Bizjet Mobile Lowers Cost of Airborne Messaging

 - September 4, 2013, 10:02 AM

Execjet Mobile has released its latest product, Version 4.0 of the Bizjet Mobile service, which allows passengers aboard any telecom-equipped aircraft with an onboard Wi-Fi network to send and receive text messages and emails.

Bizjet Mobile 4.0 requires that one Apple iPad mini be set up to run the Version 4.0 app, which creates its own Bluetooth/Wi-Fi network that other Apple devices can then access. Anyone on board can tap into that network to send text messages of up to 600 characters and emails of up to 1,500 characters (without attachments). No installation of any hardware is required, but the aircraft must be equipped with an airborne telecom system such as Aircell’s Gogo Biz or a Ku-band or SwiftBroadband satcom, and that system must be hooked up to an onboard Wi-Fi network.

Bizjet Mobile 4.0 allows up to 16 users to text and email with the app simultaneously. The system’s advantage over directly messaging via the satcom or Aircell system is that Version 4.0 uses a tiny amount of bandwidth and thus the messaging costs are much lower, according to Execjet Mobile CEO Thomas Linn. “It uses only about 2 percent of the bandwidth,” he said. For companies that restrict crew use of expensive airborne telecom systems, he added, “this is a great solution.” Passengers can still access most of the bandwidth they need for data-hungry applications, while the crew can send unlimited texts and emails as needed. Bizjet Mobile can also help prevent costly satcom usage surprises, where a passenger inadvertently leaves an iPhone on, pinging the network and using up satcom bandwidth.

For Version 4.0, the only service charge is a monthly fee, depending on where the aircraft flies. And each user pays $20 for the Bizjet Mobile app on his device, although the iPad mini app for Version 4.0 is free. The monthly fee for all Bizjet Mobile devices is $399 for the U.S. or $799 for the entire world. This does not limit the number of messages, just message size.

Previous Versions Available

Execjet Mobile’s earlier Version 2.0 and 3.0 products are still available and help passengers and crew stay in contact with people on the ground on aircraft with certain telecom equipment or even no equipment.

Version 2.0, released a year ago, is a portable box that connects to an existing Iridium system, allowing the same text messaging and emailing as all other Bizjet Mobile devices and services. For $399 a month, Version 2.0 can be used to communicate within the U.S., or for $799 the system works anywhere in the world, thanks to Iridium’s worldwide satellite coverage. Version 2.0 costs $35,000.

Bizjet Mobile 3.0 is also a portable system, but it comes in two versions, one for U.S.-registered aircraft that fly within the U.S. ($35,000) and a worldwide version ($45,000). Version 3.0 includes the 2.0 hardware but adds an Iridium Extreme transceiver, so no existing airborne telecom system is needed.

Execjet Mobile is offering Bizjet Mobile Version 3.0 as a replacement for Airfone systems, such as the MagnaStar, because Airfone owner Aircell is shutting that service down at the end of the year. While Version 3.0 offers the same text messaging and emailing capability, because it has its own transceiver, it can be used to make voice calls, too. There is no extra charge for voice calls, just the same $399 U.S. and $799 worldwide monthly fee.

Version 3.0 includes a corded handset attached to the unit, which is optimal for pilots to make phone calls. Passengers can make calls using a Bluetooth handset, although they don’t initiate the call on the handset. To initiate a call, the passenger dials the number using the Bizjet Mobile app, which sends a message to the Version 3.0 box. When the call goes through, the passenger uses the Bluetooth handset to converse.

When using Bizjet Mobile, each user who installs the app on his device is given a unique phone number. This number is used to send and receive text messages. If the user isn’t flying and someone sends a text message or email, these will automatically be routed to the user’s normal messaging application or email inbox.

The size limitation for text messages and emails is the result of the limited bandwidth of Iridium’s short-burst data service. When Iridium’s Next constellation starts operating (satellite launches begin in 2015), Bizjet Mobile will be able to handle larger messages, including attachments, according to Linn.