SmartSky Networks has closed Series B financing of $170 million to pay for deployment of its U.S. air-to-ground 4G LTE airborne connectivity network. SmartSky expects the service to be available later this year, with first installations in the second quarter, following STC approvals.
The first STC will be in a Citation Excel, according to SmartSky president Ryan Stone. Avionics manufacturer Avidyne is building the airborne radio, antenna and installation kit, obtaining FAA parts manufacturer approval and the STC. Avidyne will be the manufacturing partner for SmartSky hardware for the target market of smaller business aircraft. SmartSky partners, including Avidyne, will develop and own the installation STCs.
The 40-pound airborne system will comprise a transceiver and Wi-Fi router by Satcom Direct. Initially, SmartSky will require two antennas mounted on the fuselage belly, but the company is planning on a single-antenna system in the future. SmartSky has conducted in-flight testing using its Cessna 337 Skymaster piston twin, but currently the smallest aircraft the system will likely be installed on will be King Airs.
The SmartSky air-to-ground network will require 230 to 250 antennas to cover the U.S. Antennas are installed on existing cellular network towers, but pointed to the sky to avoid interference with the cellphone system. Like Gogo’s air-to-ground network, SmartSky service won’t be available below 10,000 feet. While SmartSky doesn’t provide a speed number for its network, it promises seamless airborne Internet connectivity, and its 4G LTE system is designed to allow multiple users to stream video simultaneously.