Digital wireless technology specialist Qualcomm is aiming for certification within the next few months of an onboard communication system that uses its part-owned Globalstar low Earth orbit satellite system to support aircraft safety and security applications.

The development, which would boost the struggling Globalstar system, follows a similar programme under way at fellow low Earth orbit satellite system operator Iridium as companies providing bi-directional communication links to aircraft redirect their programmes to meet growing security and safety requirements.

Qualcomm's Medium Data-rate Satcom System (MDSS), which incorporates code division multiple access digital wireless technology, has been under development for two years. The project originally stems from work Qualcomm conducted with former Rockwell Collins/News Corp joint venture In-Flight Network (IFN), which was designed to deliver broadband passenger entertainment and communication services. Following the closure of IFN, Qualcomm partnered cabin system manufacturer Airshow to develop similar entertainment/communication services.

The MDSS comprises a 23kg (50lb) avionics box and a 0.9kg antenna and will provide voice and data communications at up to 128kbit/s, with up to 600kbit/s being studied, says Qualcomm. Sensor Systems supplied the antenna, while Airshow manufactured the MDSS unit for the demonstration. Qualcomm intends to "work out a strategic relationship [with Airshow] to manufacture the products".

Qualcomm has identified a number of security applications, including real-time video and audio monitoring of aircraft cabins and cockpits, an air traffic service to alert aviation authorities of emergency situations, remote control of onboard aircraft cameras and transmission of real-time monitoring of flight data and cockpit voice recorders. The MDSS has been flight tested on a Challenger 604 business jet and is in the final stage of US Federal Aviation Administration certification.

Boeing has refocused its Connexion services from in-flight internet and broadcast television to security applications, while competitor Tenzing is investigating similar services for its Inmarsat satellite-based offerings. Inmarsat satcoms are already installed on 80% of the widebody commercial airliner fleet and its satellites can support the security services today, Inmarsat says.

and its data speeds have recently been boosted with the launch of Swift64 services offering 64kbit/s data rate.

Source: Flight International