Tough Questions Airlines Should Ask Before Making Connectivity Commitments
High-throughput satellite (HTS) systems are poised to transform the future of aviation, delivering incredibly fast speeds that make it possible for airlines to meet growing passenger connectivity demand and improve aircraft efficiency to minimize delays, ensure faster turnaround times and transform the overall travel experience.
Airlines are concerned, rightfully so, about whether they’re making the right investments and working with a provider who can adequately support them. Industry noise on the topic can be misleading, but when it comes down to it, there are just a few important questions that need to be asked when evaluating a provider:
- How many HTS satellites has the provider signed and committed to their network? HTS satellites have commenced service within the past year, with operators making claims for global connectivity. It is important to find out how many satellites the provider will have globally. For instance, how resilient will their network be in the event of a satellite failure or launch delay? If you’ve signed with a provider on the promise of future capabilities, then you need to be assured it will be delivered as planned and that there are alternatives to recover from unexpected technical problems. Reliance on a single satellite in any given region to deliver a consistently high level of service is a risky business proposition.
- How can capacity be assured over high-traffic routes? Airplanes fly the same flight paths during similar hours, causing spikes in demand that can overload any HTS system. How will the provider will be able to supply enough capacity over dense routes? This is a realistic concern, so it’s important to know what’s being done to manage demand and layer capacity. Do they rely entirely on HTS spot beams? Is there a way to offload the traffic to other in-orbit resources? Depending on the application, wide beam satellites can be used to broadcast video and other content to the plane, while spot beams can be used to support two-way, high-speed internet traffic. Not all traffic is created equal, and there should be options available to meet the full range of requirements for seamless connectivity
- How long will it take to benefit from faster connectivity? The answer to this question should be “today” – and it shouldn’t require a costly implementation of new antennas. For instance, our Intelsat Epic HTS overlays our existing global network and is backward compatible with it, which means customers can immediately benefit from improved performance levels as each Epic satellite is deployed.
- How are my planes protected from cyber attacks? When connecting aircraft, it is important to ask service providers and satellite operators about the security of the entire connectivity architecture, not just the satellites. What is their security posture to mitigate the gamut of attacks that are pervasive in today’s environment? Asking for third-party audits and verification of the network security posture is critical to ensuring resilience and mission assurance.
- What speeds can actually be delivered to the aircraft? Whether there are 50 or 300 passengers on a plane, they will expect in-flight connectivity to be no different than at home or in their local coffee shop. For business travelers, their ability to easily connect to the corporate VPN and work uninterrupted is becoming a deciding factor when choosing an airline. Shop around and make an informed decision. While some networks can deliver great throughput speeds to the plane, what about the return rates? This is an area where the ranges can differ significantly between providers.
We’re just starting to unleash the full potential for high-speed connectivity in the skies. But airlines need to start asking their service providers the tough questions, and not settle for anything less than seamless, redundant, global coverage. Promises of HTS performance are not enough. Ultimately, it’s about ensuring the provider can address their in-flight connectivity demands today – and well into the future.