The move towards high-speed broadband connection on aircraft in Europe

The move towards high-speed broadband connection on aircraft in Europe

Faster and cheaper connectivity on aircraft is a high priority for airlines and is set to become a "must-have" offering in the coming years. Although access to the Internet while airborne is already a reality, the speed available might not be even be good enough to check e-mails. In the age of digitisation, most business passengers expect to be able to work on an aircraft as easily and seamlessly as at the office or at home.

The traditional satellite connection, currently used by airlines, is starting to be seriously challenged by Broadband Direct Air-to-Ground Communications (BDA2GC) technology. It is seen as the major competitor to satellite-based connectivity solutions to provide additional speed and capacity. BDA2GC will be not only cheaper than satellite connection, but also faster and more stable. EIT Digital with its partners is at the forefront of this promising technology.

"Aircraft manufacturers, mobile network vendors and researchers need to join efforts to be able to develop new communication systems, and business models to provide seamless connectivity on aircrafts in Europe", says Henrik Abramowicz, EIT Digital Infrastructure Action Line Lead.

The EIT Digital ICARO-EU innovation activity together with partners Ericsson (Sweden), Airbus Group Innovations (Germany), KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden) and Create-Net (Italy) are to develop technology that provides high-speed broadband simultaneously to all passengers in aircraft flying in Europe and potentially beyond. It is also expected to provide improved services for transportation safety bodies and European flight movement tracking agencies.

BDA2GC technology is expected to become the most cost-effective solution to connect flights over landmasses. It works through three main components: a network of radio base stations on the ground (Terrestrial Stations), an on-board radio device on aircraft (Aircraft Station) that is connected to a beam-forming antenna placed on the lower fuselage of the aircraft and the LTE small cells in the aircraft. Once the aircraft is airborne, the Aircraft Station connects to the closest available Ground Station. The radio signal is then distributed in the aircraft using LTE that will supplement existing on-board Wi-Fi technology to improve performance.

The objective is that BDA2GC technology will meet the needs of mobile customers that expect to be connected anywhere, anytime, with all kind of mobile devices. It also answers the great interest of European airlines to offer Internet services to their passengers across their continental fleets as soon as possible.

Satellite connectivity will probably remain the main option for international flights over the oceans, but additional connectivity options while flying over the continent are in high demand in the aviation industry. To ensure seamless connection, both technologies can be used in a complementary way. The market potential is immense; the forecast is for 11.5 million flights in Europe in 2022, 16% more than in 2015.

Seamless Direct Air to Ground Communications in Europe (ICARO-EU) will be presented by Cicek Cavdar, EIT Digital’s ICARO-EU activity leader, at Internetdagarna 2016 in Stockholm on November 21-22.

Seamless Direct Air to Ground Communications in Europe (ICARO-EU) is an EIT Digital Infrastructure innovation activity. Activity partners: Airbus Group Innovations, Create-Net, Ericsson and KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

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