A study into the feasibility of using wireless communications systems at 60 GHz for in-flight entertainment (IFE) is progressing at EADS Innovation Works Germany.

Working under a sub-project of the publicly funded 'EASY-A, Enablers for Ambient Services and Systems Part A - 60 GHz Broadband Links' project, EADS Innovation Works Germany set about to design and build a demonstrator that will be integrated into its Airbus A340 cabin mock-up.

The demonstrator - including specific antennas and RF silicon - will show the technical feasibility of 60 GHz WLAN operations in the aircraft cabin with certain proposed performance parameters (i.e. broadband, low-interference intra-cabin backbone and WLAN capable of approximately 1 Gbit/s).

Integration is planned for the mid-2011 timeframe, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Existing WLAN technologies have proven insufficient in terms of data throughput and user density to realise the vision of a wireless cabin that supports simultaneous audio/video on demand (AVOD) distribution for 400-plus passengers.

"It seems that 60 GHz is ideal for wireless in-flight entertainment applications where seat displays are connected to access points in the cabin ceiling," says Dr. Ing Wilhelm Keusgen of the Department of Broadband Mobile Communication Networks at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications.

"In our institute we had several projects with Airbus regarding the deployment of 60 GHz technology for wireless inflight entertainment as well as low rate WAIC [wireless avionics intra-communications] at lower frequencies for sensor and crew communication applications. Together with partners from Berlin and Gothenburg, a 60 GHz demonstrator has been developed successfully," he claims.

An Airbus spokesman says the European airframer is not directly involved in the EASY-A 60 GHz project but is "aware of what is going on at EADS Innovation Works" in that regard.

Boeing, meanwhile, also has plans for investigating 60 GHz, according to Keusgen.

It would not be the US airframer's first look at wireless IFE solutions. At the behest of Boeing, Thales and Panasonic Avionics developed wireless offerings for the 787 twinjet. But in 2007 Boeing scuppered plans to fit those offerings to the 787 due to a number of factors.

One concern was that the 802.11n technology's specification had not yet been ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. That was later resolved.

But Thales and Panasonic also cited concerns that wireless IFE required big trade-offs in bandwidth. "The concern for us was that the value of wireless was not there and it represented a very big trade-off in bandwidth, and thus capability", Panasonic director of product marketing Cedric Rhoads later said.

Neither manufacturer has totally ruled out a future offering.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news