If you’re planning to fly to or via Europe in the next few years, congratulations: you get to look forward to the prospect of high-speed in-flight wi-fi for as long as you’re flying through European airspace.
Thanks to a partnership between German telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom, and British satellite comms company, Inmarsat, in-flight Internet will be provided to passengers on several European airlines via the world’s first combinedLTE-based ground and satellite network.
German airline, Lufthansa, will be the first to launch the in-flight Internet service in early summer 2016, and if all goes to plan, it will be rolled out to the rest of the European Aviation Network by 2017.
“With this integrated network we can meet the need for capacity, flexibility and quality of service, including the ability to expand quickly to anticipate growth in demand,” Andy Sukawaty, chairman of Inmarsat, said in a press statement.
“The integrated satellite and complementary LTE-based ground network will ensure that Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom together deliver the fastest, best and most consistent in-flight broadband experience that meets the needs of airlines in this region. Combined with our global GX (Ka-band) and L-band services, we now have connectivity solutions for the cockpit and the cabin of any type of aircraft, flying in any geography.”
What does Ka-band and L-band mean, I hear you ask? As Steve Nichols explains at Get Connected, the ‘band’ refers to the radio frequencies used to and from the satellite, where L-band uses frequencies in the 1 to 2 GHz range, and Ka-band uses the 26.5 to 40 GHz part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Generally, the higher the frequency the more bandwidth you can get.
As Matt Brian reports for Engadget, the network will work much like Gogo’s air-to-ground service, which is already being used by US airlines such as American Airlines and Delta:
“The multi-beam satellites rely on Inmarsat’s 30 MHz (2 x 15 MHz) S-band spectrum, which covers all 28 EU member states. Deutsche Telekom, on the other hand, will utilise 300 specially-modified LTE sites that range up to 80 kilometres (normal masts offer around 10 kilometres) and can efficiently deal with the speed of a plane travelling at 30,000 feet [9,144 metres].”
Each plane will need to be fitted with equipment that can pick up on signals from both the satellite and ground-based networks, and it will flick between the two during the flight to ensure that connectivity is stable even when the aircraft is above water.