With the growth in the internet of things (IoT), there is rarely a moment when we aren’t connected. Air travel used to be a time when we had to turn our tech off, but no more: planes, too, are becoming a node in the IoT.
However, if you’re a frequent traveler you’ve likely experienced the pain that is inflight Wi-Fi. You get in the air, find out there’s internet access, pay the unworldly fee, and you’re supposedly good to go. We say supposedly because inflight Wi-Fi is famously slow and spotty, and while some are advertised as high-speed, you are restricted from using streaming services like Netflix, Spotify, and HBO Go. Although it’s definitely a feat of engineering that there’s internet in a plane at all, it could use some work. And that’s where Honeywell is stepping in.
Last week, in San Francisco, we had the opportunity to check out what Honeywell has been working on in the way of in-flight internet connections, and we were pleasantly surprised. The company is conducting a worldwide tour on a 757 “Connected Aircraft,” and it’s demonstrating its satellite-based inflight Wi-Fi concept in partnership with Boeing and GX Aviation (the Wi-Fi services arm of satellite communications company, Inmarsat, which counts Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways as customers).
“You’ve got to be able to connect in-flight, even through conditions that are tough on a satellite receiver.”
Using satellites for broadband internet isn’t new — the concept dates back to 2000 when Boeing launched its now-defunct Connexion service, and, today, it can be found on planes serviced by GX Aviation, Gogo, Panasonic Avionics, Global Eagle, and Viasat, among others. To date, most airlines in the U.S. connect to the internet through air-to-ground (ATG) connections (Gogo is largest service provider in this front). Switching over to satellites helps alleviate many of the issues associated with air-to-ground connections, primarily a constant connection that covers a wider area, including over large bodies of water. And what early satellite technology lacked in speed, the newest equipment, such as Honeywell’s JetWave (the onboard product used by GX Aviation to connect to three existing Inmarsat Ka-band satellites), aims to improve that.
With its Connected Aircraft, Honeywell is demoing just how its hardware delivers on said performance. And, because the JetWave uses two receivers instead of one, it results in speeds that are up to 100 times faster when compared to existing global connectivity solutions today. According to Honeywell, the simultaneous beams to the satellite allows for seamless switching, and it’s how it achieves a consistent experience, whether over land or water – one beam allows users to stay connected, while the second receiver acquires the new spot beam as an aircraft moves from one beam to another. GX users use one beam at a timeThe JetWave equipment can be installed in new planes prior to delivery to airline partners, but Honeywell says older aircraft could easily be retrofitted with JetWave.