Panasonic Avionics' application for US FCC authority to operate an aeronautical mobile satellite service earth station network in the Ku-band has made in-flight connectivity rival Row 44 rather hot under the collar.
In what will surely give the industry a case of déjà vu (remember ViaSat's long-running objection to Row 44's application?), Row 44 is now calling into question darn near everything about Panasonic's application (skew data, pointing accuracy, and interference are among the familiar concerns addressed).
Row 44 also gets shirty about Panasonic's effort to recycle now-defunct Connexion by Boeing's application for the MELCO antenna (which is fitted to 69 aircraft operated by former Connexion customer Lufthansa).
Panasonic "simply refers generally to the almost 75-page Boeing modification application as if the entirety of that filing was germane to its own proposal", bemoans Row 44 in a 1 December filing to the FCC.
Most interesting to this gal, however, is Row 44's assertion that the MELCO antennas being reignited by Lufthansa and Panasonic may be too old and scruffy.
International Telecommunication Union ("ITU") requirements mandate that the aging of antenna equipment be taken into consideration. The MELCO antennas originally mounted on Lufthansa aircraft have been non-operational since the termination of Boeing's Connexion service four years ago, at the end of 2006. It appears that only a small number of these antennas have been reactivated by Panasonic Avionics under its experimental license. Given the passage of time, absent field testing and measurement, it cannot be certain that any of these antennas, and specifically all those being reactivated for use, are still able to operate within their original specifications.
Aging and/or corrosion of bearings, gears, aperture, and/or hollow conductors is very likely to occur during a time period of four years for an operating aircraft. If any of these antenna components has changed its properties there is a potential that key characteristics of the antenna systems are affected. Accordingly, even more so than in the case of newly-installed equipment, the current application requires the submission of antenna patterns that demonstrate actual antenna performance.
Nearly a month ago, under its partnership with Panasonic, Lufthansa re-launched in-flight high-speed Internet - dubbed FlyNet - on a MELCO-equipped Airbus A330. I gotta say that FlyNet worked flawlessly for me (although in-seat power on the aircraft was severely lacking...more on that later).
Importantly, however, I didn't witness any impact to the service when we switched satellites, and I managed to be the first - and apparently the only - journa-blogger to upload video during the flight (a feat accomplished while most other FlyNet users were busy eating din din...yahoo!). That said, I do wonder just how many MELCO antennas can be recycled, as I understand that some of them have their quirks. The antennas that don't make the cut will be replaced with far newer models from EMS.
Ku-band battles at the FCC have become a time-honored tradition in the world of in-flight entertainment and connectivity. But I still think they're worth keeping an eye on because juicy bits about the applicant always seems to surface. So I'll be sure to keep you posted as Row 44 and Panasonic take the gloves off. FUN!