TriaGnoSys outlines vision of DVB-based Internet and TV
EVEN as the new wave of Ku-band satellite connectivity services inches its way towards introduction, one technology provider is already thinking about the best way to adapt them to deliver converged Internet access and live TV.
Axel Jahn is managing director of German company TriaGnoSys, which has a long history of providing software solutions in the world of Inmarsat L-band satcoms. Now he’s turning his attention to Ku-band, proposing that the Digital Video Broadcast (DVB) standards underpinning consumer digital TV – 220 million DVB receivers are in use worldwide - could also bring significant benefits to air-to-ground communications.
Jahn sees a future in which DVB-S, the standard for satellite broadcast of digital TV to terrestrial users, is built into Ku-band services like the emerging Panasonic, Row 44 and ViaSat passenger offerings to support simultaneous multi-channel television reception, two-way broadband Internet access and a range of phone capabilities, including VoIP and cellular.
“DVB-S probably won’t yield any significant improvement in bit rates beyond those advertised today – say maybe 5Mbit/sec to the aircraft, 2Mbit/sec in the other direction,” he says. “But all the services would all be accommodated by the same link, over a single set of equipment and without any reduction in the bandwidth available for Internet access to the Internet.”
Jahn believes that the technical effort needed to build DVB-S into the aeronautical Ku-band systems would not be excessive. “Some of the Ku-band satellite-to-home systems already use DVB-S,” he points out. “There are suitable modems already available – they just have to be adapted for airborne use.”
He envisages a two-stage process. “First, DVB-S in its basic form supports the reception of TV and incoming IP data. So the first step is to take the modems widely used in homes for DVB-S reception and repackage and requalify them for installation in aircraft.”
That would clear the way, Jahn says, for the second and final step – the addition of Return Channel System (RCS) capability to airborne DVB-S to support two-way IP communications. “Again, the necessary modem hardware exists, though some work would have to be done to suppress interference with neighbouring satellites when transmitting from the aircraft. Regulatory work is already under way: RCS is used for terrestrial fixed communications and now the DVB Project standards body is updating it with aeronautical applications in mind.”
Jahn’s views are based on his practical involvement in a number of recent European Commission projects to address the feasibility of DVB-RCS for aviation. They include MOWGLY(Mobile Wideband Global Link System), which also involved Rockwell Collins and culminated in an Airbus demonstration flight in January last year. “It showed that DVB-RCS could be used efficiently for IP connectivity and TV reception, with satellite handovers managed seamlessly,” says Jahn.
This sound basis of prototype technology is matched by an encouraging regulatory environment, Jahn says. “DVB is an open standard, with no proprietary interfaces, which should result in plenty of competition among satellite operators, equipment suppliers and a wide choice for aircraft operators. And as an ETSI standard it will be well supported in the long term, something that is very important to companies investing in product development.”
But it won’t all be plain sailing, Jahn points out. “Digital rights management (DRM) in relation to TV content has cramped the development of analogue inflight television up to now, and the problem will be just as complex in the digital world,” he says. “How do you do the rights management and distribute the royalties when a German aircraft shows British content while flying in French airspace, for instance? All this needs to be fully understood.”
Jahn estimates that DVB-RCS could be making itself felt in air transport about four years from now. “First, the Ku-band connectivity providers have to establish themselves and prove their business case before a movement towards DVB-RCS can begin. Then it would take maybe six months or a year to repackage and certificate of modems. So, with one thing another, I don’t see it becoming a commercial reality before 2012 at the earliest.”
If that tentative timetable holds, however, and the knotty problem of DRM is solved, the airlines may find themselves in the happy position of being able to upgrade their Ku-band broadband systems to handle multiple digital TV channels at a very modest additional cost in new hardware and software.