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Communication Systems

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Buyer's Guide: Simple telephone or full broadband, the choice has never been greater
Satellite communication first arrived on the scene for maritime use in the 70s and quickly spread to use in aviation. Connectivity requirements in the cockpit, and increasingly in the cabin, have driven the proliferation of satellite services in recent years to satisfy this demand.

Satellite communication first arrived on the scene for maritime use in the 70s and quickly spread to use in aviation. Connectivity requirements in the cockpit, and increasingly in the cabin, have driven the proliferation of satellite services in recent years to satisfy this demand. With the continued development of faster and ever-more complex passenger mobile devices using technologies such as streaming video on demand and cloud computing, this trend is bound to continue.

Business jet and vvip operators in Europe, the Middle East and Asia (EMEA) have a number of choices to make in determining the best satellite communications solution for their aircraft. Choosing correctly requires a full understanding of exactly what the particular aircraft satellite communication system needs to achieve.

EMEA has several satellite communication providers, each offering various levels of capability with relative cost structures. Iridium, for example, offers communication packages with lower data transfer speeds, which are better suited to pure telephone communications. Telephone-only systems are preferred installations for small aircraft.

This type of system can be linked to hardware in the aircraft supplied by Aircell, ICG, Truenorth, or Rockwell Collins. Prices for such a system generally start at US$75,000 for a simple installation. As with all satellite communications, the operator will also need to factor in the installation of an antenna. While this can be achieved through several means, the simplest is for the installer to purchase a Service Bulletin from the aircraft OEM, or an existing Supplemental Type Certificate (STC). A small antenna installation starts at US$50,000, assuming an STC for the installation is available.

Inmarsat also provides satellite communication services that, with the exception of the Polar regions, have global coverage. Linking Inmarsat satellites' Swift Broadband service to hardware in the aircraft supplied by Thrane & Thrane, Rockwell Collins or Honeywell/EMS, via EMS, CMC, Chelton or Ball antennas enables a whole host of services for the cabin. Typically, these packages offer relatively high voice quality and data transfer speeds up to 432kbps per channel. Though not comparable to speeds offered on the ground, the packages at the higher speeds can enable telephony, text messaging, VoIP, email and internet, as well as secure cockpit safety services. Prices for such systems range from US$500,000 to $1.2m. Customer requirements and available space on the fuselage determine whether a high, intermediate or low gain antenna will be installed. Though these types of installations are suitable for small through to large aircraft, system performance depends on the size of the antenna used.

For customers demanding a higher data transfer rate, Jet Aviation also offers KU band satellite system solutions from ViaSat or Panasonic Avionics Corporation. Coverage is not yet global, with coverage currently missing in India and Pakistan, up into China and Eastern Russia, but this is expected to be rectified in Q1 2013.

The KU band solutions are only available for medium to large aircraft and are best suited to those which require fast data transfer speeds. They range from installation prices of US$800,000 for a medium business jet up to US$2m for larger aircraft. While the speeds vary depending on the communication direction, whether aircraft to ground or ground to aircraft, connection speeds experienced are between 1 and 2Mbps. Future satellite communications will see the introduction of KA band satellites, offering greater bandwidth and even faster data transfer speeds.

Given the numerous satellite communication systems and options available, the sky really is the limit. Buyers need only be absolutely clear about client needs and expectations – not to mention budgetary constraints.

Communicate with the top suppliers

Communication systems is just one of over sixty fully researched categories you can use to search through the exhibitors at EBACE 2012 using our online guide. Data comes courtesy of the Handbook of Business Aviation in Europe.

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