13Jun/140

On-Board connectivity : can satellite compete with LTE?

Maxime Baudry, Co-Head of Satellite Practice at IDATE

 

Maxime Baudry
Co-Head of Satellite Practice

For single aisle, short-haul planes, IDATE believes that in the short term – i.e. up to 2016 – the market will remain very marginal in terms of connected aircraft, as the shortness of the flights (90 minutes on average) will keep airlines from investing too heavily in the segment.

 

Towards hybrid inflight connectivity?
The high cost of equipping airplanes for in-flight connectivity is proving a major obstacle to the systems’ technical progress. Airlines are nevertheless exploring various avenues with their high-speed access providers.

Ku-band based solutions are thus likely to continue to play a substantial role, especially at sea (due to a lack of Ka-band coverage) and because of the advantages they offer for TV programme reception. The Ka-band is nonetheless expected to start to make real strides in 2015, thanks in particular to the launch of global systems like Inmarsat GX and, further down the road, the gradual rollout of the Ka-band alliance whose members include ViaSat, Eutelsat, NBN Co., Yahsat and Telesat.

As a result, for all transoceanic and transcontinental flights, LTE is not likely to prove a major threat to satellite which will continue to be the technology of choice for providing passengers with in-flight access.

For single aisle, short-haul planes, IDATE believes that in the short term – i.e. up to 2016 – the market will remain very marginal in terms of connected aircraft, as the shortness of the flights (90 minutes on average) will keep airlines from investing too heavily in the segment. It is more probable that an ATG/LTE type solution will be adopted to provide users with in-flight connectivity on this type of aircraft, provided upcoming regulatory decisions on spectrum allocations allow.

As for trips over landfield, LTE is to take the lead, aircrafts devoted to international trips are likely to be equipped with hybrid mobile/satellite systems in a near future. Gogo in the USA is currently the most innovative vendor in the area of hybrid devices. A few months back it announced that it would be rolling out its GTO (Ground to Orbit) solution in Q3 2014, using a hybrid antenna developed by an American equipment manufacturer called ThinKom. Gogo has been innovative in the sense that, even if the system still uses two antennae – one air to ground (ATG) and one to the sky (satellite), the operator has designed the most integrated dish possible, with a single box that hands over automatically between ATG and satellite signals. With the coming launch of dedicated global systems in the Ka-band, IDATE anticipates future hybridization strategies between both ATG and Ku/Ka satellite bands.

Telstra and AT&T launch LTE-based inflight-connectivity solutions

May 2014 has been an interesting month for the inflight connectivity market: Both AT&T and Telstra announced plans to launch LTE-based inflight connectivity solutions using an air-to-ground architecture. Historically based on satellite, the inflight-connectivity market is being increasingly challenged by terrestrial projects using ATG architectures. The first player to introduce such a solution on the market was Gogo in the USA several years ago. Thanks to pioneering this market, Gogo was able to grab a significant market share on the US market.

Besides the latest plans announced by AT&T and Telstra, other players have expressed their interest for this market: Qualcomm in the USA, ZTE and Huawei in China, Deutsche Telekom and Alcatel-Lucent in Europe.

All these projects also raise the question of spectrum allocation. In Europe, the hunt for a suitable spectrum is still in discussion with the European Commission. In the USA, the spectrum bands have been found but led to a struggle between Qualcomm and the satellite operators community. In Asia too, strong uncertainties remain as to what spectrum will be used for such services.

This article is an extract from the "On-board connectivity market report" published in May 2014 by IDATE. This report explores the leading on-board connectivity markets: aircraft, ships and trains, providing usage and market data, along with insights into the key issues and challenges at hand. It also examines how much of a threat LTE poses, and how satellite can prepare to take on this new rival.