Satellite Beach, Florida-based Satcom Direct (Booth H231) has launched a new service that allows travelers in business aircraft to use their cell phones seamlessly. The new technology consists of what is effectively an on-board mobile phone cell. All that is required to access the “Global VT” service is a Satcom Direct Router (SDR) in the aircraft, with the latest software update, and a smart phone. As of mid-February, some 75 aircraft had SDRs installed.
The company launched the service at its Connecting with Customers event, March 2-5 in San Diego, California. A small group of customers had already been beta testing Global VT on their aircraft, starting in late 2014, but now it will start rolling out to a larger fleet, fuelled by a large number of orders, reported the company.
The advantage of Global VT is that “anyone can get hold of you on your mobile,” said Satcom Direct chief commercial officer international, Chris Moore. “Also, the coverage is global; and discrete as you are not swapping to other networks in different parts of the world, so it can be ‘always on,’” he said.
In the cabin, it works through an app (currently for iPhone only, but with Android coming soon), using the cabin WiFi provided by the SDR. “The phone sees a normal 3G/4G cell tower,” said Moore. He added that the system eliminates the problem where passengers from the aircraft make a call but the recipient rejects it, because they don’t recognize the number. “It could be the CEO,” he said.
“We’ve invested in technology on the ground so you don’t have to worry about roaming agreements, so we’re effectively a mobile operator,” said Ken Bantoft, v-p satcom technologies & development, who was instrumental in designing the SDR and building in the capabilities for Global VT. He added that the unit, which costs around $35,000, should be good for as long as 10 years because of this. “We’re pumping out several hundred [SDRs] this year,” he said, with supplemental type certificates (STCs) already obtained for a wide range of aircraft types. SDR/Global VT is already available as original equipment on Gulfstreams. “We’ll have several hundred SDRs flying by the end of the year,” said Moore, who claimed that putting a normal GSM cell on a Dassault Falcon would cost $250,000. “[Itt would be] more like $1 million for a BBJ,” he said, while an SDR, installed,should cost only $70-75,000 plus a license fee.
Satcom Direct plans to have an aircraft with an SDR and Global VT installed and running at the EBACE show in Geneva next month. Moore said visitors will be able to try the service on their own phones, which will be like roaming, but on an aircraft (and the new European standard roaming rates will be applicable).
“We’ll be making a big splash at EBACE,” concluded Moore.
Satcom Direct has been setting up offices around the world at a rapid rate, and in Seattle, São Paulo and Montreal it has offices “embedded with the OEMs” (Boeing, Embraer and Bombardier, respectively). At the end of February it announced the opening of an office in Melbourne, Australia, taking the total to 13, including Hong Kong. “We realized that we need to be local,” said Moore, who believes that its competitors have “not invested locally” on the same scale.
In the U.S., “the largest market,” Moore said demand is “very much around a corporate environment” but that it’s “very different [elsewhere]; people are more privacy-conscious but [in both cases] we see more and more people retrofitting to put Internet on board. And international markets are catching up with the U.S. rapidly [and] everybody’s talking about higher bandwidth.”
Bantoft said even in the U.S. companies need aircraft that can “go global,” so they are moving towards using Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (SWB) services. Asthey tend to have mixed fleets, they want the smaller aircraft to have the same user-experience as the larger, long-range ones. “They want to have consistency on all their aircraft,” said Bantoft, who gave the example of a Fortune 500 company with a Gulfstream 650 and a CitationJet. Many also want Iridium as it is a market leader in voice services, while Inmarsat is best for data. However, he denied that Iridium necessarily had less latency and delay in calls. Despite its satellites being LEO rather than GEO, Iridium calls all get routed through one point on the planet.
Commenting on what Ka band will offer, Bantoft said: “When Ka comes out, the early adopters will take it, for example G650 and BBJ operators. It will take time to filter down to smaller aircraft, mainly because of the cost [including STCs].”.
Moore said that despite all this, aircraft tracking is top of the agenda at the moment. “It’s a hotbed after MH370,” said Bantoft. “We’ve been tracking [aircraft] for the past 10 years and already have it down to a 10-minute interval,” he added. “Everyone is now waiting for the FAA [and other authorities] to decide on the requirements.” He noted that the recent NTSB White Paper on the issue had recommended six nautical miles or five minutes.
Another area where “businesses have been pushing for improvements,” according to Bantoft, is videoconferencing. He said that equipment with the “ability to take up to four streaming SWB connections and put them into one” would be shipping in the second quarter of this year. This “bonding and aggregation” would take the 200-300 Kb/sec feeds and combine them, and the feed would be “smooth” as it’s a “guaranteed throughput,” not a shared line as with consumer supplies. “It always maintains a minimum level of service and we will go to 800Kb/sec and beyond. It doesn’t drop off like contentious-based [services].”
FlightDeck Freedom FANS
Satcom Direct reported in early March that its FlightDeck Freedom datalink service now includes a FANS testing capability, which can troubleshoot or validate capabilities “from any location, any time.” Jim Jensen, Satcom Direct founder and CEO, said, “Use of the Future Air Navigation System has become mandatory in some regions and improves the efficiency of all airspace users, including business aviation operators.” The simulated ATS test facility is available 24/7/365 and testing can take place via VHF, Inmarsat or Iridium.
Satcom Direct Offers New Capability For Cobham Equipment
U.S.-based airborne connectivity provider Satcom Direct (Booth H231) is demonstrating its new SwiftBroadband bonding and aggregation service, which offers users a significant upgrade in airborne data speeds when using Cobham terminals, this week at ABACE 2015. By using bonding and aggregation, customers with appropriate equipment can combine two to four channels of service, delivering speeds of up to 1.4 mbps of throughput for aircraft with four-channel systems. The service provider worked with Cobham to deliver this ability to its customers by deploying additional ground equipment to facilitate the service.
“Now higher-data-rate applications like videoconferencing and streaming video are feasible globally for our customers using Cobham equipment with SwiftBroadband, without needing additional boxes to be installed,” said Ken Bantoft, Satcom Direct’s vice president of technologies and development. “Satcom Direct is the first service operator to take advantage of this and Cobham is very happy to support them in offering this new, high-data-rate service capability,” noted Andy Beers, Cobham Satcom’s director of aeronautical sales.