Satellite provider Inmarsat and German mobile operator Deutsche Telekom, together with technology partners Nokia and Thales, have conducted a programme of test flights in the UK for the European Aviation Network (EAN).
EAN is the world's first integrated satellite and air-to-ground network dedicated to providing in-flight broadband experience for the European aviation industry and for millions of passengers travelling across Europe. The tests mark a major milestone for the project.
EAN is planned for introduction in mid-2017. The flights serve to test the performance of the EAN system including the on-board equipment being provided by Thales (see photo above) and the ground network provided by Deutsche Telekom and Nokia. Construction of S-band satellite and the roll out of approximately 300 LTE sites across Europe remains on track.
As a precursor to the test flight series, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia jointly achieved the first EAN live over-the-air connection, in Nokia's Stuttgart laboratory. There, all components of the LTE ground network were thoroughly tested and validated. The first live connection in the field was accomplished in a broadband video conference with both parties connected via the dedicated EAN LTE mobile network.
To achieve EAN's live connection of the LTE ground network, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia have adapted Nokia's LTE base stations and Remote Radio Heads (RRH) to the frequency used for EAN, provided by Inmarsat, and built a specific base station antenna to cover the sky.
The LTE ground network for EAN differs from ‘normal’ LTE networks as it needs to work at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, at cruising altitudes requiring cells of up to 150 km. Nokia will manage the operations for this advanced network from its global delivery centre in Romania.
In addition to the live network, Nokia and Deutsche Telekom set up a full end-to-end ground network reference system in Stuttgart, Germany, including all components and integrated on-board equipment from partner Thales, to prepare for technical challenges, for example, compensation of the Doppler effect due to high aircraft speeds.
The flight trial tested the performance of the on-board equipment being provided by Thales and the ground network provided by Deutsche Telekom and Nokia. Tests were performed to see if the network could successfully attach to the ground system, which it did at all four test sites located in the south west of the UK.
The systems performed multiple successful handovers between sectors and cell towers, and maintained a stable connection. The transfer of data to and from the aircraft was also tested. The outcomes have exceeded expectations for this early flight trial and provided valuable data for the development teams.
"We are happy that we achieved a major milestone in building the European Aviation Network. With these successful tests we once more underline our goal to be the leading European telecommunications operator," said Claudia Nemat, Board Member Europe and Technology at Deutsche Telekom.
"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's aim is to drive technology leadership to bring best network experience to our customers."
Leo Mondale, president of Aviation, 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."
Thorsten Robrecht, VP, Advanced Mobile Networks Solutions at Nokia, said: " As a global leader in communications technology, we are looking forward to the close cooperation of these distinguished partners to transform the passenger experience and deliver new services with advanced in-flight connectivity."
"We are very proud of our employees who have helped make the first flight trial a huge success and look forward to working with our partners to bring high-speed broadband to passengers and operators across Europe," added Stephen McCann, VP, Avionics at Thales.