US in-flight connectivity firm Aircell is exploring business opportunities in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in China.
"We are seeing whether an air-to-ground system could be deployed there. [We've] investigated similar opportunities in Europe, but are challenged by the availability of spectrum," Aircell senior vice president of strategy and business development Robin Salem tells ATI.
Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet service runs over an air-to-ground (ATG) link in the US and the firm has inked deals with eight North American airlines.
Overseas air-to-ground (ATG) systems are contingent upon a large enough population and air traffic volume as well the availability of spectrum, he explains. The company has looked at options including Ku-band only systems, Salem adds.
While Aircell investigates overseas markets, the firm continues to hold discussions with satellite players about a hybrid solution to offer its customers the ability to use ATG-based connectivity in North America and a Ku-band solution on overseas flights.
A hybrid system that would enable passengers to seamlessly access in-flight connectivity when their aircraft flies over water is under development, he says.
While Aircell has not inked an agreement with any satellite firm yet, Salem says Aircell has had discussions with US legacy carriers about trialling a hybrid solution on flights to South America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region next year.
In-flight testing is not likely to occur during the first half of next year, he says.
One of the biggest hurdles to overseas connectivity is obtaining licensing over international waters and over flight rights.
"We are organizing prospective partners to make sure those things are in place," Salem says, so that once a US carrier signals it is ready to test international connectivity, a trial can be organized quickly.
More than one trial could be supported by Aircell but "one airline can benefit from the trial experience of other airlines", Salem says.
While Aircell is committed to a combination of ATG and Ku-band, the company is monitoring Ka-band for connectivity. Ka-band satellites provide more capacity and bandwidth than Ku-band satellites in the medium and longer term.Currently thereare not as many Ka-band transponders available, and most would be applicable for a land-based solution in the near-term versus an overseas solution.
"The business case would have to be examined," Salem says of using a Ka-band solution.
As Aircell works toward an international product, the company is also looking into a solution for commercial regional jets. The company could make some simple modifications to its business jet solution for use in commercial regional jets, Salem says. The regional jet solution will most likely be deployable in 2010, he adds.
Aircell appears to have ruled out using its business aviation solution SwiftBroadband for commercial applications in the near term unless an airline requests it.
SwiftBroadband isn't true broadband, but provides mobile connectivity and light Internet overseas.
There are two challenges to commercial use of SwiftBroadband, Salem says, noting that data speed is an issue with so many passengers using the product. In addition, SwiftBroadband uses L-band satellites, which are more costly.