A few weeks ago, we met Ron Chapman, President ASI (Australia) in a small town on the Washington coast and he told IFExpress of a development he has had in the making for some 20 years. We were blown away hearing what he said because it sounded like he has spent his inflight connectivity career leading up to product names that sound like they are out of the jungle… names like CHiiMP, GRRRILL, KONNG, and FFLYA. We couldn’t get them out of our mind and we even snuck them into our IFExpress conversations over the last few weeks to get your attention. If we now have it, check out our story below because ideas like these from Ron Chapman have the power to change connectivity techno-scenery around this crazy business forever!

To give our readers a better insight into the 11 hours of product discussions we had with Ron, we thought a running discourse from Mr. Chapman might better set up the latest developments in his connectivity technology solutions… so listen close. We should note that the following technology developments are not just a technical wish list, they are discussions about a product that is flying successfully on over 35 business jet aircraft. Yes, you are correct, if this develops as we see it, it is a big deal!

PART 1 (And yes readers, next week we will feature Part 2)

THE PROBLEM:

Ron Chapman: “Three generations later and 14 years since Boeing Connexion’s first flight and the world still thinks Wi-Fi is the only solution for inflight connectivity and yet, both Connexion and GOGO (GOGO Inc. SEC filing) confirm that only 6% of passengers are prepared to pay. That means 94% of passengers think Wi-Fi’s too expensive. So here’s the problem, if you are going to spend a billion dollars launching a global satellite constellation or Domestic Air To Ground service, then a free or cheap solution will never be part of your vocabulary. Add to this, the minute you transport live Internet into an aircraft using  standard Internet protocols for Wi-Fi, then you are probably   only getting half the usable bandwidth you are paying for, as the data loss via radio and retransmission overhead is high. On the ground, Internet is so fast, we all forget how we used to watch the small meter at the bottom of our PC screens progressively slow down as we loaded or streamed a large file because of TCP/IP. That ’s what we have in the sky today.”

Noted Ron: “Now do not misunderstand me, the achievement and commitment of today’s airline Internet companies is nothing short of amazing, but with such a massive investment, they can only continue to address those who can afford to pay, unless airlines like Emirates and JetBlue decide to foot the bill for a limited service, which on current  performance seems highly unlikely. The fact is, you cannot have it both ways, if you are hungry for inflight bandwidth then you need to pay, which leaves a hole for 94% of passengers who would rather starve.” 

“So back in 2006,” he said, “after the collapse of the Connexion and Tenzing Internet programs I decided to look at an alternative path to Wi-Fi, using  Bluetooth, so the obvious question was why?”

Said Chapman: “There was a clear need for a sector of the airlines market that wanted some form of connectivity, while taking into account their passengers reluctance to pay. Further, Business jet operators who fly globally needed some form of control over the high cost of connectivity as they were paying even more. To meet this challenge we needed to address 7 key areas that no one within the industry had considered.”

  1. Find a business model that was comparable to what people would expect on the ground, particularly in the area of every day communications, such as Email and SMS.
  2. Replace the Wi-Fi protocol; Wi-Fi constantly transmits and that costs power and it must have live broadband to connect to. Further, it is not optimized for satellite transmission. 

  3. Reduce the equipment investment; Combine COTS technology with better techniques for certifying and manufacturing the systems. 

  4. Maximize the data throughput to minimize data cost; create protocols specifically optimized to existing satellites and existing avionics hardware that supports them. 

  5. Provide a method for business clients to monitor and control their usage and reduce pilot operating cost, including a new pricing model that would turn live Internet into a money making proposition for charter operators  instead of a constant  argument over a huge bill.
  6. For airlines; find a way to underwrite the transmission cost using embedded advertising. This could ensure every message pays for itself and generates further revenue opportunities for the airline from sponsored messages.
  7. Create an exclusive in-flight client database which can be mined, and grows as each airline comes onboard, which will simultaneously enhance the potential to attract sponsors. 

“Further,” said Ron “too prove the concept we would launch our solution on business jets, as we believed our network data cost would be so minuscule that we could save them thousands of dollars. So it all began with a global patent application back in 2006. At the time what we had to work with was primitive but by 2010 the worlds first flight of a Bluetooth network took place on a Falcon2000EX. It would take another 4 years of International flight testing, cellphone app development and a global network Email and SMS Integration, before the full commercial platform was released at NBAA in 2014.  One year later, 3 new Apps, plus Android, IOS and Blackberry solutions covering some 35 Bizjetet installs and the company is about to release a prototype of the world’s first airline versions, called FFLYA. FFLYA is based on the latest Bluetooth 4 technology, which is now a standard component on all modern phones.”

THE SOLUTION CONCEPT, THE APPS AND THE SERVER:

Ron aptly described the problem and now would be a good time to describe his solution. The new service, called Grrrilla, is actually a combination of both narrow and broadband systems connected to the global cell phone and Email networks (2 smart Apps called CHiiMP and KONNG) that pairs the connectivity link with your device (Apple, Android, Blackberry) via Bluetooth (as many as 12 simultaneous network connections). Grrrilla incorporates a real time monitoring satellite service that permits pay-for-use for the Internet mode. He noted, “The price of this service will put other provider’s costs to shame. Imagine if you combine the unique messaging and unlimited connectivity capability of our Iridium CHiiMP App with the real time cost control and live internet management of our Inmarsat KONNG App, and what you might end up with is the worlds most affordable and unique airline platform! We needed to come up with a solution for the 94% of people that didn’t really want to pay a fortune for Wi-Fi but still wanted the ability to check their email and send a message and also wanted something that was international. Further, the Grrrilla network can automatically serve the whole aircraft because of the many channels available in a Bluetooth connectivity solution. And that is because Bluetooth is not a shared-resource network like Wi-Fi; it does not experience degradation as users connect since each user connects with an individual Bluetooth channel link to the aircraft cell network that resides in the small, white Bizet Mobile connectivity hub. Lastly, the network device is self – starting and is ready to serve customers when power is applied.”

We should note that BizjetMobile offers two main types of portable satcom devices, to support the CHiiMP and KONNG Apps. CHiiMP uses an Iridium-based system, with devices that hook into either an existing Iridium transceiver in the aircraft or one with the Iridium transceiver included. Because of the Iridium network’s relatively low bandwidth, ChiiMP is designed for those who want to be able to send text messages (SMS) and email and make voice calls, but not access the Internet. Emails are done through BizjetMobile’s GetMail service and can’t include attachments. (Please note that the Iridium satellite solution is available worldwide and will be compatible with Iridium NEXT.)

On the other hand, KONNG works on the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (SBB) satellite network and like CHiiMP, it works with an existing SBB transceiver. Because of the greater bandwidth offered by SBB, KONNG offers Internet access in addition to SMS, Email and voice calling. While SBB works in most parts of the world, its coverage isn’t as widespread as Iridium and it delivers its’ capability thru Inmarsat.

As we mentioned earlier, ASiQ is able to deliver these In-Flight Personal Area Networks (IPAN) at a low cost structure because of Bluetooth’s optimized protocols, expanded range and speed since its’ first limited uses years ago. And while we are on it, you might wonder about using Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi. We should point out that we are talking about Bluetooth 4.0 or Bluetooth LE, also known as ‘Bluetooth Smart’. Read what Wikipedia says about the technology:

Bluetooth low energy (Bluetooth LE, BLE, marketed as Bluetooth Smart[1]) is a wireless personal area network technology designed and marketed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group aimed at novel applications in the healthcare, fitness, beacons,[2] security, and home entertainment industries.[3] Compared to Classic Bluetooth, Bluetooth Smart is intended to provide considerably reduced power consumption and cost while maintaining a similar communication range. ”Bluetooth Smart was originally introduced under the name Wibree by Nokia in 2006.[4] It was merged into the main Bluetooth standard in 2010 with the adoption of the Bluetooth Core Specification Version 4.0. Mobile operating systems including iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, as well as OS X, Linux, and Windows 8, natively support Bluetooth Smart. The Bluetooth SIG predicts that by 2018 more than 90 percent of Bluetooth-enabled smartphones will support Bluetooth Smart.[5] Bluetooth Smart is not backward-compatible with the previous, often called Classic, Bluetooth protocol. The Bluetooth 4.0 specification permits devices to implement either or both of the LE and Classic systems. Bluetooth Smart uses the same 2.4 GHz radio frequencies as Classic Bluetooth, which allows dual-mode devices to share a single radio antenna. LE does, however, use a simpler modulation system.”

Note: In case you think Bluetooth Smart may be an issue with your communication device, here are a list of operating systems that comply: iOS 5 and later, Windows Phone 8.1, Windows and later 8, Android 4.3 and later Blackberry 10, Linux 3 and later, and Unison OS 5.2.

Notes Wikipedia: “Bluetooth Smart technology operates in the same spectrum range (the 2.400 GHz-2.4835 GHz ISM band) as Classic Bluetooth technology, but uses a different set of channels. Instead of the Classic Bluetooth 79 1-MHz channels, Bluetooth Smart has 40 2-MHz channels. Within a channel, data is transmitted using Gaussian frequency shift modulation, similar to Classic Bluetooth’s Basic Rate scheme. The bit rate is 1Mbit/s, and the maximum transmit power is 10 mW. Further details are given in Volume 6 Part A (Physical Layer Specification) of the Bluetooth Core Specification V4.0.”

But what about certification, we asked? Ron: “I think the best description of what we really have is a scatternet, rather than piconet, with random BT4 devices scattered all over the aircraft, capable of talking to each other and a master. Very excited to have someone help me tell this story as next year will be the tenth year since I embarked on this concept. Us Aussies are a bit slow. FYI The key point is Bluetooth is tested and document in the Itel report that it cannot interfere, plus DO294 has no issue leaving it on. All it means is the STC process on a Bluetooth access point is simple compared to Wi-Fi. RTCA D0-294B provides regulatory guidelines for authorities, aircraft operators and aircraft manufacturers to determine acceptable and enforceable policies for passenger and crew use of portable electronic devices. The uses of PED’s that communicate via a wireless Bluetooth PAN network are determined as T-PED’s (Transmitting Portable Electronic Device). The current edition of RTCA/DO-294B identifies a process for airlines to make a determination of acceptable use of T-PEDs. The determination of an interfering effect caused by a particular device on the navigation and communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used or operated must, in case of an aircraft operated by the holder of an air carrier certificate or other operating certificate, be made by that operator (i e , certificate holder) In all other cases, a determination must be made by the operator and/or by the pilot-in-command (PIC) In some cases, the determination may be based on operational tests conducted by the operator without the need for sophisticated testing equipment ”

What does the RTCA say about Bluetooth? The RTCA D0-294  specific reference to Bluetooth enabled PED’s is listed below;

RTCA D0-294  (3.D.3.2) RF Considerations 

Bluetooth-equipped devices occupy the same 2 4 GHz ISM frequency spectrum and utilize frequency hopping modulation schemes similar to some IEEE 802 11 WLAN devices; however, they operate at lower levels than WLAN devices

And…

RTCA D0-294  (8.A.4.3.1) Non-Critical Phases of Flight 

While all PEDs should be switched OFF and fully disconnected from any in-seat electrical power supply during critical phases of flight, the operator may consider that these restrictions associated with active transmitting devices does not need to apply to low power transmitting devices that are fully compliant to the Bluetooth standard.

FLYING IN BUSINESS AVIATION TODAY:

ASi is able to provide these In-Flight Personal Area Networks (IPAN) at a low cost structure because of Bluetooth’s expanded range and speed since its first limited uses years ago, in addition to the lower certification costs compared to Wi-Fi. Bluetooth only uses 10 milliwatts of power, so it is completely safe for use on the aircraft and does not require extensive certifications like high-powered Wi-Fi networks do.

How will this be viewed by airlines? The one capability Bizjetmobile is not equally optimized for streaming live video. However, according to Chapman, most business aviation customers are more interested in email, calls, social media updates and the ability to communicate with family and share pictures through text. Leisure customers seeking entertainment are the source of high video demand. Airline customers are a bit different, and that is what we will cover in the next installment, Part 2, of The ASI Aviation Connectivity Solution

(Editor’s Note: If you can’t wait to talk to Ron about your Grrrilla application you can reach him at NBAA 310 469-4432 or ron.chapman@asiq.com.)

Next Time:

PART 4. THE COMMERCIAL AIRLINE PRODUCT

PART 5. THE FUTURE