Satcom Direct’s new SD Xperience effort is changing the conversation about satellite communications (satcom), to help customers better understand the available options and their expectations for airborne connectivity systems.
The idea, explained Michael Skou Christensen, vice president international for Satcom Direct, is to stop talking just about the technology—Ka-, Ku-, SwiftBroadband, Iridium—and to focus instead on the satcom experience that the customer expects to achieve. “And then basing the technology on those needs,” he added. “At the end of the day, the client doesn’t care what it’s called; they care about what kind of customer experience they’re getting. SD Xperience is [designed] to talk about the requirements and expectations.”
During the past three years, Satcom Direct has refocused its efforts on a “three-pillar” set of solutions, which includes hardware, the agnostic approach to delivering connectivity services, and helping clients with software to manage the vast amount of data generated by their aircraft.
On the hardware side, Satcom Direct is a manufacturer of equipment for Iridium’s satcom network, including the new Iridium Next satellite constellation and its high-speed Certus service. This manufacturing capability came from Satcom Direct’s purchase of Canada-based TrueNorth Avionics in December 2016. Satcom Direct also manufactures its own router, the SDR.
To deliver the right product to the end-user, SD Xperience helps find the optimum satcom system that satisfies the customer’s needs and expectations. This could be an Inmarsat Ka-, Ku-, or SwiftBroadband system, ViaSat Ku- or Ka-band, or the company’s newest product, FlexExec on the Intelsat satellite network. “Depending on what their needs are,” Christensen, “one will be the superior and best choice.”
The software piece is built around the SD Pro software, which “integrates all your management tools and applications on one simple platform,” according to Satcom Direct. SD Pro is accessible from any device. “It takes all that data that runs on airplanes,” said Christensen, “and instead of dumping that data on clients, though SD Pro we filter and manipulate the information so it makes sense to everybody looking at it. Whatever role they have in the flight operation, they can use it to make their operation more lean and efficient. Now we’re syncing the airplane with the flight operation. That’s what it means when these three pillars come together: connectivity, hardware, and software. We’re taking all the complexity of satcom away and providing a user-friendly product to our clients.”
Announced at last year’s NBAA convention, Satcom Direct’s new FlexExec service offers clients another option for satcom services. “What FlexExec brought to the table is a more flexible way of looking at providing connectivity to the airplane,” he said. Instead of charging per megabyte for satcom service, FlexExec allows clients to pay for satcom hardware and services via a power-by-the-hour program. Unlimited and pay-as-you-go plans are also available. FlexExec runs on Intelsat’s Ku-band satcom network and launched service on April 2. The Intelsat satellite network that provides the FlexExec service is dedicated to business aviation and it doesn’t serve other bandwidth-using markets such as commercial aviation, terrestrial, and maritime customers. The Intelsat constellation includes six high-throughput satellites launched during the past three years. These are bolstered by another 45 satellites, and the combined network provides high throughput where 99 percent of customers operate around the world. The multiple satellites allow for layering of spot beams in high-traffic regions to ensure consistent service when multiple users occupy the same area. Coverage is global (except for polar regions) and network speed is up to 10 Mbps download, 2 Mbps upload. The Intelsat network is also the only SOC-3 (service organization control)-compliant business aviation satcom network, according to Satcom Direct. SOC-3 is an auditing system for security and privacy standards.
Airborne hardware for FlexExec is the Astronics AeroSat FliteStream T-310 system, which weighs 59 pounds and includes a lightweight steered 12-inch dish antenna that mounts in an empennage radome. The smallest business airplane that can accommodate the T-310 satcom is a super-midsize Bombardier Challenger 300, according to Astronics.
“FlexExec provides service that instead of looking at speeds and data allocation, we give you everything in the system, then different ways of flexibility of your consumption,” said Christensen. Instead of a bucket of gigabytes per month, we do pay as you go, and you don’t pay for gigabytes that you’re not using. Or we base consumption on flight hours, power by the hour. This is something the industry has asked for. The last option is unlimited all you can eat, and there are no other fees.”
In testing, Satcom Direct has had eight passengers logged on to FlexExec streaming video, making video calls, emailing with attachments, and using multiple devices. “It wasn’t really stressing the system,” he said.
Dassault has already begun work on certifying FlexExec installations in Falcon jets, and Gulfstream is also developing packages for its jets. “We’re also looking at Bombardier Globals and Challengers,” Christensen said.