Thales sees Ka-band in-flight connectivity as natural next step

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Thales is likely to offer a Ka-band satellite-based in-flight connectivity solution to carriers should a strong service provider emerge, the company's head of in-flight entertainment Alan Pellegrini says.

Speaking to ATI and Flightglobal last week at the Farnborough air show, Pellegrini said that while Thales is seeing "a tremendous amount of interest" in the firm's Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-supported in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) solutions - including in-flight GSM, Wi-fi and connected entertainment platforms - he believes the market is "eagerly anticipating what might be beyond SwiftBroadband".

Thales' main competitor, Panasonic Avionics, has largely focused its connectivity strategy on Ku-band satellites, and has secured several customers for its in-flight high-speed Internet, live television and Ku-band-based mobile connectivity. But Thales wonders if Ku will prevail or "if a new technology like Ka-band in fact [is] going to take command of the future", says Pellegrini.

He says: "We're pretty strong believers in Ka-band ourselves. We think it has a number of advantages that we see as compared to Ku. We anticipate that there will be a very strong service provider behind it that can provide global coverage with a minimum number of satellites, a continuity of coverage throughout the world which Ku-band does not offer. So we do see it as a natural transition point for us in the future.

"Today of course we're very focused on offering our SwiftBroadband capability with Wi-fi or GSM as we're doing for Qatar Airways on their 787 aircraft, so we see a lot of interest in that and to offer an evolution to future technologies, probably Ka-band as we look ahead."

SwiftBroadband, which runs over Inmarsat's I-4 L-band satellite network, is the fastest growing aeronautical service in Inmarsat's history. However, during the firm's recent annual conference in San Francisco, Inmarsat chief operating officer Perry Melton told delegates that the UK firm is now looking towards an I-5 network, and that while it cannot announce anything official yet, unofficially it is looking at the "K" band, which is understood to refer to the Ka-band.

Thereafter, reports surfaced that Inmarsat is on the cusp of investing $1 billion with Boeing for four satellites that would operate in the Ka-band spectrum.

For more information about in-flight entertainment and connectivity, go to Flightglobal's Runway Girl blog.