Honeywell Tests Inmarsat GX High-Speed Data


It seems that each trip we take on an airliner, we have an increased need for connectivity. Whether it is a greater occurrence of email updates, more Wi-Fi streaming video, or just general web surfing. One supposes this is just human nature, or is it something else? On ground wireless usage habits tend toward greater frequency over time and one could guess this is also true in the air if for no other reason than from inflight boredom and/or stress. Regardless of the reason, people want a similar experience in the air as on the ground, because they are not on the ground. Want proof? When was the last time you heard: “I wish the Wi-Fi here was as good as on my last flight?” Frankly, what used to be called fear of flying to the millennials is now called fear of changing Wi-Fi providers to one that is not as good as the one(s) in their ground-life. For frequent travelers it used to be a continuous search for the fastest trip, but today, as one flier told IFExpress, “It is who has the fastest Internet Wi-Fi.”

This demand trend is obviously what the Inmarsat folks had in mind when they developed the spot beamed Inmarsat GX solution that, we note, is roughly two thirds implemented today (for the GX system one satellite is up and operational, a second is up and testing, and the third is being ready for launch next quarter). (See news release) According to Inmarsat, GX Aviation will deliver up to 50 Mbps to an aircraft, and in their words, “It expands the possibilities for in-flight entertainment to real-time TV and TV on demand, as well as, email and web browsing at a much faster speed.” And here is the kicker – GX connectivity will be available almost anywhere in the world, and almost anywhere an aircraft can take you. In case you have forgotten, here are the service bands available for satellite connectivity and the common operating frequencies that define them.

Obviously Ka-band made sense from a signal bandwidth and equipment size point of view, especially when an airborne aircraft is involved… as the frequency goes up, so does bandwidth, and size goes down, but we note, rain attenuation goes up. Above 20,000 feet in altitude, rain attenuation is not a big issue, or at least is, a minimal one. The primary atmospheric region affecting Ka-band communications is the troposphere, which extends from the earth’s surface to an elevation of approximately 50,000 ft. Virtually all precipitation occurs within the troposphere, as it contains about 99% of the water vapor in the atmosphere and the most of that is below 25,000 feet in altitude.

Here is a little Wikipedia help if the Ka-band is new to you: “The Ka-band (“kay-ay band”) covers the frequencies of 26.5–40 GHz,[1] i.e. wavelengths from slightly over one centimeter down to 7.5 milimeters.[2] The Ka-band is part of the K band of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum. This symbol refers to “K-above”: in other words, the band directly above the K-band. The 30/20 GHz band is used in communications satellitesuplink in either the 27.5 GHz and 31 GHz bands,[3] and high-resolution, close-range targeting radars aboard military airplanes.” From a bandwidth data perspective, and based on frequency, Ka-band has 5 times the bandwidth of C band, and roughly 2.5 time that of X Band. But note, The Ka-band is more susceptible to rain attenuation than is the Ku-band, which in turn is more susceptible than the C band, and experts agree, rain fade become more an issue above 11 Ghz, but if you are flying at 35,000 feet talking to a satellite in geostationary orbit.

The first GX Aviation Inmarsat satellite was launched back in December of 2014 and today covers the Indian Ocean region. A recent announcement of the second launch and orbit insertion/testing was made a couple days ago. On March 4, 2015 Inmarsat and Honeywell successfully tested over-the-air performance for Honeywell’s JetWave MCS 8200 onboard aircraft hardware on Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) satellite network. This successful test signifies that the next generation of truly global high-speed in-flight connectivity for passengers, airlines and operators is becoming a reality – with one more satellite launch to go for global coverage. GX is already operational in the Indian Ocean Region for government, maritime, and enterprise customers over the first Global Xpress satellite, which was launched last year. The successful launch of the second satellite in February 2015 means Inmarsat’s Ka-band network now covers the Americas and the Atlantic Ocean Region. Scheduled for launch in the second quarter of 2015, the third satellite will cover the Pacific Ocean region; completing the Global Xpress network and providing worldwide spot beam coverage.

As to what testing occurred, here is the news release note: “During the testing, the team was able to demonstrate how Inmarsat’s high-speed; GX Aviation network can support multiple file transfers and video streaming– confirming that passengers will have the same Wi-Fi experience while travelling at 40,000 feet as they would on the ground. Success in this round of testing, conducted from Honeywell’s Tewkesbury, United Kingdom facility means Inmarsat can now start the higher data rate testing. This is not only a milestone for the whole GX Aviation programme, but it’s also a great demonstration of what GX Aviation brings to the table,” said Leo Mondale, President, Inmarsat Aviation. “We are delighted with the performance shown by this round of testing. Both the GX network and Honeywell’s terminal have met and exceeded our high expectations. We’re another step closer.”

With regard to aircraft hardware, the supplier told us: Honeywell’s JetWave MCS 8200 terminal, which enables aircraft to connect to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellite network, is in full certification testing, proceeding through DO-160 environmental and electromagnetic interference certifications, in preparation for the start of flight testing in the second quarter of 2015. In addition, work is being done to ensure that the equipment is available for installation on new Boeing aircraft, Airbus A350s and Bombardier’s Global family of business jets.” As a result, we decided to ask the folks at Honeywell a few questions about their product and the program in general:

Q. Please describe the Inmarsat GX solution from your viewpoint.

In 2012 Honeywell signed an exclusive agreement with Inmarsat to provide the SATCOM hardware for its Global Xpress Ka-band service and the program has been in development since then.

The Global Xpress constellation is comprised of three satellites, two of which are already in orbit and the third is slated to launch later in 2015, and will use Ka frequencies to deliver broadband speeds of up to 50 Mbps downlink around the world.

The Inmarsat-5 satellites operate with a combination of fixed narrow spot beams that enable Inmarsat to deliver higher speeds through more compact terminals, plus steerable beams so additional capacity can be directed in real-time to where it’s needed.

Q. Could you describe the tests in a bit more detail?

Initial tests are complete, and considered successful. We are still analyzing the full results.

Q. Were any tests made of the roll angles to determine angular signal sensitivity… was it as expected?

We have performed testing on a motion table to validate that the antenna is oriented correctly during expected aircraft movement. Full aircraft-level testing will be done during test flights in a few months.

Q. How can IFExpress readers get more information on the product – newsletter, email updates, etc.?

Your readers can read more about Honeywell here.

Q. Do you have a schedule of the whole program (3 satellites I believe) and when might the first system be installed and available?

Inmarsat launched the first of three satellites for the Global Xpress constellation in late 2014, the second satellite was launched in February 2015 and the third will launch in Q2 of 2015.

Q. Does Honeywell have any GX product customers to date?

  • We have received great interest from the market.
    The GX system is now offered as a connectivity option along with the Thales In-Flight Entertainment system on the A350 and has been chosen by Qatar Airways for their upcoming deliveries with service being provided by OnAir.
  • Vietnam Airlines has selected GX Aviation Connectivity along with Thales IFE on their upcoming A350 and 787 Deliveries with service being supplied by Gogo.
  • Air China and Honeywell signed an MoU to test GX Aviation on their A330 Aircraft
  • Bombardier Business Aircraft will be the launch business aircraft manufacturer for Honeywell Aerospace’s JetWave Ka-Band satellite connectivity system.

Q. We assume that Honeywell’s management is pretty excited about this product?

“The successful testing of Honeywell’s JetWave terminal proves that we are truly making global high-speed in-flight Wi-Fi a reality,” says Carl Esposito, Vice President of Marketing and Product Management, Honeywell Aerospace. “The combination of Honeywell’s airborne hardware and Inmarsat’s GX Ka-band global network will allow for a seamless experience of connectivity and capability from the time you walk on the airplane until you get off on the other side of the world.”

Q. Can you tell our readers a bit more about Honeywell?

Honeywell Aerospace innovates and integrates thousands of products and services to advance and easily deliver safe, efficient, productive and comfortable experiences worldwide. Honeywell has been in the aviation industry for more than 100 years providing technology, mechanical components and services for the commercial aviation, business aviation, defense and space industries.

Honeywell has created the state-of-the-art integrated Aircraft Environment Surveillance System for the Airbus A380, and our advanced flight management, power distribution, pneumatic, and landing systems will help A380 operators reach new heights of performance and efficiency.

We are a leading supplier of products and systems for Boeing commercial airplanes, and our integrated avionics system for the Boeing 777 sets a new technology and reliability standard. Today, we are part of the team working to define technology concepts for the next Boeing airplane, the super-efficient 777.

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