Demand for “always on” connectivity has never been greater – even when 10,000 meters above the ground. Whether working on-the-go or planning travel and activities at your destination, broadband on planes is becoming increasingly essential. The trend is leading to a boom for airlines offering In-Flight Connectivity (IFC), with new technology addressing some of the previous limitations associated with connecting airplanes.
At Panasonic Avionics, we are working to help our airline customers meet the increasing demand for IFC, with a major upgrade to our global satellite network. The result is an increase in the data rates available to airplanes by at least 20 times. The new network also now leverages the latest transmission standard DVB-S2X, unleashing the full power of High Throughput Satellites (HTS).
At the core of the upgrade is a new satellite modem developed in conjunction with Newtec as part of the Newtec Dialog® VSAT platform. This modem dramatically improves data rates to unlock services such as faster Internet, Voiceover- IP (VoIP) applications, improved TV picture quality and a broader channel choice, 3G phone services, and additional bandwidth for crew applications. It is also extremely scalable and we are confident it will deal with the evolving needs of airlines and their passengers for years to come, as the number of HTS and Extreme Throughput Satellite (XTS™) continues to increase.
As well as fully supporting DVB-S2X, the modem is also equipped with Newtec’s dynamic bandwidth allocation technology Mx-DMA®. This combines the efficiency of SCPC with the dynamic bandwidth allocation capabilities of Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) to deliver up to 300 percent more data than legacy TDMA systems.
This brings a significant improvement compared to original generation modems which couldn’t get above a 54 MHz carrier. In comparison, the new modem will enable 140 MHz carriers for us, maximizing the use of the space segment.
Near Seamless Switching
In addition to utilizing the latest standards and satellites, advanced beam switching technology is enabled by two receivers in the modem. This allows two separate satellite beams to be tracked, reducing beam switch times. A third receiver supports our TV service and recently launched the so-called “ZeroTouch” service, aiming to disrupt long media update cycles and simplifying data transfer of passengerfacing content.
Several Airlines are among our customers which have already committed to transition to the new network and other customers will be on-boarded over the next year with the plan to transition every customer. We have 49 airline customers and ~4,000 committed to our service. Again, the modem is key here, as it can be swapped out without needing to make complicated changes to the airplane itself.
This was done due to the stringent regulations which govern aircraft equipment and is achieved by the new modem having the same form factor as its predecessors. This means that once the appropriate approvals are in place, the old modems can easily be replaced with minimum airplane down time. As such – and because they know what an important requirement IFC is becoming for their customers – the airlines are very receptive to the upgrades.
In the future we hope IFC will bring even more improvements to both airlines’ business strategy and passengers’ experience. For us, the upgrade is an opportunity to stay a step ahead of our competitors and we are already leveraging the improved bandwidth and Big Data analytics to provide supplementary services such as business intelligence, for example. It is also helping us improve our customer support platform.
We are also keen to see improvements to antenna technology and we continue to work with manufacturers behind the scenes.
For now, with the first commercial flights taking place last year based on the new generation modem, we are extremely pleased to be able to offer a world-class IFC service, with our pioneering partners like Newtec playing an essential role in this vision taking off.
Senior Director of Global Capacity Planning at Panasonic Avionics