NBAA Convention News

Inmarsat to slash cost of e-access

 - June 20, 2008, 5:55 AM

Global mobile satellite communications group Inmarsat plans to offer in-flight Internet connections of speeds of up to 64 kbps to aircraft operators at “a fraction of the cost” of rival broadband services. The new Swift64 platform is expected to be available by the end of the year.

According to Inmarsat’s head of aeronautical operations David Featherstone, 80 percent of modern long-haul commercial airliners and more than 1,000 business jets already have the satellite communications infrastructure required to carry the Swift64 service. By using existing aircraft infrastructure, the UK-based group aims to achieve much lower start-up costs.

Commenting on rival technology, Featherstone said: “Some of the proposed broadband solutions require airlines to completely re-equip their fleets with new antennas and new communications systems. Our initial analysis suggests that currently there is not a business case to support this level of investment.”

The Swift64 package will consist of mobile ISDN (charged for on a per-minute basis) and mobile packet data (TCP/IP) services (charged at a per-megabit rate) and will use Inmarsat’s existing global area network (GAN) platform, which is already delivering up to 64 kbps data rates to land-based users. Typically, existing airliner Internet connections are currently only offering a data rate of 2.4 kbps.

Passengers on Swift64-equipped aircraft would be able to access Inmarsat’s services through onboard servers. An e-mail server would manage the assignment of network capacity to passengers and the switching between satcom, Gatelink and other transmission systems. According to the company, passenger-to-server connection can be delivered via an Ethernet local area network at data rates of up to 100 Mbps or through future wireless alternatives.

Among the avionics manufacturers that have committed to providing equipment compatible with the Swift64 program are Ball Aerospace, EMS Technologies, Honeywell, Thales, Rockwell Collins and Thrane & Thrane.