London ‘AeroConnect 2019’

On 29th October the GVF-C21 Partnership brought satellite industry debate to London’s Heathrow Airport Renaissance Hotel. Being within sight of the runways of this major international air transportation hub was an appropriate geographic context for dialogue on ‘AeroConnect – The Inflight Online Revolution’.

As forecast by all the satellite industry’s key analysts, the aero connectivity market is set for continuing and rapid expansion. According to Euroconsult, the number of connected aircraft in 2017 stood at just 4,772; a figure forecast to rise by 2027 to 27,919. Over this decade aero connectivity demand for bandwidth will increase 20-fold (from 9GHz to 181GHz) and provider revenues will increase 8-fold (from US$317million to US$2.5billion). Other market analyses have resulted in less conservative projections.

Martin Jarrold, GVF’s Vice President for International Programme Development, opened the conference, with Setting the Inflight Connectivity Context, a series of market snapshots illustrating the evolution and expansion of the aero connectivity ecosystem. Beginning with ‘Capitalising on Changing Passenger Behaviour in a Connected World’, the third part of the Inmarsat/London School of Economics study ‘Sky-High Economics’, it was highlighted that the aero connectivity market will be worth US$33bn to the satellite communications industry by end-2019, a figure that will grow to US$45bn by 2029.

Other market snapshots covered: high-throughput broadband applications over multi-orbit interoperable seamless beam switching between GEO and MEO; demand for inflight live TV; four-dimensional air traffic management and high bandwidth, cost-effective, satellite-based datalinks across Europe in the Iris programme, leading to the ‘Single European Sky’ air traffic management system; LEO constellations cooperation; Airbus testing of the IoT ‘Airspace Connected Experience’; connectivity above 65 degrees North; “gate-to-gate” WiFi; predictive maintenance using big data & analytics technologies.

Four interactive panel sessions, with speakers providing opening comments on their chosen specific topic, comprised the rest of the one-day programme.

The first session, entitled In Orbit… Inflight… In the Cabin: The Technologies, was themed around such issues as How to Understand the Mind of the Airline… the Real Power in Where to Spend; The Flight Path to IFC Success; Bringing IFC up to Speed; The Next Generation of Enabling Solutions for the Next Generation of Aero Market Expectations; and Satellite for Aviation – Empowering the Digital Sky. Opening remarks from representatives of Marlink, ST Engineering iDirect, OneWeb, Comtech EF Data and the European Space Agency were followed by an animated interactive Q&A session.

  • In opening remarks from Marlink, Mario Incerti, Head of Aeronautical Services, Aircraft Operations, Safety & Cabin Communications, stressed the vital importance of understanding the needs of airlines in terms of key factors affecting decisions on connectivity investment spending.
  • Andrew Faiola, Head of Mobility Systems, ST Engineering iDirect, noted the accelerating pace of changes in the satellite connectivity environment, asking what this means for the aviation industry. Shorter innovation cycles make it difficult to choose the right technology and to make a return on connectivity investment, and 5G is eagerly awaited as the first step toward a unified system for satellite and terrestrial communication.
  • Transforming the passenger experience and enabling truly differentiated service offering was the emphasis of George Nicola, Director Product Management Aviation, OneWeb, providing an update that tests have confirmed OneWeb’s ability to provide superior broadband connectivity with: Low latency (average of 32 milliseconds); Seamless beam and satellite handovers; Accurate antenna pointing and tracking; Live streamed video at resolutions up to 1080p (Full HD); and, Test speed rates of more than 400 Mbps.
  • Andy Lucas, Senior Vice President Satellite Operations and Mobility, Comtech EF Data, focused on what was described as ‘Next Generation Enablement’, which will require: Best in class mobility modem(s), with the highest performance and QoE to address the immediate and future demands of aero within the constraints of limited and variable antenna gain; Efficiency, both in the forward and return directions to maximise the monetizable throughput, and deliver the best economics; Advanced beam switching solutions, advanced load management solutions, robustness in dynamic conditions; and, Compatibility with all constellations, GEO, MEO and LEO.
  • A call to action for collaboration was the thrust of remarks from Mauro Cordani, Future Programmes, European Space Agency. The agency’s ‘Space for 5G’ Strategic Initiative is looking to fund and showcase interesting 5G satellite connectivity applications and partner projects that benefit ESA member states.

Opening the second session – Airlines & Customers: Aeronautical Applications, Technology Platforms & Passenger Services – discussion was led by Kratos, Astranis, Inster and CGI, focusing on Taking the Operator Shackles off Aero-Satcoms; Priority is the Most Powerful Type of Flexibility: What a Small GEO can do! Dual-Band Airborne Antennas for Worldwide Operations; and, Securing Cockpit & Cabin Communications End-to-End.

  • Mark Lambert, Vice President Business Development, Kratos, addressed the forthcoming blanketing of the planet with LEO systems, asking if we should not be giving greater focus to future inter-operator roaming agreements.
  • Proposed solutions to problems identified in the satellite industry were set-out by Ali Younis, Head of Business Development & Product Marketing, Astranis:
    (1) Bandwidth prices are declining – creating revenue problems as shareholders demand unrealistic margins;
    (2) Traditional GEO platforms offer sub-par solutions – large satellites with a “do it all” approach and questionable fill-rates;
    (3) ‘Managed Platforms’ limitations – data contention, over subscribed networks, throttled speeds. Solution = back to basics: Economical Satellites, Cheap bandwidth, Fast to market, Dedicated to applications, Just big enough.
  • Javier Santos, Business Development Engineer, Inster, profiled advanced positioning and tracking technology which calculates the relative positions between vehicle and satellite, keeping a stable and reliable communications link with line of sight, and preparing the terminal for instantaneous reacquisition when tunnels or buildings obstruct, with design focused in high reliability and endurance as well as high efficiency to minimise satellite costs.
  • An analysis of the forthcoming IRIS system was provided by Gareth Hartwell, Director Consulting Services, CGI. The Single European Skies initiative was launched by the European Commission in 2004 to reform the European Air Traffic Management (ATM) architecture. IRIS complies with the relevant safety and security requirements in the short and medium term; European coverage (and scalable to 98% global coverage) immediately available via Inmarsat I4 satellites; High capacity, sufficient for both Air Traffic Services Communication (ATSC) and data-hungry Aeronautical Operational Control (AOC) services for airlines; Large-scale validation using certified avionics on revenue-earning flights planned for 2020 to 2021, successful flight trials have already taken place.

Analyses of Automation, Simplicity and a Better Proposition to Airlines; Drivers & Inhibitors of Market Growth… Creating Sustainable Business Models; Back to the Future: Mechanical Antennas and Getting Over the Hump; and, The Cloud, Data Centres & the Role of the Teleport comprised the subject matter of Session 3. These topics were discussed by Integrasys, Karlsen Associates, Orbit Communicartions and the Satcoms Innovation Group under the overall heading of User Expectations, Provider Capabilities: Business Models in the Cruise.

  • Sebastien Couvet, EMEA Sales Manager, Integrasys, addressed software technology to reduce the complexities of Link Budgets, and to “Predict Aeronautical Communications Performance” to ensure safety and success probability.
  • In the course of remarks covering market growth and business models, Hans Karlsen, CEO, FRAeS, CEng, MBA, Karlsen Associates, cited such key themes as the current lack of mass integration of satcom into terrestrial networks, but also the emergence of big opportunities evolving as exemplified in new satellite systems, cheap access to space, and the surge in entrepreneurial satellite markets.
  • Chris Schram, Senior Director Marketing & Strategy, Orbit Communications examined the drivers of airborne satcoms and shifting technology criteria. Whilst service providers are driving the value chain, technology partners are enabling new markets and services. There is increasing overlap and synergies between commercial and military satcoms, and commercial systems are benefiting from robustness and maintainability developed for navies/air forces. There is a growing pragmatism and adaptation of proven technologies.
  • The Executive Director of the Satcoms Innovation Group, Martin Coleman, opened his remarks by posing the question – “Is a Teleport a Data Centre or a Data Centre a Teleport?” and he examined the game-changing way we need to communicate, especially when applied to IFC, with considerations of network complexity, a better use of spectrum and making best use of the  connection layers of terrestrial, LEO, MEO & GEO. He went on to analyse the drivers of IFC and the imperatives of successfully managing space to ensure that it remains a sustainable and an insurable environment.

To conclude the programme, the conference examined Policy and Regulation, with discussion focused around a contribution from Global Teleports (UK), cryptically entitled If You Can’t See My Mirrors, I Can’t See You, and a contribution from Access Partnership, Supporting IFC Growth Through Policy.

  • Roger Boddy, Founder of Global Teleports, posed questions as to whether the Radio Regulations are changing fast enough, and if there are sufficient safeguards in place to protect the environment, with reference to the phenomenon of eclipse of satellites in GSO by the growing number of NGSO constellations and the impact this may have on our ability for all nations of the world to enjoy communications via satellite on a global and non-discriminatory basis.
  • Andrew Sikorski, Policy Analyst with Access Partnership, examined how authorities across the globe are beginning to recognise and understand the need for regulatory harmonisation and borderless connectivity with reference to ESIMs.

Download opening remarks accompanying slides from all speakers.

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