Primary Inmarsat Aero satcoms service providers all have plans for Inmarsat's newly-introduced Swift64 64kbit/sec data service. The companies – including SITA, Stratos Aeronautical and ARINC – all have teams at Farnborough, though none is exhibiting.
Geneva-based international co-operative SITA is already a major supplier of ground-based IP network services and sees Swift64 as a way of extending that capability into the aircraft.
SITA's Swift64 services are branded Aircom FlightLink; the mobile ISDN facility was introduced earlier this month, with the packet-data (Internet Protocol) service due to follow in August. They are complemented by Aircom Gatelink, used to pass large volumes of data at 5-15Mbit/min between onboard and ground networks while the aircraft is parked at the gate.
SITA is also taking its first steps down the satellite/cellular convergence road, introducing a range of services to integrate passengers' GSM cellphones with its in-flight offerings.
The recently launched Aircom mobile charging card is designed to allow cellular and in-flight charges to be consolidated into a single invoice. SITA is discussing the scheme with several GSM operators.
Under development is a short messaging service (SMS) allowing passengers to send and receive short text messages via the existing in-seat screen or handset and a cellphone or e-mail address on the ground.
For the longer term, SITA is looking into ways of allowing passengers to call the ground with their own cellphones via satellite while airborne.
Stratos Aeronautical, the result of Stratos Global's acquisition of BT Aeronautical and Maritime, is aiming to launch its Swift64 offering under the long-established Skyphone brand before the end of the year.
The early focus will be on the military and corporate sectors: "Air transport is slow at present," says vice-president aeronautical David Warren. "But the interest is there and we will offer service to the airlines as soon as the demand appears."
Key to the company's Swift64 strategy is StratosNet, a user software package already operational in the land-mobile and maritime markets. Supplied on CD and run on the user's laptop, StratosNet is an e-mail front end with a compression facility designed to minimise on-line time.
"We're talking to a number of airlines about eventually supplying them with stocks of the CD for distribution to their customers," says Warren.
"We see e-mail as the prime Swift64 application," says Warren. "It's the most beneficial for users in general, way ahead of Web access and videoconferencing."
In the meantime, Stratos continues to develop its Mobile Connect range of services based on existing Inmarsat Aero offerings. Mobile Connect includes short messaging from in-seat systems to cellphones and PCs on the ground. The service is currently one-way: a similar facility from the ground is due for introduction within the next few months.
A recent addition to Mobile Connect in conjunction with the Honeywell OneLink service package for corporate operators is a facility giving each individual fractional owner a "personal" airborne phone number. In general, Inmarsat phone numbers are assigned to specific aircraft.
Like SITA, Stratos is taking a close look at onboard GSM cellphone usage. "We inherited a wealth of BT work on this," says Warren, "and we're talking to a number of avionics manufacturers about what needs to be done on the aircraft to make it possible."
ARINC entered the satcoms business in the 1990s as a background provider of datalink services only, fronted by partners like Comsat and the then BT Aeronautical. Since then, says David Coiley, passenger service business development director, the US company has turned itself into a prime contractor supplying turnkey voice and data solutions to the airlines. "This makes us directly comparable with SITA and allows us to compete more effectively," says Coiley.
As prime contractor, ARINC now serves customers such as Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic – both requiring complete packages covering not only satellite but also VHF and HF datalink – as well as Continental, US Airways and bmi British Midland.
ARINC is carrying out Swift64 development work with a number of its customers. "But," says Coiley, "operational services must await the commercial availability of suitable avionics from the likes of Honeywell/Thales and Rockwell."
As for branding, the company has no plans to apply a brand of its own to its Swift64 offering: "The industry is confused enough as it is without our adding yet another brand to the mix."
Other recent ARINC developments include the imminent launch for a leading European airline of short messaging facilities based on Matsushita cabin equipment and Tenzing connectivity services, and trials of what Coiley describes as a broadband service for the corporate aviation market.
"We are partnered with Airbus, Tenzing and Astrium on development of a broadband solution, and carried out successful flight tests last month with a major business-jet manufacturer," says Coiley. The tests were based on leased capacity on a satellite over the USA and a tail-mounted mechanically steered antenna on the aircraft. Reported data rate was 1-3Mbit/sec.
Source: Flight Daily News