Farnborough 2002 coincides with one of the biggest steps forward in aeronautical satellite communications for several years - commercial availability of Inmarsat's Swift64 64kbit/sec data service


As well as offering a big improvement in data rate over the present industry–standard 9.6kbit/sec Aero–H, Swift64 also supports two of the world's commonest and most convenient data formats, ISDN and Internet Protocol (IP).

All the leading Inmarsat aeronautical avionics manufacturers and service providers are here in one form or another. They are joined by three other ventures – AirTV, Connexion by Boeing and Tenzing Communications – aspiring to enter a market that Inmarsat has had largely to itself since the early 1990s.


Announcements about future broadband services can be expected from all three during the week

Leading the field among the Swift64 avionics manufacturers is the Ottawa–based satcoms division of EMS Technologies (Canadian Pavilion, Hall 4). The company's one-box (8MCU), two-channel HSD-128 – integrated with EMS's proven AMT–50 mechanically steered high–gain antenna subsystem – is the first Swift64 terminal to win Inmarsat type and unrestricted access approvals. It is now commercially available at a recommended retail price of $182,500. Also on offer, at $168,750, is the single-channel HSD–64.

HSD-128 is capable of a maximum data rate of 128kbit/sec, obtained by "bonding" the two ISDN channels. It is typically used for videoconferencing and large file transfer. Sales and marketing director Ray Larkin says effective rates of up to 500kbit/sec have been achieved through the application of special software techniques developed by New Jersey-based Expand Networks.


In its initial form, the system supports Mobile ISDN only. The addition of IP capability – Inmarsat calls it Mobile Packet Data Service (MPDS) – requires a software upgrade. This was undergoing first tests over the Inmarsat satellites on the eve of the show.

HSD-128 also supports voice; options include full-ISDN voice at 64kbit/sec or low-speed voice at 4.8kbit/sec.

Initial target markets are the military, corporate operators and fractional owners. But integration of HSD-128 with other manufacturers' high-gain antenna subsystems already aboard long-range airliners is planned, as is offering the system to the air transport sector.


Likely applications are passenger e-mail, limited Web access and voice, and airline operational and administrative communications, says Larkin. EMS partner Teledyne Controls has exclusive distribution rights in the corporate market and is also a non-exclusive distributor to air transport.

EMS is already working on an upgrade path in anticipation of the 432kbit/sec capability promised by Inmarsat's fourth–generation satellites, due to enter service in 2004. "HSD-128 has the flexibility to be upgraded," says Larkin, "and we're confident we know what to do because we are working closely with Inmarsat on its fourth-generation development through our UK subsidiary EMS Satcom."

The US/European partnership of Honeywell and Thales is market leader among the makers of first–generation satcoms avionics and is intent on repeating this success with its Swift64 products. The Thales Avionics area of the corporate stand (P2, near the static display) emphasises military applications such as secure voice and video transmission for programmes such as the UK's Future Strategic Tanker Aircraft (FSTA) and the European A400M heavy military transport.

"We see the military and corporate aviation as our best prospects for early business," says Andy Lovett, product marketing manager at London–based Thales Avionics. "Long-haul air transport will come through eventually. But at present the airlines are still coming to terms with the effects of 11 September, as well as digesting the lessons of their initial ventures into satcoms."

The partners' current top-of-the-line systems are the four-channel (three voice, one low–speed data) MCS-4000 and MCS-7000 (six voice, one data). Their Swift64 offerings, the HS-600 and 700, are designed to integrate with already installed avionics and antenna subsystems, adding 64kbit/sec data to the existing voice and low–speed data capabilities.

HS-600 was developed in conjunction with Glocom, a US-based manufacturer of Inmarsat land-mobile terminals, and is seen as an interim, limited-production solution designed to get the partners into the market as soon as possible. Commercially available from this month, HS-600 is packaged in a 4MCU box weighing 7.3kg (16lb) and supports a single circuit–mode (Mobile ISDN) channel. It requires the addition of another high-power amplifier to the existing installation.

The definitive HS-700 is scheduled for introduction in the middle of next year. Developed with Denmark's Thrane & Thrane, it is smaller (2MCU, 2kg), will support a single channel of either ISDN or IP data, and will work with the single existing HPA. It will be aimed initially at the corporate and VIP markets.

Both products are designed to operate with the Honeywell/Thales NSU-4 network server unit, combining a 20GB hard drive, 256MB RAM and an Ethernet switch for local-area networking in a 6MCU box weighing about 10.5kg. "It's clear that you've got to have a server aboard the aircraft to manage multiple simultaneous users," says Lovett.

The partners are studying a third Swift64 product, to be aimed at the air transport market from around the middle of the decade. "But much has still to be decided," says Lovett. "Any new product will have to match the form, fit and function standard now being developed as a successor to ARINC 741. And it could turn out that development is timed to take advantage of the huge increase in bandwidth that the Inmarsat fourth-generation satellites are due to deliver from 2004."

Honeywell is showing its aero satcoms work on its own stand (Hall 1, A15), highlighting other Swift64 applications as well as promoting its OneLink service package for corporate operators. In addition to Inmarsat voice and Swift64 data, OneLink encompasses low-speed data and voice services via the Iridium constellation. Charges for the latter range from $1.35-$3.75 per minute.

Sharing the air transport satcoms avionics market with Honeywell/Thales is Rockwell-Collins with its established SAT–906 and SAT-2000 products.

The company's Swift64 offering, designated HST-900, is due to be available by the end of the year. It can be viewed here on the Rockwell-Collins stand (Hall 4, G10) in engineering mock–up form. "We thought of doing a live demonstration," says John Friesz, long-range communications marketing manager, "but in the end we came down against diverting red-label equipment from the development programme."

HST-900 is a single 2MCU box weighing about 3.5kg. "We decided to go for a standalone unit for two reasons," says Friesz. "Integrating the high-speed data function into the existing SAT-906 satellite data unit would have led to expensive re–testing and re-certification. And it also gives us more flexibility for future upgrades." HST-900's single channel can offer both Mobile ISDN and packet data.

First flight trials – aboard air transport aircraft and business jets – are scheduled for September. Preliminary lab work has included over-the-satellite tests combining HST–900 with multiple handsets, laptops, a file server and wireless networking. "The idea was to simulate a hard–working cabin environment," says Friesz.

Rockwell-Collins has also looked at the possibility of achieving higher effective data rates through the use of accelerator algorithms like those developed by Expand Networks.

Like the other leading manufacturers, Rockwell-Collins is looking beyond Inmarsat's current capabilities. "We have tried to pre-position HST-900 for an easy, software-only upgrade to take advantage of the extra bandwidth of the Inmarsat-4s," says Friesz. "This is a fast-moving game and we have made our design as agile as we possibly could."

One leading Inmarsat Aero player not at the show is Ball Aerospace. The Colorado space systems specialist was an early entrant into the aero satcoms business with its successful Airlink electronically steered conformal high-gain antenna, and it is now offering Swift64 avionics to work with this system and those of other manufacturers.

In its initial form – available to military and government users since January – Airlink HSD supports one or more Mobile ISDN channels; IP capability will be introduced as an upgrade. Channels can be combined to produce composite data rates in excess of 64kbit/sec.

Heart of the system is the new radio-frequency unit (RFU). This 6MCU, 12.3kg unit is supported by the Airlink HSD mobile router – which links the RFU with end-user equipment (phone, fax, PC, secure terminal or video) – and the established high–power amplifier and antenna subsystem.

Ball recently received initial approval to operate Airlink HSD over the Inmarsat satellites and says that the system has worked successfully aboard a number of aircraft. An upgraded version designed to deliver data rates of up to 432kbit/sec through the forthcoming Inmarsat 4 constellation is under study.

One of the strengths of the Swift64 proposition is the ability of the avionics to integrate readily with existing Inmarsat high–gain antenna subsystems. Present here (Hall 4, C21A, Canadian Pavilion) is CMC Electronics, the world's leading supplier of high–gain antennas to the airlines.

As the show opened, CMC announced details of earlier trials combining its CMA-2102 top-mounted electronically steered antenna with Honeywell/Thales Swift64 avionics and Tenzing's connectivity service aboard Honeywell's Citation V testbed. "CMA-2102 fully supports Swift64 without modification," says Bruce Bailey, CMC Electronics vice–president commercial aviation. "The flight demonstrations showed that the service worked exceptionally well."

The company has sold more than 1,400 CMA-2102s to over 60 airline customers and several corporate/VIP and military operators. Users include Japan Air Lines (18 firm and 16 optional 747s), Singapore Airlines (18 Boeing 777s and six 747s) and Qantas (six 747s and 13 Airbus A330s). The system is also being installed on new Boeing Business Jets.

Pentar Avionics president Bob Rodgers says his company has been "working very hard to get our message across about the necessity for a file server in the Swift64 application. A cabin server as part of the onboard network is essential to realising the full benefits of a high-speed datalink."

Washington State–based Pentar produces the JetLAN line of cabin file-servers, which combine PC-compatibility with the environmental ruggedness required of avionics systems. Modular in design, JetLAN servers can support a wide variety of interfaces, including ISDN, Ethernet, RS-232 and ARINC 429. "This greatly enhances our ability to work with various Swift64 systems," says Rodgers. "We have been very aggressive in integrating our server with equipment from all the major Swift64 manufacturers."

Source: Flight Daily News