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Thales to flight-test integrated IFE/connectivity early next year

3rd November 2008 - 19:13 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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Thales plans to fly the TopConnect integrated IFE/connectivity offering in its own testbed aircraft within the next six months.

Unveiled at Aircraft Interiors in Hamburg during March, TopConnect combines the company’s TopSeries in-seat IFE system with its TopFlight Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-capable satcoms equipment. Thales says that two of its airline customers have already opted for the solution.

TopConnect  is designed to add Internet access, email and text messaging functions to TopSeries’ AVOD entertainment. It will also allow passengers to use their own wireless-enabled laptops and other devices for connectivity, and will deliver a combination of cached and live news and other content.

TopConnect has been developed by Thales in partnership with Airbus/SITA connectivity service provider OnAir and communications hardware manufacturer Airbus-KID Systeme. OnAir will act as global service provider for TopConnect, with KID contributing system elements.
 Aircraft hardware comprises a TopFlight Inmarsat terminal, a dedicated connectivity server, and WiFi and GSM/GPRS networks. Software applications such as the news portals can be hosted on the TopSeries IFE server. 

“We expect more passengers to want to access the service through their seatback screens than with personal devices,” Alan Pellegrini, general manager of Thales’ IFE business, said earlier this year. “So we felt it was very important to integrate it with the IFE.”

Passengers will see three primary applications – an airline-customised intranet portal offering cached information that is regularly updated live via the satellite link, Thales’ own text messaging function, and the Webchat and Webmail capabilities already developed by OnAir. “The use of SwiftBroadband for the air-to-ground link will dramatically cut the cost to passengers of text messaging, to as much as a tenth of current levels,” said Pellegrini.  

System development has now reached a point where flight testing is expected to begin early next year. The platform will be a Bordeaux Merignac-based DC-9-21 that the company has operated for eight years as a dedicated airborne electronics demonstrator. It is currently dedicated to TopFlight and TopConnect development, with an extensively modified interior featuring VIP, technical and demonstration areas. The technical area has a number of equipment cabinets, with dedicated power supplies, a cooling system and navigation data sources.

The TopFight/TopConnect equipment was installed in July. It comprises the TopFlight satcoms unit and provision for a variety of latest-generation ARINC 781 intermediate and high-gain antennas, the TopConnect connectivity server and an 802.11b/g  wireless access point. The installation supports providing wired and wireless Internet/VPN access and VoIP telephony via the 432kbit/sec SwiftBroadband service.

Flight-testing of TopFlight began in August, initially covering cockpit voice and data via Inmarsat’s safety services-capable Classic Aero system; SwiftBroadband trials will begin later this year. The installation will subsequently be used to test alternative antennas and other forms connectivity such as onboard GSM cellphone.

 

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