Airbus explores 60 GHz for wireless IFE, WAIC: Prof. Keusgen

Dr.-Ing. Wilhelm Keusgen from the Dept. BM (Broadband Mobile Communication Networks) at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich Hertz Institute in Berlin, says the institute has had “several projects with Airbus regarding the deployment of 60 GHz technology for wireless inflight entertainment as well as low rate WAIC [Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications] at lower frequencies for sensor and crew communication applications”.

“Together with partners from Berlin and Gothenburg a 60 GHz demonstrator has been developed successfully,” he adds.

Boeing also has plans for investigating 60 GHz, says Keusgen.

His comments are from a statement prepared for my colleague, Flightglobal’s resident aerospace technologies expert Rob Coppinger, aka Hyperbola.

Read the entire statement here (skip to the bottom for the Airbus/Boeing juice, which is, obviously, according to Keusgen):

Wireless avionic onboard communication


The basic idea of wireless onboard communication is to replace wired infrastructure by wireless links. The applications range from traditional incabin connections [such] as crew communication through new passenger services [and] individual inflight entertainment to novel employments as sensor networks with hundreds of sensor nodes inside the whole aircraft structure.

In consequence, the wireless deployment of all control and monitoring functions such as reading lights or smoke detectors is aimed for. The motivation for all of these developments is the saving of weight and maintenance of the harness, the higher robustness of a self organized wireless network compared to wires and connectors, the higher flexibility e.g. when changing cabin layouts during turnaround time, and the implementation of completely new functions like sensors at moving or non-accessible parts.

For [these] reasons all major aircraft manufactures have a strong interest in development and standardization of wireless communication systems for onboard use (Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications: WAIC)

Application Classes

The whole bunch of applications can be classified with respect to high- and low-rate links, required robustness, number of supported nodes, and coverage. The switch of a reading light requires a very low data whereas the display of a seat display needs 20 Mbit/s. A smoke detector has to meet higher security levels than an inflight entertainment application. There are only a few handhelds i.e. wireless nodes for crew communication, whereas hundreds of passengers are provided with wireless control panels and thousands of wireless sensors may be embeded in the cabin hull. The radio channel between the cabin ceiling and a seat display differs completely from the propagation environment inside a wing or cargo compartment.

Of course all these application classes can not be met with one wireless access technology.

Radio Interfaces

For the identification of appropriate radio interfaces and frequency bands the worldwide frequency regulation, the necessary bandwidth, and the specific propagation characteristics have to be taken into account: Wireless onboard communication must be permitted legally for a worldwide use. So the frequency bands for industrial, scientific, and medical use (ISM bands), license-free bands [such] as the 60 GHz frequency band or frequency bands which are allowed to be used under certain restrictions as the frequencies for ultra-wide band (UWB) communication may be deployed.

The drawback of these open frequency bands is the potential utilization by other wireless services e.g. WiFi within the ISM band, which may cause interference and excludes these bands from applications with a high security level. Therefore for these applications distinct licensed frequencies for exclusive utilization are essential and are proposed by the major aircraft manufactures.

The regulation of licensed services is done by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by means of the World Radiocommunication Conference. Currently the whole process is in motion and merely some candidate frequencies have been identified.
The necessary bandwidth depends on the intended application. A wireless sensor provides a data rate of less than 1 kbit/s and therefore 1 MHz bandwidth might be sufficient for the whole sensor network, whereas a wireless seat display drains 20 Mbit/s which sums up to several Gbit/s for the whole passenger cabin. So for wireless displays hundreds of MHz bandwidth would be needed.
Since attenuation and the impact of shadowing increases with frequency, not all frequency bands are suitable for all applications. For a larger coverage lower frequencies are advantageous, whereas the range of a 60 GHz communication link is less than 10 m.
So one can guess that for high security applications, which have a low data rate and therefore require less bandwidth, licensed narrow frequency bands in the lower frequency range will be used, whereas for broadband applications with high data rates, high utilized bandwidth, and lower security requirements the license-free frequency bands in the higher frequency range will be utilized.

60 GHz

For the latter the 60 GHz frequency range is the most promising candidate band. It provides several GHz bandwidth for license-free worldwide use, and the high free space attenuation minimizes interferences between different aircrafts and allows a reuse of frequencies even in the same cabin.

Nevertheless this frequency band is not exclusive for use in aircrafts and interferences to passenger devices may occur since 60 GHz is going to be exploited for emerging PC and CE applications as wireless docking stations and wireless displays.

It seems that 60 GHz is ideal for wireless inflight entertainment applications were seat displays are connected to access points in the cabin ceiling. So 20-30 seats can be provided with individual data streams and a very high sum capacity of several GBit/s for the whole cabin could be realized.

The successful implementation of such systems requires a mature 60 GHz radio technology, which is driven by the PC and CE manufactures. Since the volumes in the aircraft manufacturing are comparatively small a completely proprietary design of semiconductor devices is not possible.

Aircraft manufactures do not develop such systems by there own, but rely on suppliers. So the suppliers must be able to offer these low volume products at a price.
Current work

In our institute we had several projects with Airbus regarding the deployment of 60 GHz technology for wireless inflight entertainment as well as low rate WAIC at lower frequencies for sensor and crew communication applications. Together with partners from Berlin and Gothenburg a 60 GHz demonstrator has been developed successfully.
There are also activities at Airbus concerning the use of UWB and WiFi technology.

Similar work is done at Boeing, mainly with respect to WiFi. But also 60 GHz is going to be investigated there. The main suppliers [such] as Panasonic are not involved in 60 GHz yet, since there are no 60 GHz components off-the-shelf so far. But the 60 GHz development has gained much speed during the last year, so that first components will be available soon.

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