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There are many competent suppliers of In Flight Entertainment systems for airlines. It is also clear that travellers love the broadband connectivity increasingly on offer from the likes of Gogo, Global Eagle Entertainment or Panasonic Avionics. There’s also US-based ViaSat and its Exede airline connectivity service.
ViaSat/Exede, as of June 30th, had 509 aircraft equipped with its technology, and CEO Mark Dankberg, speaking to analysts on August 9th stressed that it isn’t enough for his competitors to promise they can ‘stream Netflix’ to passengers. “The real issue is: What happens when you have hundreds or thousands of airplanes in a small number of beams? People are still a little bit confused and so that’s our current campaign.”
ViaSat is currently using its Ka-band satellite capacity, and a second satellite (ViaSat-2) and with double the bandwidth is due for launch early next year. ViaSat is also in advanced talks with Eutelsat about a joint-venture for European Ka-band coverage. It has also just ordered ViaSat-3 with Boeing, for launch in 2020-2021, and has options for a further two satellites.
“Each of the other systems has only about five or six beams in total available to serve the entire US market, and each of these five or six beams has a total throughput of between 50 and a few hundred megabits per second when delivered to an aeronautical mobile terminal,” Dankberg said, adding that ViaSat can today deliver 100 Mb/s even in high-demand regions and at each point in the flight.
As for the upcoming ViaSat-2 satellite Dankberg says they will be offering the same high-level of connectivity even if 2000 or more aircraft are using bandwidth simultaneously.
Indeed, he urged aircraft operators to do their own maths, and calculate themselves how much bandwidth per beam could be available for each of its competitors, and multiply that by the number of beams the service plans to supply in any given market. That way, he said, you will arrive at a “total illuminated gigahertz” available. Then, he said, divide the result by the number of aircraft using that capacity over highly-populated regions such as East Coast of the US. He suggested that some operators would suffer bottlenecks.