AirStellar reveals plan for 'global' air-to-ground service

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This story is sourced from Flight International
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A company that recently emerged from obscurity to disclose plans for filling the void left by the closure of Connexion by Boeing has revealed its intention to offer a "global" air-to-ground connectivity solution that will be supplemented by satellite-based service for transoceanic coverage.

AirStellar says it is comprised of "leaders" in the aircraft, wireless internet, cellular communications and satellite industries. In an exclusive interview with Flight International, company director John Page says AirStellar has "the relationships necessary" to offer a global air-to-ground service.

If an airline "requires a relationship that needs oceanic coverage", the satellite portion is available, he says, adding that a Ku-band solution "must play a role" to ensure continuous broadband connectivity.

AirStellar previously touted partnerships with international satellite communications operator Intelsat, among others. Intelsat says: "We know AirStellar well, but we don't have a formal relationship with them."

Some industry observers are sceptical about AirStellar's proposition of global air-to-ground service, citing availability issues for spectrum in Europe as well as the USA.

Page says such a disclosure would reveal "some confidential information about our spectrum strategy".

He confirms that AirStellar has "no relationship with AirCell", the Colorado-based company that last summer won an exclusive 3MHz broadband license during the US Federal Communications Commission's auction of 4MHz of spectrum in the 800MHz band allocated to air-to-ground services. LiveTV won the remaining 1MHz slice.

AirCell's 3MHz of spectrum "is insufficient" for what AirStellar is proposing, says Page.

AirCell chief executive Jack Blumenstein says: "Our view is that you've got to have dedicated air-to-ground spectrum as the core part of your service to provide" broadband air-to-ground service in the USA, and that licence was won by AirCell last year.

"Is there a way that another company can find or acquire in auction or somehow get their hands on spectrum in auction, the answer is theoretically yes," he says. However, unless the spectrum is designated for air-to-ground, "the price of it becomes astronomically high".

Apart from the FCC's awards to AirCell and LiveTV, there "is nothing else that has been designated or allocated for use in air-to-ground service" in the USA, says the FCC.

AirStellar, meanwhile, insists that its "emergence into the public world" is driven "by how quickly the airlines want to move". While AirStellar has not secured an airline customer, there is "ongoing meaningful activity", says Page.