What is in this article?:
- Office in the Sky Becomes Reality
- Gogo Biz
- Ka-Band — Future of Satellite Broadband Communications
There's just never enough productive work time available during the workday. That's why for nearly three decades, business aviation operators have looked forward to the day when they could use their aircraft cabins as “offices in the sky” where their passengers could continue to work as productively at 41,000 ft. as they could on the 41st floor.
Years ago, air-to-ground radiotelephones and faxes, complemented by onboard computers and printers, were the tools available for business aircraft passengers to maintain communications between ground and sky. That level of office technology seemed to suffice then.
However, about two decades ago a revolution in communications began taking place on the ground with the advent of Internet connectivity. The new technology began to collapse the information float to near zero between offices and factories, customers and suppliers, headquarters and subsidiaries. Connectivity speeds soared from 56 Kbps using dial-up in the early 1980s to today's cable modem, high-speed DSL and satellite broadband speeds of 1 Mbps upload and 20 Mbps download. Some ground-based connectivity systems now provide 45 Mbps, or higher, Internet speeds.
A digital divide rapidly developed between offices on the ground and those in the sky. Internet data conduits became figuratively as big as fire hoses on the ground, but remained as small as soda straws aboard business jets. Cabin connectivity crawled along at rubber-eared modem speeds that dated back to when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were adolescents. Thus, once business travelers shut the cabin doors of their business aircraft, they essentially lost Internet connectivity.
That all started to change some 10 years ago. Inmarsat launched its third-generation (I-3) satcom satellites in the late 1990s, a five-satellite constellation that supports L-band data communications with near global coverage up to 75 deg. N. or S. Lat. By 2003, Inmarsat was ready to offer the capability to aircraft operators. It is named Swift64 because it provides a speed of up to 64 Kbps per channel that is similar to a dial-up modem that uses a conventional telephone landline. Up to four channels may be bonded to yield a 256 Kbps connection speed. Using Swift64, it costs about $16 to transfer each megabyte of data.
In 2005, Inmarsat started to launch a fourth generation satcom constellation offering higher L-band data connectivity speeds. For aircraft, the service is called SwiftBroadband and it is capable of supporting connectivity speeds up to 432 Kbps, depending upon aircraft location, avionics and system demand. Similar to the Swift64 feature of the I-3 satellites, SwiftBroadband has near global coverage.
SwiftBroadband became a success because it offered the highest speed data communications with the largest area of signal coverage. But SwiftBroadband equipment costs upward of $100,000 to install, each megabyte of data costs about $6 to $8 to transmit and connectivity speeds can bog down with heavy user demand.
Those shortcomings opened the door for new connectivity solutions.