NBAA Convention News

SmartSky Poised To Start Airborne Internet Service

 - October 11, 2021, 11:30 AM
David Helfgott, CEO, SmartSky

By the end of this year, SmartSky will switch on its air-to-ground airborne connectivity service covering “80 to 90 percent of continental U.S. business aviation flight routes,” according to CEO David Helfgott.

“Interest is high, demand is very high, and after a long wait we’re getting excited [for the launch of service],” he added. "I've been here almost 11 months, and we’ve knocked out more than 30 technological milestones we had to accomplish from January to this point."

SmartSky (Booth 3820) is offering an alternative to the only existing air-to-ground connectivity service in the U.S.—longtime provider Gogo Business Aviation. According to Helfgott, SmartSky’s “beamforming” technology, which uses a “single beam per aircraft,” enables fast service speeds and reliability. During testing, SmartSky has demonstrated maximum speeds up to 15 Mbps, with consistent service in the range of 5 to 8 Mbps. The single-beam technology also helps ensure secure service, Helfgott added, because other aircraft aren’t sharing the same signals.

“We are in deployment mode,” he said, and there are 10 teams working in the U.S., installing antennas on cellphone towers to complete the SmartSky network. “We already have the majority of towers in place and selected,” he added. “All the fiber and the core network is complete, and the data center and NOC [network operations center] are complete. The last piece is the antennas on the towers.” By the end of the year or early in 2022, SmartSky should have completed 90 percent of the 330 towers needed for full continental U.S. coverage.

Meanwhile, SmartSky has already certified equipment installations on the Cessna Citation XL/XLS; Gulfstream IV, G350, G450, and G550; Bombardier Challenger 601 through 650; Embraer ERJ-135/145, and Beechcraft King Air 200 and 300 series. Certification programs for several additional aircraft types are in progress, but more than 4,000 airplanes are covered by those initial supplemental type certificates.

The airborne equipment is manufactured by Avidyne, and the antennas are made by AeroAntenna. There are two versions of the SmartSky system—one for midsize and larger jets with two antennas and one for smaller aircraft, which range from light jets to piston singles. Turboprop installations would be the single-antenna version, and this light version will be available later in 2022.

Buyers can use any of the already available airborne routers—for example, ones from Honeywell or Satcom Direct—according to Helfgott.

SmartSky has selected Honeywell and Avionica as service providers. Although SmartSky works well below 10,000 feet, that is the threshold where service will be promised. “It is 10,000 feet,” he said, “but we connect way before that."