A few months back, we penned a story about one of the most important improvements in inflight connectivity… more specifically, the VT Miltope router called nMAP2 and asked Robert Guidetti , VP/GM Commercial Division of VT Miltope for more data about the technical capability of it and its associated improvements on an aircraft Wi-Fi system, specifically, the increased passenger connectivity performance by using Cognitive Hotspot Technology (CHT). This time, we would like to increase the background on the CHT story and cover a bit more on the 802.11ac technology. If you don’t remember the story, you can find it here . So let’s now continue with some questions whose answers will provide our readers with a bit more technical knowledge about CHT:
1. Bob, first can you give us a quick summary of CHT, including some of the benefits, and tell our readers what products in the industry currently have it?
Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technology (CHT) optimizes network performance in highly congested wireless environments. As more passengers bring one, or more, Wi-Fi devices onto the airplane, with higher expectations for performance, VT Miltope recognized the need to actively manage the wireless spectrum, the wireless access points (WAPs) and the associated client devices. Although the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands have a finite spectrum, at times the appetite for these bands seems almost insatiable. With the rapid expansion of services such as Video-on-Demand (VoD), e-mail, web surfing, games, and more, the cabin wireless network can become highly congested.
CHT actively monitors the spectrum utilization, the number of Wi-Fi client devices assigned to the network WAPs, what services are being supported, data rate requirements, data utilization, etc. Using the information gathered from real-time monitoring, CHT manages the wireless network, including: client load balancing, band and channel assignments, RF power, client roaming, the data service type (VoD, e-mail, web surfing, games, etc.) and rogue WAP detection. Overall, CHT optimizes the bandwidth available to the Wi-Fi cabin network.
The overarching result of using CHT is to allow an airline to use fewer WAPs, and to increase the overall performance of the wireless cabin network. Therefore, the IFE&C system performs at a higher level, at a lower cost.
VT Miltope’s latest cabin WAP, the nMAP2, embraces CHT as a standard feature set.
2. Why does the “C” in CHT stand for “Cognitive”? Furthermore, would you please note some of the long list of features provided by the nMAP2 with CHT?
The “Cognitive” in Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technology reminds us that CHT makes a WAP smart. With CHT the VT Miltope nMAP2 WAPs are able to talk to each other, to share information gathered about the wireless environment, and to make intelligent decisions to optimize the wireless network.
- CHT is specifically designed to address the unique challenges of a dense and highly congested wireless environment, e.g. the aircraft cabin. The following summary list provides a smattering of the real-time CHT functions inherent within the nMAP2.
Automatic Channel Assignment (ACA):
- Advanced Load Balancing with QoS (ALB)
- Smart Roaming (SR)
- Automatic Failure Recovery (AFR)
- Location-Based Services (LBS)
- Interference Minimizer (IM)
- Advanced User Interface (AUI)
- Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) (DFS is on the CHT roadmap)
With these and additional features, the nMAP2 becomes a Cognitive, knowledge gathering and decision making network device.
3. Mr. Guidetti, this is a repeat question but given the various standards (802.11a, b, g, n, and ac) can you again tell our readers what is/are the standard(s) used most often today and please give us a bit of information about the number of available channels and the bandwidth available for each and where this is all headed for fliers in the next few years?
Development of the original IEEE 802.11 standard was started in the early 1990’s with the initial release in 1997, with revision A being released in 1999. As we look at the 802.11a/b/g/n/ac evolution in the table below, we see that most of these revisions were multiple years apart with significant increases in theoretical data rates from 11a and11g, to 11n, to 11ac. Although the actual data rates do not normally match the theoretical data rates (on the ground or in the air), the actual data rate increases have been quite impressive as well.
Today, 802.11n has become commonplace with 802.11ac rapidly becoming the highest performing and dominant Wi-Fi offering, with most portable wireless capable devices (smartphones, tablet computers, etc.) now coming standard with 802.11ac radios.
4. Bob, we understand “the cloud” is an important part of the connectivity solution, can you tell our readers how it plays a part in your connectivity solution?
As airlines adapt cloud computing to the aircraft, the availability of high capacity, reliable wireless networks on the aircraft will play an important role. Having a wireless network that can be scaled to support the increasing utilization and demands of the cloud without having to add more wireless hardware will benefit airlines in multiple ways. nMAP2 with CHT and its ability to assign quality of service criteria to airline prioritized data ideally supports cloud services.
5. Streaming video has become an important part of the connectivity solution today and we wonder if you are seeing increased airline request for more and better data rates, if the CHT technology improves capability to stream video and exactly how does that occur?
Yes, streaming video and content loading are two of the most demanding connectivity applications – streaming video because of its relatively high data rate requirement and that it be nearly error free without error correction, and content loading due to the large amount of data that must be moved within a limited time.
A significant wireless challenge within the airplane cabin is RF congestion with potentially hundreds of client devices competing for connectivity to the network. CHT manages RF channel usage, RF power levels and re-assigns client devices to the correct WAP/nMAP2 to optimize the wireless network performance. Testing with and without CHT has shown a 2-to-1 performance improvement within crowded wireless environments.
6. Given that an airline installs a CHT capable wireless router, can you tell our readers what differences an airline can expect with the technology and typically how many can be served streaming content at one time?
The nMAP2 with CHT performance can allow an airline to use fewer WAP/nMAP2 units per cabin, or to increase performance to more client devices than traditional WAPs. Regarding the number of client devices per nMAP2, this will vary depending upon the airplane cabin configuration, the number of client devices vying for the same RF channels, the QoS requirements, etc.
However, a good rule-of-thumb for 1 Mbps streaming video per nMAP2 radio is: 36 to 54 client devices using the 5 GHz channels and 18 to 36 client devices using the 2.4 GHz channels.
7. Can you tell us a little about the most recent testing (or installations) of the nMAP2 product and the results that you saw?
We are very excited about the nMAP2 – with hundreds of aircraft installations; our customers are finding the on-aircraft performance results and lab test results to be similar. Since CHT is able to manage the wireless network utilizing real-time signal-to-noise (SNR), QoS requirements, RF power measurement and management, and other parameters the nMAP2 with CHT is able to improve performance throughput by up to 400% within highly congested environments.
8. Is there any new technology and/or new products on the horizon that VT Miltope has on the drawing board?
VT Miltope sees two technology opportunities coming. The first his here and is on our roadmap for this coming year, with the second being closely watched. The first is 801.11ac Wave-2. Wave-2 is advancement to the initial roll-out of 802.11ac, with Wave-2 providing the potential to add more clients with faster data rates in crowded environments such as the airplane cabin.
The second opportunity is IEEE 802.11ad, nicknamed WiGig (wireless gigabit). Since the standards’ release in 2012, WiGig has been getting some traction. WiGig is a 60 GHz based RF communication standard targeted at high data rate, short range applications, such as gaming and high performance video. WiGig is being combined with 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi devices to provide three band options depending upon the user’s needs. The industry is watching the roll-out of WiGig to see how well it is accepted within the consumer electronics market – in other words: when will enough people be carrying WiGig devices onto airplanes to start rolling WiGig into IFE&C systems?
9. Please add any products, services, or new features we have not covered.
VT Miltope’s latest product release is the cTWLU. The cTWLU provides flexible and cost effective wireless communications while an airplane is on the ground. Utilizing 3G Cellular, LTE and 802.11a/b/g/n & ac, the cTWLU is used to load IFE content, to load EFB data and to move maintenance data from the airplane to an airlines’ data center. The cTWLU is a much lower cost alternative to satellite communications, and satellite coverage is often spotty when an airplane is on the ground.
VT Miltope’s latest cabin WAP, the nMAP2, embraces CHT as a standard feature set. Soon VT Miltope’s latest wireless product, the cTWLU, will also harness the power of CHT. The cTWLU is an LTE, Cellular and 802.11a/b/g/n & ac enabled wireless Gatelink device for airplane to airport surface communications.
10. Also, any new or other changes we can note… such as people or customers we should mention?
The nMAPw is also incredible.
Unfortunately, most of our customers request anonymity. However, please come by our booth at APEX (Booth #1717 ) in Singapore and we can answer other questions you might have about the incredible cTWLU and nMAP2!
Seat integration is now a major game changer in the realm of in-flight entertainment and seat design. Rising to these challenges, IFPL has designed a new concept – a unique range of remote multi-port solutions that provide the airline, seat vendor and IFEC supplier with complete flexibility to integrate and combine design aesthetics with ergonomics. IFPL’s unique multi-port range allows airlines, seat and IFEC suppliers the ability to deliver maximum seat integration, creating an accessible and seamless design aesthetic. With flexibility at the core, IFPL have designed a multi-port range that provides options for customization such as: front or rear mounted, fascia material and color, soft light guide color and intensity An ingenious design, this new type of Multiport Jack offers airlines around the world the flexibility of choosing from a variety of easy to replace modules. These include a variety of audio Jacks, different types of USB outlets and a collection of wireless interface options with functions such as reading lights and passenger control buttons. The Multiport Range is available in a number of size (port) options to facilitate clean and neat integration including 2, 3 and 4 port solutions. To provide even more flexibility, IFPL is taking the same approach with its 110V A/C and USB-C 3.1 power outlets. Committed to working with industry partners and customers across the globe, IFPL strives to deliver a seamlessly integrated passenger in-flight journey, turning the mundane into a more enhanced experience.
We received a last minute input from Irina at Ideasroadshow – “Here is the link on our YouTube channel. I am also sending you a link to the Motivational Moments playlist on our IFE YouTube channel. (Editor’s Note: This is good stuff and thanks for sharing it with our readers!)
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Wireless personal communications have expanded at an incredible rate over the last 2 decades. The technological advances in hardware and software are truly remarkable. With these technological changes have also come the standardization of these technologies, including: GSM and CDMA for cell phones, Ethernet for wired computer connectivity, USB for wired computer and cell phone connectivity, and IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi(TM) for wireless high speed data connectivity. With this standardization has come interoperability – the ability to develop products that can be used across multiple platforms, operating systems, and with imagination to grow into unexpected new products and services.
Wi-Fi has become the preferred wireless data communication link for many high speed data applications. Wi-Fi is now used globally in businesses, homes, hotels, coffeehouses, stadiums, and of course airports and airplanes. With smartphones, tablet computers, laptops and even the lowly desktop computer coming equipped with Wi-Fi, it has become the standard for short distance, wireless high speed data communications.
However, data now takes many forms from accounting information to audio and video, from databases to Netflix and Pandora, with Wi-Fi being used to move this “data” wirelessly.
With these opportunities and services on the ground, it’s clear why we expect the same level of connectivity and data communications in the air.
Many of our readers know a small amount about their Wi-Fi wireless access points (A/P) because they all use them – few really know about how they differ from ground units. As a result, IFExpress contacted Robert Guidetti, VP/GM Commercial Division, of VT Miltope for help to better understand the technology driving airborne wireless connectivity.
1. IFExpress: Many readers aren’t familiar with airborne wireless access points. To begin, could you could give a short summary about the differences your engineers have to consider in designing a wireless access point (A/P) that works on an airplane? Basically, we are asking if there is anything different about an aircraft A/P from one used on the ground.
VT Miltope: Yes, there are a number of differences between airborne and ground-based wireless access points (A/Ps).
• Safety comes first. First, there are the usual airworthiness certifications typical for flight safety; these deal with both environmental as well as electrical. In addition, 802.11 wireless access points include transmitting radios, which must be rigorously proven to be safe on airplanes. Therefore, multiple industry specifications have been developed to guide the design, testing and installation of these devices on airplanes. Those specifications include, but are not limited to:
• Working with congestion. As we all know so well, the cabin is a congested environment with many people in a small space. This leads to a very high density Wi-Fi environment. There are few ground-based applications as densely populated with Wi-Fi A/Ps and client devices as an airplane. This is an increasing challenge as more passengers bring multiple Wi-Fi devices on board; progressively more passengers are connecting multiple Wi-Fi devices to the airplane network.
We need to keep in mind: The aircraft cabin dimensions stay roughly the same over decades, but the demand for bandwidth grows exponentially each year driven by:
a) Continuous increase in numbers of passenger devices
b) Higher quality of service expectations by passengers
c) Continuous increase in the kind of services in the cabin that use Wi-Fi network.
The on-board A/P network must not just survive the congested wireless environment; it must manage and optimize the data throughput, while embracing the plethora of different client devices, and the different needs of streaming video, e-mail, games, etc. VT Miltope’s solution to these networking challenges is Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technology (CHT) – an advanced embedded software solution specifically developed to optimize wireless network performance. With CHT, nMAP2 units share information such as the number of associated clients, the QoS of those clients, data rate throughput, RF noise and interference, etc. With this information, the nMAP2 network performs load balancing, band selection (2.4 or 5 GHz), channel selection, RF power management, etc. Thus, CHT reduces interference and congestion, while significantly improving data throughput and network capacity.
• Beyond the safety and congestion aspects, hardware designs are tailored for airborne applications. For example, multiple A/Ps are often used on airplanes to provide full coverage across the entire cabin. To help reduce weight, Ethernet and power cables are “daisy-chained” from A/P to A/P. Designing for daisy-chaining is just one of several hardware design differences between airborne and ground-based systems. Other hardware differences also include:
o Unique power supplies
o Aviation grade connectors
o Designing for damp environments
o Designing for shock and vibration
• Adding more A/Ps may reduce network performance. I mentioned multiple A/Ps, but in the confined tube of the cabin, the interferences between A/Ps will grow when the number of A/Ps gets too high. Again, it is therefore important to not just add A/Ps but rather aim to have as few as possible, but to manage the available capacity more effectively.
• Installation longevity: Aircraft cabins and IFE systems are being installed to last for several years, or decades. Yet much of the IFEC world for the airline passenger is driven more and more by short life-cycle consumer devices, with aircraft life-cycles being much longer. It is therefore paramount that the cabin Wi-Fi network has the inbuilt adaptability to support the rapidly evolving passenger device and content landscape.
2. IFExpress: Given the various standards (802.11a, b, g, n & ac) can you tell our readers what is the standard used most often today and please give us a bit of information about the number of available channels and the bandwidth available for each?
VT Miltope: IEEE 802.11 is just over 20 years old, with more than 50 revisions issued. 802.11 specifies everything from RF power to RF frequencies to modulation characteristics to security aspects. Although each new revision normally includes specifications from prior revisions, the popular approach is to discuss 802.11a, b, g, n & ac as separate characteristics.
Rapidly becoming the most popular implementation over the last two years is 802.11ac, operating in the 5 GHz band, with theoretical data rates exceeding 8 Gbps. Two RF bands are used for normal Wi-Fi connectivity, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. By far, the 5 GHz band provides the greatest bandwidth and the greatest opportunity for expanding data throughput. The latest 802.11ac only uses the 5 GHz band, with 802.11n supporting both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Although actual data rates vary widely on the ground and on airplanes, the following table shows the theoretical maximum data rates for 802.11g, n and ac.
Both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands are divided into channels. The channels are of fixed bandwidth of 22 MHz in the 2.4 GHz band, but have bandwidths of 10 MHz, 20 MHz, 40 MHz, 80 MHz or 160 MHz (depending upon the channel) in the 5 GHz band.
Actual throughput varies by the amount of congestion, RF power level, number of spatial streams (antennas), number of channels used together (bonded), RF bandwidth, distance, RF noise, and many other factors.
In addition, country regulations vary widely regarding regulatory and legal requirements affecting the use of these RF bands. All countries restrict the use of at least some of the internationally allocated spectrum, and these restrictions tend to vary by country or region. To help with these differences in regulatory aspects, industry organizations including APEX, ARINC and RTCA are discussing how to harmonize the use of these bands for airborne applications. Although it will likely be several years before harmonization is realized, once completed, certification on airplanes will become easier and Wi-Fi performance can be further enhanced.”
3. IFExpress: Please tell our readers about the challenges of streaming video on inflight A/Ps.
VT Miltope: Streaming video is a challenge due to the relatively high bandwidth requirement, combined with a need for a very low error rate. Some data (such as e-mail) can be delayed without harm, and/or retransmitted if there are errors. However, video cannot be delayed without losing fidelity, and retransmission to correct errors uses a lot of bandwidth and delays the video stream.
One of the most severe wireless system tests is running continuous streaming video to every seat on an airplane. As you might imagine, this uses a lot of RF bandwidth, while creating interference and congestion across the cabin. Part of the A/P design challenge is to accommodate the large number of client devices within the airplane cabin. VT Miltope performs these tests as a routine part of our software verification and validation in the lab, and on airplanes in conjunction with our customers. Our customers what to know that the passenger and crew Wi-Fi performance meets and exceeds required benchmarks and expectations.
4. IFExpress: In today’s aircraft, how many A/Ps are typically used?
VT Miltope: This is a common question and the short answer is: it depends. It depends upon several parameters, including: the type of service required (e-mail, video, games, data loading, etc.), the number of passengers, how many passengers are expected to use which services, the data throughput requirements (speed and amount), the aircraft configuration, etc.
Fairly typical for a narrowbody airplane with 140 seats such as an A320 or B737 are 2 to 3 A/Ps distributed throughout the cabin, depending upon required services. Typical for a widebody airplane with 320 passengers such as an A350 or B787 are 5 to 7 A/Ps, again depending upon required services.”
5. IFExpress: Is there a difference in streaming from a server vs downloaded satcom streaming… we assume bandwidth is the issue?
VT Miltope: “In general, airborne servers are able to provide significantly higher network data rates than satcom links; although Ka band satellites are starting to change the dynamics due to the potentially higher data rates supported by Ka satcom. So for satcom connectivity, wireless A/Ps typically have greater bandwidth capabilities than the satcom link, therefore, the A/Ps are not the bottleneck. But for video on demand servers, A/Ps can become the bottleneck to these high bandwidth requirements. Beyond the data rate differences, the 802.11 A/Ps are simply a lower cost connection from an airborne server or satcom modem to the passengers’ client device than a wired solution.”
6. IFExpress: Do you have any idea about what percentage of passengers use your devices on any one flight?
VT Miltope: “Industry reports indicate an average take-up rate of 5 to 10 percent. This tends to vary by type of flight (domestic, international, business commuter, etc.), country and region, services available, and other factors. However, VT Miltope designs its A/P to support all passengers at an optimum data rate.”
7. IFExpress: Does the airplane internal structure effect the placement/number of wireless A/Ps – things like class of service dividers, for example?
VT Miltope: “Yes, at the Wi-Fi frequencies of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, aluminum and composite fiber are good reflectors of these RF signals. This leads to class dividers, monuments, lavatories, purser stations, bag bins, and other items needing to be considered when determining the best aircraft installation locations for A/Ps. A/Ps are normally located in the cabin overhead above the aisle(s), but can be located in bag bins, side panels, purser stations, or other imaginative locations.”
8. IFExpress: Can you tell our readers about any new technology or products coming along?
VT Miltope: “The greatest recent impact has been the increasing use of 802.11ac in mobile devices. Since 802.11ac uses the less congested 5 GHz band, and provides higher data rates, this provides significant opportunity to improve data throughput and overall wireless network performance.
VT Miltope’s approach has been to develop an A/P computing platform with high end performance, while developing a dynamic and flexible software solution providing real-time network connectivity optimization. We call this smart software solution Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technology (CHT). Our nMAP2 combines the technology strides of 802.11ac performance with CHT to optimally manage today’s and tomorrow’s high density airborne connectivity requirements.”
9. IFExpress: What are the installation and certification aspects related to airborne wireless access points?
VT Miltope: “As mentioned above, the selection of A/P installation locations in the cabin needs to consider the RF characteristics of 802.11 radios and proximity to passengers’ Wi-Fi client devices. Certification aspects require testing of the A/P devices as components, and in addition there must be testing and certification of the aircraft for the safe use of Wi-Fi devices in flight. Testing at the component level shows compliance with RTCA DO-160, with aircraft certification including testing and evaluation to RTCA DO-294 or DO-307, or both.”
10. IFExpress: Does VT Miltope have any additional information you want to provide to our readers?
VT Miltope: “Yes, about Wi-Fi System performance measurement: We all know about the IFE system availability formulae of the past consisting of complex system diagnostic and reporting applications that give airlines the perception of control over more complex IFEC systems. CHT, our connectivity improvement technology, enables transparency to the system integrator and the airline with its unique CHT Manager application. Continuously measuring and recording key system availability parameters, the CHT Manager offers comprehensive system control and performance insight.”
VT Miltope will be at Aircraft Interiors booth 3B10 in the IFEC Zone
• nMAP2 with CHT
• cTWLU with 4G LTE, 3G Cellular and 802.11a/g/n & ac
Wi-Fi(TM) is a trademark of Wi-Fi Alliance
Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technologies is a trademark of AOIFES Solutions
Director, Business Development
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+1 (949) 752-8191
Breaking News From Rockwell Collins:
The industry-leading Airshow® now works on web browsers
- By utilizing the HTML5 platform, Airshow Mobile for browsers is not tied to a specific operating system.
- One solution supports HTML5 browsers on smartphones, tablets and laptop computers.
- All major operating systems with compliant HTML5 browsers will run the map.
- Since this mobile solution runs in a browser there is no app for passengers to download prior to boarding a flight.
Available first in the Rockwell Collins Paves Wireless and coming to other platforms soon.
Airshow Mobile for browsers delivers real-time flight data from take-off to landing, with an interactive 2D environment, keeping passengers informed and entertained.
As the title mentions, we are going to explore a few more show vendors this week but we also wanted to give a tip-o-the-hat to AirBerlin, our transportation provider to/from Germany. Aside from a good food service and cheerful flight attendants, the IFE kept us entertained for nine hours each way. More importantly the IFE, RAVE from Zodiac Inflight Innovations was installed onboard and it worked PERFECTLY! AirBerlin had loaded over 1,000 songs, some of which we purchased online when we landed (iTunes take note), and over 100 movies. We cannot say enough about the system ease-of-use and we were impressed with the fact that on each flight, we saw a cabin crew member bring aboard a spare in case of a seatback issue – this is a brilliant solution to a down IFE screen – one special key click, a seatback hardware swap, and you are back in business. We decided to contact Harry Gray at Zii for input and he told us:
A couple of points on the replacement display issue.
- IFE systems “will fail” at some point – it is a statistical fact
- How you handle a failure is the key message
- With a “server-centric” system architecture, there are several components in the network that could cause the problem. Typically, a reset of sorts is the logical (and essentially only) method to try and fix a problem, which also has an impact on more than just the affected passenger(s). The flight attendant/purser typically goes through a progression of steps to perform corrective action. A reset at one seat (if that’s possible), a seat group (two to 4 passengers), a zone (30 to 50 passengers) or the entire aircraft cabin (300+ passengers). Each reset takes approximately 10 – 20 minutes. Doing the math, it could take perhaps between 10-20 minutes (for a single seat) or up to 40 – 80 minutes (for the entire aircraft). Reset time will be dependent upon the IFE system type and will vary. Additionally, there will likely be a lag (more time) between system resets, as the flight attendants/purser are busy with other passenger/flight services.
- With RAVE – If there is a problem with a seat, that is the only seat that is affected. If a reset is required, we have the “button” on the face of the display that when pressed for about 7 seconds, the display will reset. RAVE has a reset time of about 60 seconds. If the reset button at the seat does not fix the problem – the display can be hot-swapped during flight. The flight attendant takes a Hot Spare from the back row, and swaps the passenger display with a good unit. Within about a minute, the new display boots up and the passenger can continue the rest of the flight with a working IFE system.
– The problem is contained at a single seat – does not affect any other passenger on the airplane
– Reset takes about 60 seconds
– Replacement unit (during flight) takes about 60 seconds
– Total corrective action takes about 2-3 minutes (including walking time by flight attendant to get Hot Spare)
– The Hot Swap of a defective unit is placed in the back row, and is automatically logged in the Crew Panel. Maintenance can come onboard and know what occurred, and go directly to the last row to replace the unit that was swapped during flight.
– The airline (and flight attendants) now have a simple way to fix an IFE system during flight, to maintain a high level of passenger satisfaction. RAVE eliminates the problem of having a dark flight, and passengers having no entertainment for a 15 hour flight.
Now, back to task with a question: Are you ready for the future? The increased offerings of onboard IFE and Connectivity services we saw at AIX in Hamburg are showing how fast the industry is moving to try to keep up with the evolution of BYOD in our daily life on the ground. There are a new and continuously increasing showcase of solutions in the IFE market today that are going to motivate passenger expectations for onboard experience, and therefore, increase service uptake… and we note, most are taking place in the new generation of wireless routers. Heavy use of onboard IFE and Connectivity services is going to drive the need for a reliable wireless distribution system. A strong and reliable wireless distribution system, that can adapt to a mix of client devices, multiple service scenarios and increasing future demands, is going to help prevent in-service problems and therefore it will lead to a better passenger onboard experience. Period! The goal of the VT Miltope nMAP2 with Cognitive Hotspot Technology (CHT) is to optimize real-time performance, improve reliability and guarantee Quality of Service (QoS) for every passenger, ensuring a problem-free operation of the more demanding IFE and Connectivity systems. This is going to help systems operators and airlines to maximize the benefits of an overall better passenger onboard experience The trend is clear: broader service range, increasing system uptake and larger screen resolutions even on small screen sizes. Systems operators need to get their solutions ready for continuously increasing passenger bandwidth demand with a scalable and reliable solution that helps them to face todays and future challenges. “The answer is nMAP2,” noted Robert Guidetti, VT Miltope, VP of Marketing. IFExpress tracked down, Jose Ayub Gonzalez Garrido – CEO of Aoifes, Technology Developer for nMAP2 and he told us: “We have developed a very powerful unique product optimized to meet the most challenging requirements of the IFE & connectivity industry. Additionally we offer value-added applications that further helps integrators and operators to manage the network, analyze wireless performance in real-time, optimize and verify wireless installations, and monitor and troubleshoot the system operation. It is a win-win for everybody!”
We received some feedback about last week’s IFExpress from Steve Nolan, Gogo and we felt it useful to share with our readers: “I read the part (last IFExpress) about virtual reality and its role in IFE. Scott Carmichael (Gogo) did a great white paper on Head Mounted Displays because we have been getting lots of questions from airlines on this subject. Obviously, there’s also just a lot of hype about these technologies because there’s a “cool” factor here.
Scott put a lot of the technologies through their paces on our own aircraft. I think you and your readers would find his takeaways very interesting.”
And speaking of airline inflight iPad usage, American Airlines had a Jeppesen-related App crash recently for a number of cockpit Apple iPad devices. Both pilot and co-pilot iPads crashed, in some cases rendering a stored flight plan useless. American took to Twitter to admit they had problems, further, many planes had to return to the ground for Wi-Fi to fix the problem.
So many observations, so little time!
Editor’s Note: A recent VT Miltope news release caught our eye and we wanted to set up this story for our readers with a bit of Cognitive Hot Spot background information, but then we saw this Innovation announcement in an Inflight’s e-message: “Inflight is pleased to award VT Miltope as the winner of the ‘Innovation in commercial airline cabins’ category,” said Mark Howells. “The company is a worthy winner with the development of its Cognitive Hotspot Technology which aims to provide airlines with a solution in facing the challenges of seamless connectivity in-flight.” It sort of says it all from a bottom line perspective!
However, to get a better idea of the company’s technology and its benefits, let’s start with their latest nMAP2 announcement. “VT Miltope has started delivering an IEEE 802.11ac Multifunction Access Point (nMAP2) as its latest wireless product. Building upon the success of VT Miltope’s wireless access point products, nMAP2 features Cognitive Hotspot Technology (CHT), an integrated MIMO antenna assembly and a second radio to support legacy 802.11n client devices.”
Because of the advances that nMAP2 with CHT offers over other wireless access points (AP), we wanted to point out it in this pre-AIX issue so our readers check it out at the EXPO. Further, we wanted to relate what it is and what it does, as well as, how airlines and airline passengers will benefit from CHT. VT Miltope has the only wireless access point with this feature and, according to Mr. Guidetti, “We are very proud of our accomplishment and what it will do for cabin connectivity performance – it’s the latest advancement in wireless!”
There is a lot more in the above sentences than meets the eye… let’s look at a couple the concepts, one at a time:
VT Miltope’s newest Aircraft Wireless Router with CHT built-in.
VT Miltope expects passengers to be bringing legacy 802.11g & n passenger devices onto airplanes for many years. This will be similar to today, with passengers bringing 802.11g devices even though 802.11n has been available for 5+ years. Given the added complexity and higher power requirements of 802.11ac, it may be that some passenger devices never migrate to 802.11ac. That’s why they have a second radio to support 802.11a/g/n.
The other radio in the access point operates in the 5 GHz band and will deliver data rates in the gigabit range. The good news about that is that there’s far more room in that frequency spread than there is in the over-used 2.4 GHz.
Benefits: The most significant improvements are more data spatial streams, 80MHz channel width operation, and data aggregation scheme that should increase data efficiency.
At the raw bit level, 802.11ac will support data rates of at least 1 Gbps on three streams using a combination of wider bandwidth channels and high-density modulation. Where 802.11n could run on 20 MHz or 40 MHz channels, 802.11ac can be deployed on 20-, 40-, and 80-MHz channels. Bigger channels translate into more potential bits per second. To pack more bits into the available radio spectrum, 802.11ac also uses a coding system that delivers up to 33% more efficiency.
Benefits: It is here today; faster, more efficient data, and more channels will also benefit the users. This means a network can support simultaneously streaming multiple HD-quality videos to multiple devices. And, we understand, VT Miltope has begun delivering this new product.
nMAP2 has a built in Ethernet switch providing multiple Gigabit Ethernet ports to connect to the IFEC network server and for daisy chaining other nMAP2s to minimize cable installation to reduce weight and costs. VT Miltope completed nMAP2 qualification testing with all three Ethernet ports running during qualification testing.
Benefits: The improved 802.11ac data rates necessitate faster Ethernet capabilities with the wireless access point otherwise the wired interface becomes the bottleneck. nMAP2 has three Gigabit Ethernet ports, one for connecting to the IFEC network server, one to daisy chain to another nMAP2, and a third for connecting other IFEC systems or equipment such as Satcom. nMAP2’s preserve the Ethernet connection to the network and other nMAP2’s in the event there is a daisy chained nMAP2 failure because the Ethernet switch remains operational. Furthermore, to add redundancy the last nMAP2 may be looped back into the network so the last nMAP2 in the chain remains connected to the network even if an nMAP2 in the middle of the daisy chain fails. In the unlikely event that an nMAP2 wireless connection is interrupted; CHT senses the wireless interruption and reconnects those clients to the other operational nMAP2 or from a non-operational nMAP2 radio to the second radio. This improves the overall availability of the wireless network on the aircraft to meet the performance expectations of the passengers and crew. This is a reliability game-changer.
Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output, or MIMO is the use of multiple antennas on both the transmitter and receiver to improve connectivity performance. Multiple antennas are used to perform smart antenna functions such as distributing the total transmit power over the antennas to achieve an array gain that improves the spectral efficiency (more bits per second per hertz of bandwidth), beam directivity and/or achieving a diverse gain that reduces fading and improves link reliability.
Benefits: Basically this is an antenna designed for aircraft cabin environments to improve connectivity performance at each seat with more seats served resulting in more happy users onboard!
Now, back to the news release:
“Cognitive Hotspot Technology (CHT), available exclusively with nMAP2, is state-of-the-art wireless management technology tailored specifically to improve wireless performance in congested aircraft cabins… With CHT, nMAP2’s provide proactive cabin network management to optimize the total network capacity, thus supporting a substantially better passenger experience. CHT features various dynamically and automatically adapting modules such as intelligent roaming, wireless power control, channel assignment, load balancing, and interference minimization. These modules are customized according to each airline’s service and content delivery requirements and priorities.”
Cognitive Hotspot Technology
CHT is software embedded on VT Miltope Wireless Access Point that converts them into Smart Access Points. Smart APs are collaborative. They talk to one another and act together as a team to optimize the network capacity. Smart APs take their environment into account, continuously sensing it to adapt in real-time and deliver the best signal for each receiver (PED). Information is shared among the Smart APs to create aircraft network awareness and manage the available resources jointly. CHT helps to prevent interferences and network congestion, sets measures to guarantee network-wide Quality of Signal (QoS), enables seamless roaming and balanced networks, and improves overall network capacity. In other words, CHT delivers the best signal to each user, in each seat.
Benefit: The benefit is to your passengers. The Wi-Fi signal they receive on their personal electronic devices is higher in signal strength and faster in data rate. This means a more consistent wireless signal for better audio, better video, and a much better user experience.
Access Controller mode adds DHCP server capabilities with routing, traffic control, and prioritization for different user VLANS or traffic to nMAP2 operation.
Benefit: Basically, access controller is a mode of operation that allows for the creation of a wireless local area network on the aircraft. An nMAP2 operating as an access controller in conjunction with other nMAP2s operating as access points establish the wireless local network and provides intelligent data forwarding to maintain the security of the network. Access controller can take advantage of an external RADIUS server to store user accounts that can be locally defined. The access controller establishes links with the access points wirelessly.
And finally here is the ‘plane’ benefit to your airline and your passengers, also from the news release:
“Pioneering the introduction of wireless access point technology to aircraft cabins since 2001, VT Miltope has a proven history for delivering highly reliable wireless products. Improving on our current nMAP, nMAP2 incorporates the latest in wireless security, is more compact, weighs less further enhances reliability, and reduces overall ship set costs.”
The company continues to bring about innovation in their product line… that is what this business is all about. For example, the nMAP2 weighs less, is more compact, and improves reliability more than earlier products. Up to 64 VLANs (IEEE 802.1q) are available to support separate user networks. Customized network and user group profiles are possible using 16 concurrent VSC (Virtual Service Community), each having configurable SSIDs, QoS, security, and filtering.”
In closing, we want to let you know that there will be more VT Miltope news coming during and after AIX, Mr. Guidetti told IFExpress, and the best advice we have for our readers is to Stay Tuned!
Astronics AES, known for bringing power to passengers and airline personnel, announced its agreement with SmartTray International, LLC. Astronics AES will exclusively market, sell and manufacture SmartTray’s new passenger device-friendly aircraft tray table solutions that facilitate hands-free use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) and smartphones for an improved passenger experience. This is a brilliant product diversification. Stay Tuned for what’s next! (Editor’s Note: Check out their website here TheSmartTray.com for an idea of how this simple and useful product works!)
Our lead story could not be better titled because we just found the news of Panasonic’s gift in the fight to wipe out one of the most devastating diseases that plagues Africa, and mankind for that matter, but especially today in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – Ebola.
Our story begins only about one year ago when a small boy was infected with the parasitic virus in a village in Guinea in West Africa – he died and so did his family and thus began the infection of Guinea. No vaccine yet exists for the disease and since then, some 200 medical workers have died along with 6300 citizens. The scary part is that each month the number of cases double. Today, it is unknown how many are infected with the parasitic virus but at last count some 18,100 were, and its natural carrier is still unknown. It is in this demonic environment that an IFE company and an airline saw fit to make a donation that might just be one of the causes that breaks the chain of misery; it aids in the transportation of health help, and facilitates the removal of the sick. We owe Panasonic and Lufthansa a debt of gratitude for their gift of transportation and communication that will aid in the fight to defeat this monster. To get a better story on the “what” and “why’s” of their gift after we found a short news release, we talked with David Bruner, Vice President, Global Communication Services, Panasonic Aviation Services, and here is what he told IFExpress.
Q: David, as with every news release, there is a much bigger story underneath, could you expand a bit?
A: Panasonic Avionics is providing critical communications on board a high-tech flying hospital used to transport Ebola patients from Africa to overseas care facilities. An Airbus A340-300 aircraft, which is chartered from Lufthansa by the German Foreign office, has been converted into a hospital aircraft with isolation chambers for patients diagnosed as suffering from the disease.
Q: We want to know what Panasonic is providing to help this aircraft in such an important and eleemosynary event? How much is Panasonic spending out of pocket to help this work? What exactly is Panasonic providing to the plane, the crew and the aid workers? When is it planned to be in service? What will the plane be used for?
A: I think that it’s really important to acknowledge Lufthansa and the German Foreign Office who were the main drivers behind this fantastic humanitarian effort. This aircraft, which is an Airbus A340 that had been scheduled for retirement, was one of the first Lufthansa aircraft to be equipped with our Global Communications Service. We’re just happy to be involved in it and help the world deal with this outbreak of the Ebola virus, but it’s really Lufthansa and the German Foreign Office that deserves credit for the creation of this flying hospital. This is one of those good news stories where its not about profit, its really about how this airline, the German Government and Panasonic are working together to use this great technology to improve people’s lives.
Q: What is the Panasonic solution going to provide… how, with what?
A: We’re providing the latest generation of our Global Communications Service for the A340. With eXConnect, the on-board crew and medical staff will be able to access Wi-Fi Internet and email service for air-to-ground communications during emergency flights. With eXPhone, the crew will also be able to perform in-flight calling and texting, if necessary.
Further, with these connectivity and mobile phone services, the crew will be able stay in constant contact with the ground-based personnel to provide updates on a patient’s condition and allow hospitals to be prepared as much as possible for the patient’s arrival.
Q: How about a little more… who bought the plane, who buys the gas, who controls the plane schedule? Is there a back-story or two here? Should we thank Lufthansa? Anybody else?
A: The aircraft will be operated by the German Foreign Office. They were the ones who worked in close cooperation with the Robert Koch Institute in Germany to replace a number of airlocks and add a hermetically sealed isolation tent, which allows caregivers to treat patients with a lower risk of infection.
Our role is strictly providing the communications services onboard the aircraft. As I said previously, the credit really goes to Lufthansa and the German Foreign Office.
Q: What are the implications of this effort, in your mind, on the greater commercial aircraft industry and connectivity?
A: The use of the system for this operation is just one example of how operators are starting to expand the use of aircraft connectivity.
Today, in-flight Wi-Fi is often seen as a passenger amenity, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. We’re working with airlines on really leveraging the value of this service for services like this one, and to leverage their own IP systems while the aircraft is airborne. With that, we think the industry has something really valuable.
Next, in this pre-Holiday edition of IFExpress we thought it also prudent to get an update on one product we have been watching closely for the last six months – VT Miltope’s revolutionary nMAP2 wireless aircraft router. If you remember in our earlier announcement the device will change the way airlines think about serving wireless clients… basically a solution that increases the passenger bandwidth inside the airplane and does so via newly developed router “smarts’ called CHT – Cognitive Hotspot Technology. Built-in technology helps the router to actively determine the best wireless solution for each seated user on the plane. Nothing like this has ever been seen for aircraft, as far as we know, and that is why IFExpress is keeping tabs on this device. Look at it another way, how else are airlines going to keep up with passenger devices that are used to faster and faster wireless solutions on the ground? Don’t believe us? We asked the same question (and a number of others) to Bob Guidetti, VT Miltops’s VP of Commercial Products and he told IFExpress: “Miltope developed nMAP2 to meet the ever increasing demands for wireless throughput and client associations in the cabin. As the highest performing wireless access point, nMAP2 will truly become the benchmark for the industry.”
Q: Is it too early to tell exactly how much better the nMAP2 product will be with CHT?
A: We are currently testing nMAP2 without CHT to establish baseline performance, but note that CHT testing verification is an ongoing effort. Once we have established baseline nMAP2 performance without CHT, we then plan to continue CHT baseline performance verification tests in January 2015. Your readers need to stay tuned for this one.
Q: We hear that there is a lot of interest in the nMAP2 by airlines who see the value in better performance in their wireless systems on board. Is that true?
A: Yes, and our goal is to double the number of client associations of existing wireless access points running at a minimum of 1 Mbps throughput.
Q: So far, how is the testing going?
A: With respect to performance, verification testing of nMAP2 has verified improved performance over nMAP without application of CHT. CHT will provide additional improvements to wireless performance as I mentioned before. After that, Qualification testing is to start 1st week of January and be completed by end of January. Qualification testing will be performed to RTCA DO160 G.
Q: Lastly, can you give our readers a sneak peek into what VT Miltope will be rolling out at the next industry show?
A: We are currently developing another wireless product called cTWLU that will provide cellular in addition to Wi-Fi wireless ground link for the aircraft. Both the cTWLU and nMAP2 will be on display at the 2015 Interiors in Hamburg.
On another note, we received a news release in about free inflight texting: “Applications in-flight: If passengers are on a Gogo equipped flight, there are applications they can take advantage of free of charge. All T-Mobile customers can take advantage of free in-flight texting and voice mail services on all Gogo equipped U.S. airline aircraft. To access, customers must activate Wi-Fi calling on the ground prior to the first use of the free service. Passengers do not need to purchase Internet connectivity to take advantage of unlimited texting and voice mail allowing passengers an additional outlet to stay connected in-flight.”
Further, they offered the following; “Location sharing based application Glympse allows passengers to send their location at 30,000 feet via SMS, email or social media in-flight. Passengers traveling during the holidays can utilize Glympse to give loved ones an accurate arrival time, perfect in case you run into any last minute flight delays.” Readers, this is just the beginning of inflight data communication deals that we expect to come along and it looks like the US T-Mobile customers are the first to reap the benefit.