Northrop Grumman has opened a new microelectronics micro-line facility to provide materials for next-generation systems.
WAEA: Voyant promises biggest bandwidth yet
"WE AIM to deliver 10-35Mbit/sec to every aircraft in the fleet, at a cost per bit at least ten times less than that of a satellite-based system," Steffen Koehler, chief marketing officer of Voyant Aviation Broadband, said here yesterday.
The Mountain View, California-based company was set up a couple of years ago to exploit for air-to-ground broadband communications the open-access spectrum in the 700MHz band that the US Federal Communications Commission released last year. "We believe we can provide more bandwidth per aircraft than any other system, satellite or terrestrial, at a cost similar to those associated with terrestrial air-to-ground systems like Aircell's Gogo," Koehler said.
The company has begun to generate evidence to back up its claims. It says that in flight tests during July its pilot-production software-defined radio and production-standard modem supported data rates of up to 50Mbit/sec over a range of 100 miles between the aircraft and a ground station in Florida. "We're planning to do further tests as early as this Friday," said Koehler.
Voyant expects to see its first ground network - comprising around a hundred stations initially, growing to 300 for full continental coverage - rolled out in 2009-10. Unlike Aircell, the company sees its solution as immediately applicable to several large land masses besides North America. "Our target markets include the USA, Europe and China, with Europe possibly the most attractive," Koehler said. "Northern Europeans in particular are spoilt for bandwidth in their homes and offices - they have high expectations."
The final trigger for a network rollout will be a first airline agreement, according to Koehler. "We're in deep discussions with several airlines," he said. "Any network we put in place will be based on existing cellular infrastructure, with our ground antennas mounted on top of the towers to look upwards. Compared with the locations that the cellular operators need, this is the low-rent district. Overall, we expect our network implementation costs to be similar to Aircell's."
Two other US companies - Wi-SKY and DataRunway - have similar plans. The first has demonstrated air-to-ground WiMAX, the second says it will show a WiFi-based capability within the next three months. "We will operate in a completely different part of the spectrum and will offer much higher data rates," Koehler said.
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