Author(s): Raghu Gopal
In-flight Wi-Fi isn't new, but the connection can be spotty. In some markets, in-flight service providers use air-to-ground technologies, and others have relied on older, expensive satellite connections. But several companies have been creating more-robust connectivity methods using satellites to bring modern Internet bandwidth onto flights.
Inmarsat, a UK company that's been developing an in-flight broadband service for European air routes, has taken its vision of in-flight Wi-Fi based on satellite technology closer to reality by successfully completing tests of its European Aviation Network (EAN) Satellite Access Station.
Major airlines are keen to bring more value-added amenities onto their flights to improve and distinguish their services. Lufthansa and British Airways are among the companies that have signed up for the service, which promises a true broadband experience.
Inmarsat, airlines and investors expect that the EAN will offer an in-the-air broadband experience to millions of passengers in Europe. The service combines connectivity from a satellite, operated by Inmarsat, and an LTE-based ground network, operated by Deutsche Telekom.
Inmarsat holds S-band spectrum licences across all 28 EU member states and will work with 300 LTE sites. Each of these sites will have a range of 80 km — eight times the standard range of an LTE site. The Satellite Access Station, located in Greece, acts as a gateway between Inmarsat's satellite network and the Internet. It's operated by Greek mobile operator OTE, which is part of the wider Deutsche Telekom group.
Airline carriers including American, Delta, Qantas, United and Virgin have been offering in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity for years. Inmarsat doesn't claim that its service is a novelty, but rather an improvement over the current generation of in-flight Internet connections.
Inmarsat faces competition from several satellite service providers such as Global Eagle Entertainment and ViaSat, which are looking to make in-flight connectivity ubiquitous. But to build demand, service will have to be reliable and affordable.
According to a survey commissioned by Inmarsat, 92 percent of passengers want in-flight broadband and 83 percent choose an airline based on the availability of the service. There's another side to this coin of course: connectivity is becoming inescapable. The 8 percent who don't want connectivity in the air will need to adapt or airlines will need to accommodate quiet passengers. "Demand for broadband in the sky has reached unprecedented levels around the world", says Inmarsat. There's no doubt that's the case. It's sky high.