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The most-widespread coverage and also the most-expensive broadband connectivity link for business aircraft is ViaSat's Yonder Ku-band service. The Carlsbad, Calif.-based firm and KVH Industries, its maritime services partner, have assembled a federation of Ku-band satellite operators to provide coverage over the most heavily traveled air routes. Coverage gaps in the Mediterranean Sea and Eastern Europe, along with Southeast Asia, China and northern Scandinavia were scheduled to be filled in by the end of 2011. By the third quarter of this year, coverage will be extended to include most of Canada below the Arctic Circle, along with eastern Russia, China and Southwest Asia.
Depending upon service area, aircraft-to-ground data transfer rates vary from 256 Kbps to 1 Mbps and ground-to-aircraft rates range from 5 to 20 Mbps. But passengers typically experience 1- to 2-Mbps connection speeds. That's twice or four times the speed of Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband data communications service. ViaSat officials also point out that up to 45% of the time passengers spend in aircraft is either on the ground or below 10,000 ft. and Ku-band satcom services are available throughout, not just when the aircraft is above 10,000 ft.
Ku-band satellites, similar to the Inmarsat space vehicles, are parked in geostationary orbits 22,300 nm above the earth's surface. Although the Ku-band satellites don't have as wide a coverage area as the Inmarsat constellation, they blanket their signal power in areas of high demand, such as heavily populated places, and heavily trafficked air routes and sea-lanes.
ViaSat's three-box Ku-band avionics system only weighs about 36 lb., but it requires a 12-in. dish antenna that must be housed in a tail-mounted radome enclosure. The Ku-band antenna usually is positioned in tandem with an Inmarsat L-band satcom antenna. The physical size of the Ku-band antenna and radome mostly limits installation to large-cabin aircraft. Equipment and installation cost upward of $500,000.
Yonder Ku-band systems now are in service aboard more than 170 aircraft. They're branded as Broad Band Multi-Link aboard Gulfstream aircraft. The equipment also has been fitted to theBusiness Jet and Citation X, along with Challenger 600-series and Global Series jets.
Standard service plans range from $5,995 to $7,995 per month depending upon the length of the service contract. While that seems pricey, it's actually less expensive than Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband for Internet users who transfer more than 1 GB of data per month, ViaSat officials assert. SwiftBroadband has a fixed cost of about $6.95 per megabyte of data and that could result in monthly connection fees of $10,425 for 1.5 GB to $34,750 for 5.0 GB.
Ku-band systems continue to be popular with large-cabin aircraft operators, but ViaSat believes that Ka-band systems eventually will replace them.