German designer and developer Qest recently announced it will bring to market a bi-directional aeronautical antenna to support Ku-band services and ensure it can “immediately” meet current requirements of satellite operators.
The news came about six months after the company unveiled a new airborne broadband antenna that can enable both Ku-band and L-band services. The hybrid concept will not be abandoned, assured Qest sales director Michael Stobinski in a recent interview with me. But the market “may not be ready for combined service”.
Ku-band is used for a fast downlink of large data quantities to the aircraft, while L-band serves as uplink channel and supplementary or fallback downlink channel. The original Qest offering “was the product we took to make our public appearance – at the World Airline Entertainment Association [conference and exhibition] in Toronto”, says Stobinski.
From an efficiency standpoint, a hybrid offering makes sense as it does not stretch the system. But after a number of talks with different market players, it was clear the market may not be ready for such an offering because of the current infrastructure design, says the Qest executive.
Rather, Qest is seeing strong demand – especially in North America – for a pure Ku-band offering. “We have started development,” says Stobinski. “We believe at a certain point in time, the green light, it would need nine to 12 months to get the product ready.”
What is this event he calls the green light? “I’ve got the feeling some suppliers developed antenna, [and] then went out to the market and said 'here'. Qest is taking another approach. We don’t develop our product for certain readiness. Basically, to have a functional system in Ku-band, everybody has to be involved in the development (antenna makers, platform manufacturers, satellite operators). This is something the market is learning.”
Qest is talking to all major IFE players. It is not yet in a position to make retro-announcements but demand in North America, as well as Europe, is being seen. “I’m pretty much convinced the Europe will catch up and start thinking about Ku-band, and bring some new thoughts on a combined antenna," says Stobinski.
Meanwhile, Stobinski “absolutely” sees hybrid happening eventually as airlines “start to make up their minds and see the advantages form a technical point of view and a commercial point of view”.
“We think L-band alone would not be enough. Certainly, for SMS, it’s perfect and in terms of cost of installation, it’s perfect. Lots of airlines are flying with L-band, but here at Qest, we do not believe L-band will be enough.”