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ASiQ turns to bizjets with onboard cellphone solution

10th April 2009 - 13:33 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


Australian connectivity specialist ASiQ says that a new version of its SafeCell low-cost onboard cellphone system has been operational aboard a Dassault Falcon 2000EX business jet for the past three months.

SafeCell was first unveiled three years ago, when it was being pitched primarily to the airlines. In that form it comprised a software load for the user’s cellphone, a small external hardware accessory called the Communicator, and a radio-opaque pouch designed to enclose the phone and rule out interference with aircraft avionics and ground networks.

The software was designed to be loaded to the phone in the same way as, for example, a new ringtone. It would take control of the phone, disabling the voice function and routing SMS and text email messages via USB cable or Bluetooth short-range wireless to the Communicator.

The Communicator was essentially a miniature transceiver capable of receiving cellular data in all the leading formats (including GSM, CDMA, W-CDMA and UMTS), processing it and transmitting it to the aircraft’s existing WiFi cabin wireless network for delivery to a dedicated SafeCell server. The latter then handed the messages off to the aircraft’s existing Inmarsat satcoms installation for transmission to the ground.

In its latest, bizjet-oriented, guise SafeCell does away with the Communicator and radio-opaque pouch. It allows voice as well as data, and is optimised to work with the Iridium satcoms installations that are increasingly common on light/medium business aircraft.

The new architecture is based squarely on Bluetooth. Proprietary Java software installed on the passenger’s phone compels it to use its built-in Bluetooth capability instead of cellular frequencies to communicate with a Bluetooth access point connected by Ethernet to the satcoms installation. The call is then carried to the ground by satellite in the same way as traffic over the Inmarsat-based AeroMobile and OnAir systems.

“We think Bluetooth is the future of wireless in aircraft,” says ASiQ chief executive Ron Chapman. “Nokia has dropped its WiMAX phone plans, and only 10 per cent of cellphones have WiFi compared with 90 per cent with Bluetooth. The latest version of Bluetooth delivers 3Mbit/sec at up to 100m range, and is expected to get even quicker. What’s more, it has already been shown to be safe for use in aircraft.”

A SafeCell messaging and text email capability is due to be commercially available this month, according to ASiQ, with voice to be introduced by the middle of the year. Equipment for messaging/email will cost $10,000, rising to $20,000 for a system that can also support voice. Each installation will include handsets and, with voice-capable systems, noise-cancelling wireless headsets.

According to Chapman, calls via SafeCell will not incur cellular international roaming charges, resulting in estimated costs of $1/minute for voice and $0.25 for text messages: “This inflight cellphone solution is 95 per cent cheaper and 90 per cent lighter than competing systems, and cuts communications costs by more than half.”

An airline system is in development, Chapman says.

The Shephard News Team


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