Inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) has been widely installed on major airlines’ aircraft and has become an expectation of passengers on long-haul flights and on most journeys not taken on very low-cost carriers. The connectivity portion of this service has been supplied by air-to-ground towers or, increasingly, by satellites in high geostationary orbits (GEOs).
Now the next step in connectivity is going up--satellites in low and medium earth orbits, or LEOS and MEOs. These new satellites are attractive for several reasons.
First, because they will massively increase the amount of bandwidth available. Euroconsult estimates that GEOs have provided about 2,000 gigabits per second (gbps) of capacity. By 2025, new GEOs, plus LEO and MEO constellations, could sex-tuple that total to about 13,000 gbps.
Next, price. Euroconsult CEO Pacome Revillon estimates that all the new capacity could slice the cost per megabit per month current prices by 50-67%.
Third, LEOs and MEOs can provide much better connectivity in Polar Regions than GEOs. Lastly, LEOs and GEOs reduce latency, so responses come faster over the Internet.
The implications are that many carriers that now use GEOs to connect will want to switch to LEO and MEO support. And some airlines that have not had connections before will seek the new, better service at lower prices.
This will generally mean at least some new equipment. Except for some Gogo and GEE antennas, today’s antennas that receive GEO signals will not work very well with LEO and MEO transmissions. And LEO and MEO connectivity may also require additional modems inside the cabin.
How soon will all this happen? It’s not just around the corner yet. Revillon says commercial availability of at least one LEO or MEO constellation and possibly several could occur by 2022. But the satellites might not provide global coverage 24/7, and 2023 should be a safer planning date. In addition, major airlines will want connectivity solutions that are fully tested and approved. So the big switch to LEOs and MEOs might not happen until 2024.