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UK Satellite Operator Inmarsat Says European Aviation Network is GO

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 (10:47 am) - Score 826
airplane

The prospect of superfast in-flight broadband, across the UK and EU, took a big step forward this week after Inmarsat confirmed that they had completed their new European Aviation Network (EAN), which mixes a new multi-beam S-band Satellite with 300 ground-based 4G (LTE) stations.

At present most existing in-flight systems, which tend to be distributed through the cabin via WiFi and supplied by a Satellite link, tend to be painfully slow and unreliable (in my experience it’s often worse than the old days of dialup modems). By comparison the new network should be able to offer internet data speeds of over 75Mbps (Megabits per second) to the aircraft and relatively fast latency times of around 100ms (milliseconds).

Admittedly 75Mbps is capacity that still has to be shared with up to several hundred passengers but that’s a significant leap forward from the current systems, which would often struggle to deliver around 1-2Mbps to a single aircraft (latency times could also be painful).

The network reflects a partnership between Inmarsat in the UK, German telecoms operator Deutsche Telekom and their technology partner Nokia.

Frederik van Essen, Senior VP at Inmarsat Aviation, said:

“EAN is the world’s first dedicated aviation connectivity solution which effectively combines space and ground-based components, overcoming the traditional limitations of inflight internet.”

Thorsten Robrecht, VP Vertical Network Slices at Nokia, said:

“EAN’s ground network had to meet technical prerequisites that are quite different from ‘normal’ LTE networks: it needs to work at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, at heights of 10 km and requires large cells of up to 150 km. Our joint endeavor breaks the technological boundaries between ground and air on connectivity.”

A number of airlines have already begun installing the new system, not least of which is the International Airlines Group (IAG) that includes brands such as British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling. Several trials have already taken place and full commercial operation is now expected to commence during the first half of this year.

However the road to launch has not always been smooth. Rival Satellite operator ViaSat continues to challenge the EAN network by accusing Inmarsat of “misusing [the] spectrum,” gaining an “unfair competitive advantage” and creating a “monopoly for European in-flight connectivity” (here and here).

So far Ofcom and the EU have resisted ViaSat’s complaints, while Inmarsat says that the accusations are “entirely without merit and fundamentally misconceived.”

Hopefully at some point this year we’ll get a chance to test the system on one of these flights and report back.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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