LTE aviation network books new satellite launch for 2017

08 December 2016 | Alan Burkitt-Gray


Deutsche Telekom’s 4G network for passenger aircraft is back on track to go live in 2017 after the satellite company, Inmarsat, moved its launch plans to Arianespace.

Inmarsat was due to launch the satellite, which will deliver LTE services to passenger aircraft across Europe, via SpaceX. But after a launchpad explosion at Cape Canaveral in September SpaceX’s schedule is delayed.

The European Aviation Network (EAN) will use a mixture of satellites and specially designed base stations to provide 4G services to aircraft passengers.

“We are delighted with flexibility that Arianespace has shown in being able to provide a launch slot that enables us to place our European Aviation Network S-band satellite in orbit by mid-2017,” said Michele Franci, CTO of Inmarsat.

The satellite will now be launched from Arianespace’s pad in Kourou, French Guiana, in the middle of 2017.

“This launch schedule supports the introduction of our ground-breaking integrated satellite and air-to-ground network, developed by Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, which will deliver a very high capacity broadband Wifi experience for passengers flying throughout Europe,” said Franci.

Deutsche Telekom has already carried out trials of the EAN in the south-west of the UK, working with equipment vendors Nokia and Thales.

Claudia Nemat, Deutsche Telekom’s board member for Europe and technology, said last month: “The EAN allows us to offer our customers outstanding connectivity services not only on the ground but also in the sky. The new technology based on LTE standard makes sure that EAN is flexible for any further technology developments in the future.”

The EAN is different from regular LTE networks because it has to work with aircraft flying at up to 1,200km/h, at cruising altitudes requiring cells of up to 150km across. The speed means the system has to compensate for the Doppler effect, which changes the frequencies as they are received.

“With these successful tests we once more underline our goal to be the leading European telecommunications operator,” said Nemat. “Deutsche Telekom’s aim is to drive technology leadership to bring best network experience to our customers.”

Another service that is facing delay because of SpaceX’s problems is US company Iridium, which was due to start launching its first new satellite fleet since the 1990s next week. That is now likely to be moved to January, said SpaceX on Wednesday. Iridium is due to launch the first 10 of its planned 70 satellites on one rocket.