Satellite links used for Airbus trial on A320 and ground tests by Arinc and Telenor

Passenger use of personal cellphones on commercial aircraft flights has moved a step closer after key tests. Airbus has completed an in-flight trial of GSM mobile telephones on an A320, using Globalstar satellite communications as the air-ground link. Arinc and Telenor, meanwhile, have completed ground tests demonstrating in-flight mobile phone use via the widely deployed Inmarsat Aero-H satcom service.

In addition, the Wireless Cabin consortium led by German aerospace centre DLR has completed a two-year research programme with flight trials of multiple wireless technologies on an Airbus A340-600, using Inmarsat's new Swift64 high-speed data satcom service as the air-ground link.

The A320 trial involved prototype hardware and software developed by Airbus with support from Icarelink. Mobile telephone signals went to a "picocell" in the aircraft and were routed via onboard server to the Globalstar system and to ground telephone networks. Several different GSM cellphones were used simultaneously for both voice communications and text messaging to and from mobile and fixed telephones on the ground and to another mobile in the aircraft.

The Arinc test showed GSM voice and SMS text can be transmitted over the Inmarsat Aero-H satcom systems already installed in more than 1,900 aircraft, says David Coiley, director air-ground services. This would provide an opportunity for early deployment of in-flight cellphone capability. The package to be offered by Arinc and Telenor would provide call costs of around $3-3.50/min compared with $9/min for Inmarsat satcom calls using aircraft in-flight entertainment systems, he says.

Coiley says Arinc and Telenor are working with two potential launch customers, and plan to flight-test the system next year, leading to certification and commercial availability in 2006. Airbus aims to offer services "at affordable prices" from 2006. In July, Airbus, Sita and Tenzing announced plans to form a joint company to offer cabin connectivity services.

The DLR-led trial, meanwhile, flight-tested future onboard services based on emerging wireless communications standards. These included GSM mobile phones, web-browsing, e-mail, virtual private network and telemedecine.



Source: Flight International