Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Stroll through APEX 2015

Wireless connectivity with passengers was the mainstream theme at the 2015 APEX exhibition in Portland, Oregon. If not connectivity to passengers, it’s connectivity to airplane systems. If not the technology, then content or monetization.

Skeletal remains of a payphone - lost too is the directory

Hollywood Row

Wandering the aisles of APEX and its associated sessions and social gatherings brings a whirlwind of information and news. Frankly, I got lost a few times, and want to say right now sorry to Carlisle for not getting to their booth, amazingly!, for I wanted a picture of me standing next to your 791 desk. For that matter, I didn’t get to a lot of booths for various reasons: please don’t look through my commentary for omission as meaningful.

Carlisle Interconnect Technologies APEX exhibiting 791 quite prominently!

Communicating with the airplane itself starts with a radio and a service provider network. There are three basic categories of air/ground communications: line-of-sight (or Air to Ground, ATG), satellite, and those technologies only usable while the airplane is on the ground.

Satellite service providers can be grouped amongst those that operate the space vehicle directly and those that lease the space network. The lines are blurring, as aviation demand becomes a driving tenant of mobile networking allowing those leasing to achieve economy of scale and partnerships with the operators. Today, Ka band is dominated by operators and Ku band by lessors. Satellite Service Providers include Global Eagle, Gogo, Inmarsat, Panasonic, and ViaSat.

Satellite terminals require a broad spectrum of technologies. Starting from the outside in:
  • Radome to seal and protect the enclosure (lightning, impact) 
  • Antenna apertures for transmit and for receive 
  • Amplifier to create RF energy 
  • RF electronics to convert the signals 
  • Modem to provide a network with the ground 
  • Interconnecting waveguides, cabling, and wiring 
  • Supporting elements (fixtures, flanges, plates, trays, bonding and cooling) 
Global Eagle Entertainment 4-axis antenna powered by QEST (elev, azim, tilt, pol).
The tilt axis adds a layer of flexibility at high skew angles
by rotating the aperture and swapping the axis designations.
In service mid-2016.

Gogo 2Ku antenna.
Dual 30" apertures powered by Thinkom.
Flying today on Gogo 737 test bed.

Honeywell Global Express terminal for Inmarsat.
Aperture powered by QEST.
Flying on Honeywell 757 test bed.

ViaSat KuKarray in service on Virgin America in early 2016.
Each array integrates all RF components.

General Dynamics Boeing line-fit Tri- band Ku-K-Ka radome.
Available end of 2015

Saint-Gobain Honeywell Ka, Panasonic Ku, Global Eagle Ku, Astronics Ku radomes

CPI Radant Technologies KuKa radome for ViaSat

ThinKom ThinAir Falcon Ka2517 antenna.
Entering service late 2016.
Available for commercial applications.

Cobham Aviator 200S.
First Inmarsat SBB Class 4 safety terminal.
HELGA antenna integrated HPA & LNA/D.

Gore collaborates with Cotsworks to create high speed “copper to rugged fiber link” 
with tight bend radius

Line-of-sight re-use of a cellular network was pioneered by Aircell, now Gogo ATG (replacing the North American Terrestrial System).  Evolving alongside mobile telephony, Gogo ATG is the defacto connectivity solution for North America. Inmarsat is building a hybrid satellite plus line-of-sight network for Europe. Spectrum is the lifeblood of any radio network. Inmarsat brings a combination of 30 Mhz and LTE technology plus the ability to communicate along three channels, with comprehensive coverage to the ground throughout the coverage area.

European Aviation Network.
Small satcom antenna plus 2 belly-mount blades.
300 LTE ground stations.

T-Mobile building European S-band LTE network.

On-the-ground only technologies include:
  • Terminal Wireless Lan (Wi-Fi at the gate) 
  • Cellular Data (Commercial services) 
  • SneakerNet (walk it to the airplane) 
  • JetwayNet (Connect the airplane at the gate with a cable) 
  • AeroMACS (802.16e using aviation-protected spectrum) 
Connecting the passenger device to the onboard data network has fallen to Wi-Fi technology. Passenger devices are most likely now to embrace 5.8 GHz bands, thankfully opening up a substantial number of non-overlapping channels. Every access point would be expected to be dual-band (2.4 plus 5.8), and possibly in the future multi-band with stacked 5.8 radios. Wireless antenna technology has settled with MIMO to offset multipath. Managing a herd of passenger devices is possible by coordination between the access points, primarily for load-balance, but also for dodging interference and optimizing each stream modulations.

VT Miltope nMAP2 4th gen dual band Wi-Fi access point with cognitive hotspot technology.
Integrated MIMO antennas

Mobile Prime Time was small venture between Symonty and myself in 2012 where we were proposing the use of cached content, particularly linear feed discovery. We were drawn into a proposal for a portable video streaming device, to which we coined the phrase “Carry-On Media Server” or COMS. At that time, I took a Lenova laptop with three integrated expansion ports to include three channels of Wi-Fi, to provide dual-band to passengers and one band to the airplane passenger network (to which we could use in-flight to receive updated content to share). Not the most elegant solution, but very capable and flexible. I also explored fanless industrial servers for use in aviation, maritime or any environment, but these needed a source of power. With this as background, I was drawn to suppliers offering portable media servers.

Genie in a bottle
Airfibox battery powered portable IFE.
15 hours service, dual band access points, 100 movies, portal.
Free to pax.

Lufthansa_Systems BoardConnect Portable.
1 kg. 7 hours battery.
Dual band Wi-Fi, 50 streaming clients, 500GB+ storage.

Peter Lemme

Copyright 2015
All Rights Reserved.