengers to access e-mail. These include simple mail transport protocol (SMTP), the common system of retrieving Web-based e-mail; e-mail forward, an option whereby users on the ground send messages to www.inflightmail.com, which forwards the e-mail to the aircraft; post office protocol (POP3), in which users can grant Honeywell access to “pull” their e-mail from their network provider; and finally virtual private network (VPN). All e-mail transmission options include security protocols to prevent others from intercepting messages sent between the ground and aircraft.

In Phoenix, the data center provides the main infrastructure to support transmission capability between the user’s e-mail account and the onboard computer server. Key functions include allowing access to the user’s e-mail, as well as encryption and compression.

Typical system components include a network server unit with an analog modem, a terminal wireless LAN unit (TWLU) and a cabin wireless LAN unit (CWLU). The NSU is a powerful Pentium-based computer, which runs Windows NT and connects with the LAN units.

Using a wireless LAN connection through a 10/100BT Ethernet connection, users can send and receive e-mail without having physically to plug their personal computer into the network server.