How Panasonic Plans To Bring Broadband Back To Airlines
[Satellite News – 07-09-08] Panasonic has licensed iDirect’s satellite IP router hardware and spread spectrum mobile waveform for a system that will provide broadband access to aircraft.
The iDirect technology will serve as core components of Panasonic’s in-flight satellite transmission platform, eXConnect. The new broadband IP pipe in the sky would allow ExConnect to provide high-speed Internet, live video programming, interactive entertainment and real-time maintenance applications during flight.
The system sounds familiar to Boeing’s Connexion service, which was shut down in 2006 after incurring heavy losses. For Panasonic and iDirect, separating themselves from these failures is a formidable challenge. In catering to the needs of the already cash-strapped airline industry, Panasonic needed a cost-effective, powerful two-way broadband connectivity to erase bad memories of the $150 million daily operating cost of Connexion.
“Some did not like the business model,” Panasonic executive director David Bruner told Satellite News. “While the airlines wanted the capability, these systems were almost 1,000 pounds per aircraft.” Considering the skyrocketing cost of fuel, the size and weight of eXConnet will be a key sell to the industry.
The solution also would have to be economically feasible. “For many years, Inmarsat service has been about $10 dollars a minute,” said Bruner. “It’s dropped to $7 and some airlines subsidize and get it lower than that. This service allows us to be comparable with international roaming and in some cases we’re actually a little under it.”
In 2007, Panasonic presented a lengthy list of chores to iDirect — reduce hardware size, meet U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) standards, be able to handle extreme conditions and most importantly, make sure it runs efficiently.
“There’s a whole different system for airborne electronics,” iDirect CTO Dave Bettinger said. “We took all of our already-developed key technologies and based it heavily on our existing Evolution 8350 remote and simply repackaged that into a form factor that Panasonic desired. We slightly modified the schematic drawings of core technologies — rearranging the wiring and form factor of circuit cards, and shielding RF camps to meet environmental and FCC requirements.”
While it would be impractical design for a typical 1.2-meter VSAT antenna to be mounted on a commercial jet, reducing the size of that antenna also presents problems. “If you have a smaller antenna, the beam width is actually smaller and you end up transmitting unwanted energy to adjacent satellites,” said Bruner. “You don’t want to interrupt other carriers on other satellites next to you. The spread spectrum technology greatly reduces the interference that you would send or receive from other satellites. In conjunction with this, we did solve the high-speed requirements for spread spectrum to operate at 700 miles per hour.”
eXConnect also will have the ability to prioritize and separate multiple IP sessions, an innovation iDirect believes will increase efficiency. “You can have all of these services happening at the same time on the same IP pipe over satellite. Our Group quality of service feature allows the network operators — Panasonic and Intelsat — to be able to have multiple airlines share the same satellite network yet have their own bandwidth carved out of the larger network bandwidth. We allow this by being able to offer a segregation of data over the satellite network,” said Bettinger.
Another feature that iDirect brings to the table is its global network management system, iVantage, which allows a global network with several different hubs to be managed from a single network operating center.
“It’s really more of a virtual [network operating center],” said Bruner. “We need to wrap a little extra logic around the iDirect system because of the unusual implementation of our modems as they move around on the airplanes. Putting this all onto a global map to make sure these modems are performing properly will be a challenge.”
Panasonic believes the technology will be ready for roll out by summer 2009, with 50 aircraft equipped with the new IP modems by the end of the year.