The in-flight connectivity (IFC) marketplace is bustling, with the number of connected business jets expected to keep rising. Valour Consultancy, market intelligence services specializing in this space, predicted “the number of IFC terminals installed on business jets will rise to almost 32,000 in 2029 – up from 20,689 at the end of 2019.”
There are many solutions available to help keep you connected to friends, family and business partners when you fly. They vary by aircraft type and flight path.
There are two basic ways to get connected on an aircraft, one is using data connections from the ground through dedicated ATG (Air to Ground) networks. They rely on the existing network of mobile communications towers as their source. The alternative is signal by satellite.
There are three categories of satellites:
GEO – Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit satellites are “fixed” high orbiting satellites which move at the same velocity as Earth and follow a path parallel to the Earth’s rotation. These are the powerhouse satellites that enable most of our global telecommunications, from television signals to government applications. They orbit around 35,000 km (22,000 miles) above the ground. Each satellite covers a wide area, and a network of three can cover all the Earth, with two limitations—there is a coverage gap at the poles. The Earth’s curvature prevents the signal from reaching your aircraft above +70 degrees or below -70 degrees latitude.
MEO – Medium-Earth Orbit satellites are closer to Earth, generally positioned between 5,000 and 12,000 km (3,100 – 7,500 miles) altitude. That brings them closer to originating signal on the ground, and to aircraft, but they are generally smaller than GEO satellites with narrower coverage area. It can take anywhere between eight to twenty of these satellites to cover the globe. One advantage is that at this altitude they can cover the northernmost and southernmost latitudes, including the poles. Another advantage is the speed of the signal exchange.
LEO — Low-Earth Orbit satellite constellations are largely under development. When they are complete, they will help deliver high-speed connectivity in areas where there is no ground telecommunications infrastructure, or where there is demand for greater capacity. These small satellites orbit between 800 – 1,600 km (500 – 1,000 miles) above Earth’s surface, flying faster than higher constellations. It takes hundreds of them to build a constellation that would cover the globe.
All satellites, and the antennas fitted on your plane to capture their signals, do an amazing job keeping data flowing to a small aircraft flying at very high speeds. But the type of satellite connection can influence coverage area, latency, speed and quality of connectivity.
There is an inherent delay (latency) as data travels from the source to the satellite to your aircraft, and back to the satellite to the ground. This latency is greatest on GEO satellites (~600 milliseconds) and lowest on Air-to-Ground connectivity services (~200 milliseconds). Both of these are still slower than the latency on your home internet connection (~25 milliseconds) and your mobile LTE connection on the ground (~50 milliseconds). It’s a very tiny fraction of a minute, but that latency may be noticeable when processing large packages of data, like streaming entertainment, or a video-conference.
The in-flight connectivity market is a competitive field with many large players vying to deliver global coverage in the skies. There are a number of regulatory and infrastructure hurdles to overcome in each region. For now, the business aviation market with the largest array of connectivity options available is in the U.S., but Europe also offers a variety of connectivity solutions that will ensure you don’t lose touch when you take-off.
Ask your LunaJets advisor about the connectivity options available when you book your jet, and don’t hesitate to specify if you will have special connectivity needs for your trip, we will be happy to meet your requirements.