Ku-band Dominance of In-Flight Wi-Fi Market Paves Way for Ka-band

By | November 5, 2012 | Feature, Telecom

[Satellite News 11-05-12] Satellite-based technologies are dominating the in-flight connectivity market, with Ku-band set to become the most popular method of driving the service at the end of 2015 and Ka-band becoming the market leader by 2020, according to a report published Nov. 5 from IMS Research.

   “With in-flight Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity really starting to take off, there is increasing competition from ground- and satellite-based technologies to become the method of choice for delivering the service,” the firm said in the report.  
   U.S. service provider Gogo is now planning to expand its air-to-ground (ATG) to Canada after regulators in the country paved the way for expansion. Gogo-enabled aircraft will total more than 1,700 at the end of 2012, representing more than 70 percent of all connected aircraft. IMS Research Aerospace Analyst Heath Lockett said that Gogo and other providers’ installation boom is due, in part, to the low-cost and quick installation procedure.
   “With more aircraft now offering Wi-Fi, passenger awareness is rapidly increasing. Despite the challenges and costs associated with providing Internet connectivity at 36,000 feet and 500mph, we’re already seeing passengers expecting a similar service to that which they can experience on the ground in coffee shops, shopping centers and so on – that is, fast and free,” Lockett said in the report. “Such has been the rapid ascent of ATG, the technology is forecast to lead the market, in terms of installed base, until 2015.”
    Of the predicted 15,300 connected aircraft at the end of 2021, Lockett and IMS project that 39 percent will utilize Ka-band, compared with 28 percent which employ Ku-band, providing a significant change in the landscape compared to the end of 2016, when Ku-band is forecast to represent 36 percent of all connected aircraft, with just 12 percent offering Ka-band. Ku-band is currently supported by Panasonic Avionics, Row 44 and Gogo, whereas Ka-band has attracted LiveTV, OnAir and Gogo.
   Gogo also is currently upgrading its network to offer improved bandwidth, but it faces tough competition from satellite-based solutions. Lockett said this is chiefly because of their ability to offer a global service.
   “Much has been made of the rivalry between companies offering Ku- and Ka-band options, however, there is more than enough room in the industry for both technologies to co-exist,” said Lockett. “Every airline has a slightly different requirement for their connectivity solution – the requirements can even be wildly different across a single airline’s fleet. Those different approaches will ensure that all technology solutions will continue to exist well into the next decade. Who knows, by then the industry buzz may be focused on S-band, or even Q-band.”
   Gogo will install its first Ku-band product soon and has also signed up to support Inmarsat’s Ka-band Global Xpress service. L-band technology was the first to see success given its use onboard aircraft for cockpit critical communications. Although L-band is predicted to remain key for cellular communications, and despite advances which have offered greater bandwidth (the latest boosting bandwidth to 700kbps per channel), it is Ku- and Ka-band, which are predicted to dominate in the next decade where Wi-Fi connectivity is present.
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