Aircraft 4G net set for 2017 launch

Alan Burkitt-Gray
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Deutsche Telekom and Inmarsat say LTE-based European Aviation Network will be launched next year after successful UK trials

Deutsche Telekom has started trials of a new Europe-wide 4G aviation network ahead of a commercial launched planned for the middle of 2017.

The European Aviation Network (EAN) will allow passengers to keep in touch using ground-based LTE where available and Inmarsat satellites in other areas.

Claudia Nemat, Deutsche Telekom’s board member for Europe and technology, said: “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.”

Deutsche Telekom and Inmarsat are working with technology partners Nokia and Thales on EAN on the project, which will use S-band satellite connections and 300 LTE sites across Europe.

The companies have carried out tests in four sites in the south-west of the UK to check that the network can successfully attach to the ground system. Trials included a three-way video call, said Deutsche Telekom.

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.”

Nokia will manage the operations for the network from a global delivery centre in Romania. Nokia and Deutsche Telekom have set up a full end-to-end ground network reference system in Stuttgart, Germany, including all components and integrated on-board equipment from Thales.

Leo Mondale, president of aviation at Inmarsat said: “EAN is progressing extremely well, both on the ground as well as in the air, to achieve the world’s first integrated service providing true in-flight broadband experience. The actual performance and quality of the in-flight datalink exceeds design expectations and is truly game changing for European airlines. We look forward to further successful testing milestones working with all the EAN partners to bring together this integrated system.”