The buildout of SmartSky’s U.S. ground network suffered some delays due to blizzards in the Midwest late last year, but the company expects two corridors of its air-to-ground airborne connectivity service to be running in early 2019. The New York-Florida and New York-Chicago corridors will be the first areas of service available for SmartSky customers, and these will be followed by service for 90 percent of the business aviation routes in the continental U.S. then by the end of 2019 full U.S. coverage.
Testing of portions of the New York-Florida corridor took place in December, over Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
At the 90 percent coverage level, SmartSky will have more than 20,000 “beams” available. Each aircraft using the network will have its own beam and switch from beam to beam as it flies, thus ensuring that all users receive full connectivity and service levels. The full Continental U.S. coverage will provide more than 25,000 beams.
The SmartSky 4G LTE network allows in-flight VPN access, email with large attachments, simultaneous voice calling, texting, and video streaming by multiple users.
SmartSky is offering two airborne systems: SmartSky Lite for turboprops and small jets and the SmartSky 4G LTE system for larger aircraft. The Lite system includes a base radio (12.1 pounds) and a full-duplex quad antenna (6.5) pounds, while the 4G LTE system requires an additional high-performance blade antenna (13.5 pounds). Antennas are mounted on the fuselage bottom.
The Lite system introductory price is less than $50,000 for hardware and $75 per hour for unlimited data. Buyers of the 4G LTE system receive 100 GB of data for the price of 25 GB for booking an installation in 2019 (must sign up by March 31, 2019). Service prices for 4G LTE range from $2,500 for 5 GB per month to $4,500 for 100 GB per month.
STCs for a variety of business aircraft are underway, according to SmartSky, and these are expected to be available to coincide with the deployment of the ground network.
The STCs are under development by SmartSky partners such as Bombardier and Textron service centers, Delta Engineering, StandardAero, Clay Lacy Aviation, Ventura Air, and Duncan Aviation. The first customer installation of a SmartSky 4G LTE air-to-ground system was done by Pentastar Aviation last year in a G550, and its approved model list STC covers the GIV through G550.