Following a successful rollout across Europe, Thales in the UK, Nokia and SkyFive have announced that they are launching a 4G LTE Air to Ground (A2G) solution into the global market. The partners say that the system will deliver a “fibre-like” connectivity experience for passengers, improving their inflight wi-fi access to data-heavy content.
The 4G LTE solution offers seamless connectivity with speeds up to 100Mbps and latency of less than 50ms. Using existing 4G technology, A2G connects aircraft with the nearest purpose-built on-ground towers, seamlessly handing over between masts mid-flight to create fast 4G connectivity throughout flight routes. The high speeds and reduced latency are achieved through the 4G LTE performance, combined with the short distances between the aircraft and towers, which are densely grouped to prevent aircraft sharing bandwidth. The network’s design also means A2G has greater capacity per square kilometre than current satellites, according to the companies.
Aboard A2G enabled aircraft, the experience for passengers is billed as being comparable to using a 4G mobile phone service on the ground. The easy-to-access connection will make it possible for passengers to make uninterrupted video-conferencing calls, watch live TV or stream the TV in HD from their own devices.
Compared with SATCOM systems, the more compact 4G antenna reduces CO2 emissions and also cuts installation times down to 12 hours, meaning aircraft spend less time out of operation while technology is installed, according to Thales.
The 4G-enabled inflight capabilities can create an aircraft environment for an Internet of Things, in which operational efficiencies such as engine offload data can be viewed in real time, customer experience can be measured, and targeted advertising can be introduced. Better connectivity can also support the facilitation of new Covid-19 safety protocols as they are implemented.
The technology is being rolled out in regions around the world where domestic and international carriers will be able to use the 4G masts on land. It has been developed through a collaborative partnership, with Thales providing the onboard terminal (modem+RF) and antenna; Nokia responsible for on-ground infrastructure, and SkyFive’s software algorithms ensuring that aircraft can reliably connect at high speeds, high altitudes and across long ranges.
Andy Humphries, managing director of flight avionics at Thales in the UK, commented: “Combined with SkyFive’s specialism in A2G services and Nokia’s mobile network infrastructure, the project will bring industry-disrupting performance for passengers and airlines alike, with reliable wi-fi and low transmission latency delivered with low upfront investment and operational costs. We believe A2G will help to expedite the recovery of the sector by transforming the air travel experience while reducing costs as people start flying again.”