Honeywell and Inmarsat to Improve in-Flight Connectivity

Data speeds on planes are expected to surge in about two years as a result of the companies' work

Honeywell and Inmarsat have signed a deal to cooperate on next-generation in-flight connectivity systems that will increase the maximum bandwidth to 50M bps (bits per second), they said on Wednesday.

Honeywell will develop the onboard hardware that will connect to Inmarsat's Global Xpress network.

The bandwidth increase is possible thanks to the system's use of the so-called Ka-band, which is found between 26.5GHz and 40GHz.

The availability of larger chunks of spectrum in that band -- compared to what current systems have at their disposal in the Ku-band -- makes the increase to a maximum 50M bps possible, according to a spokesman at Inmarsat. That compares to Inmarsat's existing system, which offers speeds at up to 0.4M bps, he said.

To improve performance, the Global Xpress network will also use spot beam technology, which in turn uses lots of smaller beams of data to communicate between the satellite and the ground, the spokesman said.

Global Xpress is scheduled for launch in 2013, with global service availability for commercial, business aviation and government customers during 2014.

The market for in-flight communication systems will get more competitive in the future. Deutsche Telekom, Alcatel-Lucent and Airbus have tested data communication between an aircraft and the ground, using LTE, which will help make in-flight data access cheaper, they said in March.

Systems that use LTE are expected to become commercially available in 2015. The timing of the introduction is dependant on several factors, including the availability of spectrum, a spokesman at Alcatel-Lucent said via email at the time.

The deal between Honeywell and Inmarsat is exclusive and is estimated to result in US$2.8 billion for Honeywell in sales of hardware, customer service, and maintenance to airlines, governments and OEMs over the next two decades, according to a statement.

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