Rockwell looks again at Ku-band for commercial air transport

I just had a lovely chat with Terrence Santel from Rockwell Collins. Terrence, who heads up airborne connectivity marketing for the manufacturer, reports that he is seeing strong interest in Ku-band-based connectivity from some airlines. As such, Rockwell Collins is studying the possibility of offering its eXchange connectivity hardware package to the commercial air transport industry.

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The eXchange product line already plays a key role in the world of business aviation connectivity. Arinc Direct offers a Ku-band service for business jets called SKYLink, which provides broadband links to aircraft equipped with Rockwell Collins’ eXchange product line.

“There is interest in the air transport sector for Ku-band connectivity. Obviously, we have eXchange for business jets, but technically it should be possible to offer eXchange to air transport. It’s about building a business case,” says Terrence.

He says he recently visited an airline “in a part of the world where Ku-band connectivity [offerability] isn’t even close” due to lack of satellite coverage. Nonetheless, he says he fielded “more questions on Ku-band than anything else”.

It is interesting to learn that Rockwell Collins is again considering the commercial air transport sector for eXchange. Here’s why. Back in 2007, Arinc and Rockwell Collins teamed up to bid on a sweet little – err, big- RFP from Southwest Airlines, which was looking to equip its Boeing 737 fleet with in-flight broadband connectivity.

Southwest ultimately rejected the Arinc/Rockwell bid, and opted to trial Row 44′s Ku-band service. The carrier is currently trialling Row 44 on four 737s

So now for a little unrelated tangent. How is that trial going, and why hasn’t Southwest committed to fleet-wide installations?

Some folks in attendance at this week’s Inmarsat Aeronautical Conference in Vancouver wonder whether Southwest will take the Row 44 leap since all its competitors are going Gogo.

Row 44 tells me Southwest “has been very pleased with the system and its technical performance over now thousands of flights.”

It adds: “The proof of concept was a success, and we look forward to their decision (as well as Alaska’s) in the coming months.”

If Row 44 doesn’t get the Southwest gig, what other options might it have to stay viable? What about a tie-up with Aircell, which has talked about offering a hybrid in-flight connectivity service – air-to-ground in North America and Ku-band overseas – to carriers? An Aircell/Row 44 teaming….is that out of the question?

One high-level exec told me today that he sees the in-flight broadband market as shifting out to two players – Aircell and Panasonic.

Is it time to award Panasonic a coveted RWG golden ticket? If Lufthansa signs on the dotted line for Panasonic’s eXConnect, you can be sure we’ll be printing more of those. 

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One Response to Rockwell looks again at Ku-band for commercial air transport

  1. Bob June 4, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    If Row 44 wasn’t viable on its own, WN & AS would be long gone. Regardless of years and years of promises by other companies, nobody else is really doing what Row 44 is doing.

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