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TriaGnoSys team promises to slash cost of onboard cellphone
Onboard mobile phone connectivity at a fraction of the cost of today’s services is the promise of a new offering to be showcased at next week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.
German air-to-ground communications software specialist TriaGnoSys has teamed with Israeli-headquartered telephony solutions provider EIM Telecom to bring into aircraft cabins the latter’s Skuku technology, which allows IP-based communications devices to roam on to GSM cellular networks. EIM Telecom is already marketing Skuku to users on the ground; TriaGnoSys is responsible for the software that adapts it for airborne use.
The partners are offering a small, inexpensive USB-based device that will allow mobile phone subscribers to carry out voice calls and text messaging via the aircraft’s existing air-to-ground system, but without any need for the airline to install the cellular picocell and other equipment currently used to support onboard cellphone. Passengers will also benefit, having access to their usual mobile numbers and address books and paying little more than national rates for calls rather than the international roaming tariffs currently imposed.
“Aircraft operators can exploit technology already on board to provide an additional passenger service,” says TriaGnoSys managing director Axel Jahn. “All that’s needed is a simple software upgrade on the aircraft’s existing cabin communications server. And the technology can easily be integrated into current IP-enabled inflight entertainment systems.”
The Skuku device (pictured) has a slot for the passenger’s SIM card, removed from the phone for the duration of the flight. With the SIM in place, the device is designed to plug into the USB ports that are now increasingly common in seatback IFE. Typically, the combination of Skuku device and seatback screen would allow the passenger to send and receive text messages, and to pay via his standard monthly mobile phone bill.
In airline service, says Jahn, the carriers could choose either to distribute the cheap – Eur1-2 apiece – USB devices free of charge, like IFE headsets, or collect a small fee for access to the service.
Jahn sees onboard Skuku being used in at least two other ways. “It will also provide GSM voice through VoIP software running on a passenger wireless laptop, the IFE system or dedicated hardware like the Skypephone,” he says. “This will be registered on the ground as GSM calling and billed accordingly.”
Skuku will also work with the Iridium satellite phones popular among business jet operators and the Inmarsat satphones fitted in both bizjets and long-haul airliners. “These phones have their own special satellite numbering schemes and normally stand apart from the ground mobile networks,” explains Jahn. “But Skuku software installed on the ground servers can now redirect GSM calls to these satellite phones. Once the user’s SIM card has been read, it will be possible to make and receive GSM calls.”
Inmarsat and Iridium are currently the commonest existing air-to-ground links on airliners and business jets. But others – Aircell’s Gogo EV-DO cellular-based passenger broadband offering in North America, and Ku-band satellite systems like ARINC SKYLink, Row 44 and Panasonic eXconnect – are emerging. “In principle all you need is IP connectivity, and that’s fundamental to both Gogo and the Ku-band systems,” says Jahn.
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