SmartSky Delays Service Launch to Mid-2018

 - August 7, 2017, 8:40 AM

SmartSky Networks, which is developing a new air-to-ground airborne connectivity network in the U.S., has delayed launch of its 4G LTE service until mid-2018, according to the company. The company’s earlier projections were for service to begin in 2016, but that was subsequently moved to late 2017.

SmartSky has flight tested its beamforming technology, which it claims “will provide more than 10 times the typical speed and capacity of the current industry standard ATG network.” The company hasn’t revealed precise speed numbers, but it said that the network will be fast enough for video streaming, email, texting and voice calling (including VoIP, FaceTime and Skype) for multiple users.

Leading up to service launch, SmartSky has established data centers in Ashburn, Virginia, and San Jose, California, secured commitments “for high-bandwidth backhaul resources” and installed systems for “virtualized evolved packet core operations,” which is the underlying technology allowing for data and voice to be converged on a 4G LTE network. Other accomplishments include on-site viability testing passed by 86 percent of the nationwide base station sites, and these are undergoing permitting and backhaul-connection. Once local permits are approved, the final ground infrastructure will be installed and commissioned, according to SmartSky. Coverage of most of the U.S. will require 230 to 250 base stations.

Meanwhile, work continues on the first airborne equipment supplemental type certificate (STC)—for a Citation Excel—and this will be submitted to the FAA “in the near term,” according to SmartSky, “with software for the airborne systems now being flight tested.” Airborne equipment, including the radio, antennas and installation kit, is being manufactured by Avidyne. After the first approval, SmartSky plans to seek STCs for more than 40 business aircraft models. Flight testing continues along with production of ground station and airborne equipment.

In April, SmartSky obtained Series B financing of $170 million to pay for deployment of its network.