OFFICE-IN-THE-SKY

Mfrs offer improved hookups for exec communication aloft

Performance of smaller, lighter onboard data systems and IFE matches current biz demands.

By Glenn Connor
Pres, Discover Technology Intl ATP


Rockwell Collins Senior Dir of Marketing Tim Rayl enjoys a video game with the Venue high-definition cabin management system.

In the early stages of office-in-the-sky, many of the core components were large, limited in performance including the number of users on board, and not flexible.

The continuous development of smaller micro size components is now fast shrinking consumer electronics, and as a result the technology is steadily making its way into cabin systems for corporate aviation.

It's about time, because each year expectations of business travelers grow, with the demand to communicate any time and anywhere. This demand has also created a smart buyer, no longer willing to pay for reasonable data rates at unreasonable costs.

So a big part of the selection of a system these days is not only the installed system but the service that provides data and video. In this update, we are going to touch base with a couple of well known suppliers of the office and entertainment essentials.

To get oriented, in a modern corporate aircraft, the traveler wants 2 things-a continuous connection to the outside world and electronics that work with no fuss. The cabin must support wireless operation for laptops, and the telephone(s) must work and sound like a phone-not Mission Control.

If you really want to make the customer happy, a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection in the cabin of the aircraft to support RIM BlackBerrys and other smartphone/PDAs is needed. To pull this off, suppliers have to provide components in the aircraft, routers and an antenna and datalink with high enough speed to support real office environment of Web searching, e-mail and large data file transfers.

For videoconferencing (soon to be standard, I predict) data rates and seamless phone connectivity and high quality and monitors are required. For those travelers out of emotional gas who just want to relax, a system that matches home entertainment is the desire. High-definition (HD) video, a large stock of DVD movies, gaming consoles and great sound is the ticket.

The natural place to start is inside the cabin. But since a big part of what your system will do is based on the dish on top, take a look there first. To communicate with the world, you have to have an antenna. In the past, some of these were kind of big, but new technology and designs have reduced the footprint of the antenna.

Many antenna systems now come with pointing and tracking capability to keep your satellite in view and improve signal performance. The other essential part of the antenna and transmitter system is the ability to provide communication with the outside world at what is called in the business broadband rates.

In most cases you are looking for an Internet kind of connection and a live TV source at the same time. Connecting to the antenna on the space side, you have to find a satellite and service provider.

Most use either Swift64 or SwiftBroadband satellites or similar services. But often the easiest is the supplier that has tailored the service with the system being installed in your aircraft. These service plans come in a small variety, and they look like your home cable and Internet service-but with more zeros at the end of the bill.

To add more pressure to selecting a system, many travelers are now packing portable gaming, music and movies because their beloved aircraft just has no room. But take heart, the industry is continuing to answer the call.

Thrane & Thrane

Founded by twin brothers Lars and Per Thrane, Danish company Thrane & Thrane entered the satellite communication business in 1981. The company focused on building global mobile communication systems initially for maritime markets based on the Inmarsat system.

In the 1990s the company began to develop and sell Inmarsat-C Earth stations and systems for land and aviation markets. Company focus has been on improving performance and reducing size and costs.

Broadband specialist Thrane & Thrane offers systems that support PC with Ethernet connections, Wi-Fi or wireless operations, videophone conferencing, and phones with VoIP.

As a result Thrane & Thrane has introduced systems suited to everything from the King Air up to ultralong-range aircraft. Company products are sold under the brands Thrane & Thrane, Explorer and Sailor.

The latest company offering for corporate aviation is the Aero-SB Lite, a complete package from antenna to cabin systems, including options for wireless cabin system operations. The antenna for the Aero-SB Lite weighs 5.1 lbs is also used in other installations such as Aero-I and Aero-M systems, making it easier for these customers to upgrade to the Aero-SB Lite.

The antenna also has a low drag installation for either tail or top fuselage mounting. The complete system weighs only 17 lbs. To put the dimensions into perspective, Thrane & Thrane completed the first certified installation on a company King Air, and both the antenna and electronics fit nicely without the look of an antenna farm and into unused spaces in cabin.

This system offers both wireless capabilities and 6 dedicated Ethernet style connections to the main router. Standard features of the Aero-SB Lite include the SwiftBroadband channel providing a symmetric "always on" data connection up to 332 kbps for intermediate gain antennas (IGAs) and 432 kbps for high gain antennas (HGAs).

Broadband performance is the mainstay of Thrane & Thrane systems. Company products include the Aero-SB+, which provides phone, fax, cockpit data and high-speed data services.

Other Aero-SB Lite functions are 3.1 kHz audio (14.4 kbps) for modems, G3 fax, high quality voice, integrated services digital network (ISDN) voice for secure communication and G4 fax, ISDN data for video conferences (but only with HGA).

The system also supports a built-in cabin wireless option, WLAN interface (WLAN) IEEE 802.11 b/g and built-in PBX interfacing to two 2-wire connections and one ISDN interface in the SwiftBroadband unit (SBU). This SBU in the Aero-SB system is what provides access to the aeronautical BGAN service SwiftBroadband.

Highlighting the new system, Thrane & Thrane Dir Aeronautical Sales North America Andy Beers says, "Through its compact, lightweight design, Aero-SB Lite enables a much broader range of aircraft to join the broadband era irrespective of size, type and communications budget." Thrane & Thrane considers Aero-SB the lightest, most compact SwiftBroadband solution on the market for Internet, e-mail, VPN, fax and telephone operation.

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