Jet Setting With Broadband

Come fly with me and surf the Internet while you’re at it? Adding new
meaning to high-speed connections, communications firm Arinc is rolling out
two-way satellite broadband service for business aircraft.

Under a license granted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the
Annapolis, Md.-based company’s SkyLink can service up to 1,000 private
aircraft over the continental United States. Arinc anticipates the service
will be available on North Atlantic routes and in Europe by next year.

SkyLink offers Internet access, e-mail, corporate intranet
access, in-flight videoconferencing and Voice over IP as
an option. Gulfstream, which has flight-tested SkyLink on its aircraft since
2003, purchased the first 15 sets of the avionics to fill existing customer
orders, and it plans to make it standard equipment on a number of its jets.

Bob Thompson, senior director of satellite services at Arinc, said the
company originally planned to develop VoIP as a near-term goal after first
rolling out the broadband service. Then a customer came in with a Cisco
router and wanted it installed.

“Twenty minutes later, we had it up and running,” he said.

Arinc began developing the SkyLink system in the late 1990s as part of a
plan to put the service into commercial airlines. When cost concerns cooled
airlines’ interest, Thompson said the company decided to focus on business jets.

According to Thompson, the SkyLink system can be expanded to handle
commercial airline capacity, but the company is waiting to see if they want to go down that road.

In December, the FCC rolled out several new proposals
for ground-to-air communications, including the in-flight use of cell phones
and broadband Internet connections.

“[In-flight] broadband connections are being challenged by 802.11 and other
wireless phone services,” Thompson said. “They require less capacity and
aren’t as expensive.”

Arinc will be testing cell phone service on an unnamed European commercial
airliner this summer, and hopes for regulatory approval by the end of the

The company’s private jet service is delivered via a Ku-band satellite
operated by SkyLink partner and investor SES Americom.

“It’s the same satellites used by direct-to-home television, and most are
continental in coverage,” Thompson said. Arinc’s U.S. system requires only
one ground station in Carlsbad, N.M.

The SkyLink avionics package from ViaSat, which includes the transceiver, antenna and antenna control unit, weighs fewer than 40 pounds. Once the
equipment is installed, broadband service is distributed in the aircraft
through either a wired or wireless network.

“The award of the SkyLink FCC license allows the commercial launch… to roll
forward immediately,” Dave Poltorak, Arinc’s vice president for business
aviation services, said in a statement. “Our launch customer, Gulfstream,
has already logged more than 700 hours of successful flight with the
experimental SkyLink service on board.”

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