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Aircraft Interiors: T-Mobile team shows its Ku-band hand

2nd April 2009 - 16:34 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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One of the longest-running stories in the connectivity saga could be coming to an end, Inflight Online understands. T-Mobile, VT Miltope, ViaSat and TriaGnoSys have formally announced that they have teamed to offer a Ku-band satellite broadband and GSM telephony service for air transport.

It’s an open secret that the newly formalised partnership has been working together since shortly after the demise of Connexion by Boeing in 2006 in a bid to define an offering to replace that system with Lufthansa, which valued it highly and is keen to find a replacement.

With German-headquartered mobile phone operator T-Mobile acting as the service lynchpin, VT Miltope has put together an airborne equipment fit. Californian mobile satellite specialist ViaSat is responsible for satellite networking infrastructure and Munich-based TriaGnoSys for software development.

The service offering comprises an onboard WiFi hotspot to support broadband access via passenger laptops and smartphones. T-Mobile will make available a variety of payment methods, and interface with airline loyalty programmes will be possible.

The T-Mobile-led team is known to have been involved in protracted discussions with Lufthansa in relation to what could be the last sticking points before a contract. They are also reported to be in negotiations with two other long-haul carriers and to have reached a shortlist of two potential providers with one of them.

They continue to study the all-important antenna choice. There are a number of potential suppliers of lightweight, compact second-generation Ku-band antennas. Candidates are ViaSat itself, which provides equipment for the successful ARINC SKYLink broadband service for business aviation; AeroSat, now flying on Row 44’s trial services with Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines; EMS Technologies, selected for Panasonic’s eXconnect; and Germany’s QEST, teamed with Tecom of the USA. Of these, AeroSat is understood to be the front-runner.     

The new teaming brings an impressive array of credentials to the Ku-band connectivity marketplace. VT Miltope supplied significant volumes of cabin equipment, including wireless access points, to Connexion by Boeing. ViaSat is fast emerging as a major player in both equipment supply and service provision. Its recently launched Yonder service competes with ARINC SKYLink in the business/VIP aviation market. And TriGnoSys has been responsible for a string of innovative developments in connection with the Inmarsat L-band satellite system, widely used by airlines, business operators and governments.

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