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

Featured Products:
• nMAP2 with CHT
• cTWLU with 4G LTE, 3G Cellular and 802.11a/g/n & ac

Notes:
Wi-Fi(TM) is a trademark of Wi-Fi Alliance
Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technologies is a trademark of AOIFES Solutions

Contact:
Jeff Drader
Director, Business Development
VT Miltope
2082 Michelson Drive, Suite 100
Irvine, CA 92612

Jeff.Drader@Miltope.com
+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.

At AIX we had an interesting discussion about NFC and while at the IFPL booth, the IFExpress team got an education. Geoff Underwood, the CEO, spent time on the subject and if you are lacking a bit of understanding in the “world of cashless retail,” you are not alone. IFPL has a huge background in the world of cashless inflight purchasing and has developed a massive block of related technology and “…are really the experts on it in the IFE industry,” he noted. To try to clear up a bit of the “cashless” quagmire, we asked Geoff to paint a better picture of the technology:

Modern credit cards support three technologies: Magnetic Swipe, Chip & Pin, and Contactless (NFC). Many cards in the US still have just the Magnetic Swipe but that technology is being phased out starting in Oct 2015.  In every country that uses Chip and Pin or Contactless technology, they saw a 95% reduction in credit card fraud immediately when they changed to Chip and Pin. It is already in use in almost every country outside the US. The user slides the card into a very secure reader, and enters a security (PIN) code to validate the payment. But, due to the high levels of security required, the hardware cost of Chip and Pin is considered to be prohibitively high for most IFE applications.

The Contactless solution (note the radiation lines logo) or “Tap and Pay” solution is the one that will most probably be adopted in future IFE systems, because the hardware costs are much lower. To buy a product, all the customer has to do is touch the reader with their credit card, and the payment transaction takes place wirelessly, with no PIN or signature. At the moment contactless payments are limited to low value purchases (about $20 per transaction plus a daily cap), so it is inherently secure. The $20 limit meets the needs of most purchases on board, such as movies, drinks etc., and you will need a payment server, a suitable App on the IFE system, and the IFPL contactless reader connected via USB, noted Geoff. With the IFPL reader customers will have the opportunity to use a ‘Mobile Wallet’ to make their payment. Many phones are NFC enabled (such as the Apple Pay system), so they can just tap the reader with their phone and make the payment that way.” 

In the future, the $20 limit will be eliminated by the use of mobile wallets and live connectivity to the ground. However, these higher value purchases will require PIN entry to authorize the payment. A mobile wallet makes this easy because the mobile phone user can enter the PIN during the transaction. We also should note that all of these technologies are available to the flight crew today for inflight purchasing with handheld devices, but we are talking about inseat installations here.

IFPL has developed a fully wireless contactless payment system for airlines that do not have an IFE system, and has recently developed a USB-powered contactless reader for Thales that communicates transaction data to the payment server over a wired network.  Noted Geoff: “Both Apple Pay and Google Wallet are compatible with the IFPL solution as well, which makes NFC the future cashless solution of choice!”

A few other neat solutions we saw at the IFPL booth should also be mentioned. Our cover shot shows a standard, but illuminated, USB 2.0 receptacle. Not only does the light help find the socket itself, it accepts plugs reversibly (either side up works) which solves the problem of trying to get the plug the right way up. And if there is a plug/socket interface problem or short, the light changes from white to red. “We’ve seen a few copies already. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but we’re confident they’ve all missed out on the ‘secret sauce’,” noted Mr. Underwood, with a smile…

Lastly, we also saw the first miniature USB 3 “C” jack which is a big future trend and it would not surprise us if this jack eventually provides a replacement for installed USB 2.0 systems, as the USB 3 “C” jacks can easily cope with iPad charging amperage.


 Telefonix

As an introduction, Telefonix is a design, manufacturing and management company with a history of more than 25 years of innovation in this industry. We’ve heard a lot of buzz over the last year about their partnership with PDT, a product design and development firm, and most recently about their launch of the Summit IFEC product platform. We talked to them during the show noting that some of the team was headed to China after AIX – more on that later. The company was founded on the strength of its retractable cabling technology. You remember the inflight telephone handset retract mechanisms? But with over 60 patents issued to date, they have become a leader in technology development and execution for complex mechanical and electrical assemblies. And yes, they are in the systems business as well, but more on that later too.

Telefonix has manufacturing facilities located in Illinois and manufacturing partners in Asia, allowing the company to translate almost any design into a reliable product deliverable. With the company’s partnership with PDT, the complexity of the products offered has been evolving as together the two companies now offer IFEC manufacturers who are creating new or next-gen solutions a total product development solution: from user research to design, mechanical and electrical engineering, software development, documentation and certification, prototyping through to manufacturing.

And speaking of the Far East, They were a sponsor and host of the very recent 3rd In-Flight Connectivity Technology Conference in Shanghai, China, and we heard from Mike Kuehn, President. He told IFExpress that the Telefonix team (Telefonix+PDT) is very active in helping to change and improve China’s inflight connectivity market. Their recent conference there, attended by all of China’s airlines, “…is just the beginning,” noted Mr. Kuehn. Here are a couple questions we asked Mike:

Q) Who is the target product market and are you focusing your sales efforts on the IFEC suppliers (resellers) or the airlines – Is China a big future market in your view?

A) Telefonix is focusing its sales efforts on the IFEC suppliers and OEMs interested in retrofit and line fit equipment installation and remains a B2B hardware supplier and not marketing solutions directly to the airlines.

We view China as a large growth market for IFEC in general, with passenger traffic increasing and the services offered onboard maturing. As your readers may know, I chaired both days of the ICT conference in Shanghai where discussion of the 2016 market took place, and which is something we look forward to participating in. We recognize the timing and regulatory issues in China and are focused on building the right network and relationships as the IFEC market continues to grow in China.

Q) What are the benefits to the IFE supplier/airline in selecting the Summit Line? Is it time to market, lower cost, etc.?

A) The Summit product line is a natural evolution of our traditional custom design service offerings. The product line was developed as a set of system building blocks that can be leveraged as designed or be customized as a part of any customer program. The Telefonix advantage with the Summit product line (See attached 5 data sheets) is that we are providing innovative product packaging of new terrestrial technology, which allows overall cost savings and performance improvements as it relates to services offered by streaming IFE and connectivity providers. For example, the integration of the Cabin ACe antennas in the access point chassis allows a reduction in overall kit costs and reduces the complexity in the maintenance. Our Cabin Pinnacle product, which is a server that can support streaming media and connectivity simultaneously, is built on the latest roadmap of Intel processors and is designed to support the next generation of processors in the Intel suite without a total redesign of the unit, thereby providing future proofing for customers since obsolescence will be less of an issue.

At the end of the day, cost is always a factor, but it is far from the key differentiator in this market. Overall, the Summit product line is one built upon leading edge technology and designed to allow customers to upgrade more easily and with less certification implications than legacy hardware. Beyond the hardware itself, Telefonix is committed to continuing technology evolution and providing ongoing product support for our customers. We have a long and proven record of customer support and this customer focus has not changed with this new line of products.”

Q) What are the advantages the Summit Line has over other servers, WAPS, Pico Cells and is there any specific new technology in the WAP our readers should know about?

A) The technology used in the Cabin ACe WAP has the advantages of supporting 802.11ac protocol used in the newest client devices. We have in our roadmap to update the platform to Wave 2 later this year, thus supporting client devices that are not even available in the consumer market today. In addition, the radio engine utilizes Virtual Controller technology that allows adaptive, self-organizing wireless grouping across multiple units installed within an aircraft. What this means to the service provider is the virtual controller can coordinate, store and distribute the settings required to regulate and manage the Wi-Fi network. This is of particular importance when the client devices are not uniformly placed within the cabin – we can groom the traffic and spread the clients across multiple access points, thus improving performance since no one access point will get overloaded with traffic. We have also considered various installation needs in our design, for example including an internal antenna in our standard unit, but offering an external antenna if needed, and designing both 28VDC and 115V versions of this product.

In the Cabin Peak (Pico Cell) product, the software technology implemented in the base station transceivers is patented by our partner. The software forces a user’s device to select the onboard radio versus selecting a mobile operator’s base station outside of the aircraft. If the user is not registered for the connectivity service, the radio will ‘hold’ the client device in place and not let them roam onto another base station. Telefonix believes this will negate the requirement for the Cabin RF Management Unit being deployed today, thus reducing per aircraft equipment and installation costs. Given that pico-cell usage is geographically limited due to regulations, the voice service is not the real key for this unit, but rather the key is the ability for a user to log on using their smart phone in its native technology and have seamless billing back through the user’s mobile operator. This unit contains patented technology and has the potential to bring additional users to the IFC market.

The Telefonix Cabin Pinnacle Server features the latest hard drive technology with a firm roadmap for the future that will allow the unit to grow with both technology evolution and market demands. The product features the latest in thermal design concepts to ensure operation in numerous installation scenarios. These are just some highlights of the features we are providing to our customers with the new Summit product line.

Q) Where are these new products made?

A) At the present time, these products will be manufactured in the US at our facility in Waukegan, IL. Should the need for a 2nd manufacturing location arise, we will evaluate that need in conjunction with the location of demand to determine where else we might want to manufacture. These products have all been designed in the US by Telefonix and PDT engineers. While we have utilized some existing components in our hardware and have collaborated with various manufacturers and partners in the integration of their hardware into our solutions, the overall product architecture and design oversight was our own.”

Q) Is each component of the Summit Line black label today?

A) The base designs of each of the products are complete and the Cabin ACe WAP unit is currently in test. The remaining products are being customized with customer input and will have unique test and launch cycles depending on the level of customization required by each of the customers.

Our Cabin Peak pico cell, which was developed with our partner, is being used in multiple ground applications and we are currently packaging the technology and will customize it based upon customer requirements.

Q) These products were recently launched but what is their present design/manufacturing/airline status?

A) Our launch at AIX was focused on the products reaching a level of design maturity and test that made them viable platforms or solutions for customer consideration. While we are currently in talks with a number of different parties regarding this hardware, we cannot disclose the launch customers at this time.

Q) Are any of the Summit Line components flying today, either in test applications or with passengers?

A) This hardware is not yet flying, however we are in discussions with several parties regarding test and production level applications. We will, of course, let you know as soon as we have the ability to share any news on this point!

IFExpress readers, the Telefonix story is just unfolding so we plan to follow both the Summit Line and the story in China – Stay Tuned.

Here are some additional product and conference attachments:

IFC pdf from the ITC in China

Cabin Vista pdf


Lumexis Corporation today announced that their Lumexis Fiber-To-The-Screen® (FTTS®) In-Flight Entertainment system has been made offerable for line-fit on both the 737 NG and 737 MAX families of aircraft. “The Lumexis team is delighted with the significant achievement of having gained Boeing’s confidence in our company’s leading edge FTTS system and team,” said Doug Cline, Lumexis Corporation Chief Executive Officer. “We are most appreciative of their supportive and collaborative offerability team, and we look forward to seeing the first FTTS system installed on the 737 production line in the very near future.” Noted Jon Norris, VP Sales: ”Lumexis has worked closely with Boeing through their Technical Services Agreement (TSA) process to develop and apply the FTTS technology on Boeing 737 platforms.” Lou Sharkey, Lumexis President and CEO, noted: “This is an offering which can be selected immediately by Boeing’s worldwide airline customers. After 5 years of numerous retrofit installations on both wide-body and narrow-body airframes, the Lumexis team is so proud to have achieved line-fit offerable status on Boeing’s highest production 737 models.” Congratulations Lumexis, this is really an event for the company and portends great things!

Waukegan, ILL. | April 9, 2015– Telefonix, Inc.®, an AS9100 and ISO 14000-certified technology design and manufacturing company, will unveil the full extent of its Summit line of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) equipment at the 2015 Aircraft Interiors Expo, April 14-16, 2015 at the Hamburg Messe in Germany.

The Telefonix Summit line is comprised of state-of-the-art system components designed to enable unique and innovative in-flight connectivity and entertainment solutions. The Summit hardware elements: Cabin ACe(TM) Wireless Access Point (WAP), Cabin Pinnacle(TM) general purpose airborne server, Cabin Peak(TM) pico cell, and Cabin Vista(TM) attendant display can be added to enhance existing in-flight entertainment systems or combined to create a unique IFEC solution.

“There are a number of building blocks required for any IFEC solution in the aerospace market. The Telefonix Summit product line can reduce time-to-market and overall cost for system developers, integrators and airline operator alike,” said Jim Costello, Chief Technology Officer at Telefonix, Inc.

The Summit product line is the latest innovative solution developed for in-flight entertainment connectivity market that has been brought to fruition under the Telefonix and Product Development Technologies (PDT) partnership. Since joining forces, the companies have worked with customers to create passenger control units, media loading devices, and more.