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Is Airline Connectivity Paralleling Maritime VSAT Adoption?

With the dawn of autonomous, unmanned ships in the future of maritime connectivity and the uptick in VSAT adoption in the aviation industry, it is natural to look at what the two industries can learn from each other.

The Demand Curve

The aviation industry has seen a relatively steep demand in VSAT adoption for in-flight passenger connectivity. With VSAT able to deliver higher data rates and continuous coverage for domestic and international flights, most major airlines are offering passengers the ability to stream movies and video, as well as Wi-Fi connectivity for high-speed Internet.

Maritime VSAT was originally driven by ship crew welfare and entertainment needs to access applications like email, Facebook, online banking and browsing. Similarly, passenger use and entertainment is driving VSAT use on aircraft for access to the same types of applications. Over the years, maritime commercial applications like system automation, preventative maintenance, logistics, live video and reporting have overcome crew welfare as the priority use of VSAT. It is logical to predict that airline commercial applications for flight attendants, pilots, engineers and systems will overcome passenger priority for the use of VSAT. Once companies discover the operational efficiencies and conveniences of a broadband, persistent connection to the aircraft, there is no stopping the innovative ways in which it will be utilized.   

While the number of maritime VSAT sites doubled from 2008 to 2014 and is projected to more than double again by 2018 with over 44,000 sites, one-time technological challenges like traveling speed and daunting costs have historically held the airline industry back. New advancements allowing smaller antennas are now more affordable and effective while increased broadband capabilities, passenger expectations and flight and maintenance crew needs are changing that. As BlueTide’s CEO and Managing Director Emil Regard has already pointed out, “BlueTide pioneered live video applications on vessels. Is live video from aircraft far behind?” Just as VSAT services have modernized the maritime industry, those same technological capabilities are now essential for effective airborne communications.

Maritime Technology Path for Airborne Communications

The airlines and aviation fleets have made significant advancements in delivering continuous, real-time broadband Internet access for both domestic and international routes with the use of multiple satellite beams and even combination Ku/Ka band technology. Although airborne VSAT is primarily used for passenger connectivity today, as the need for operational connectivity by maintenance crews, flight attendants and cockpit personnel increases, the airline industry will need to innovate and look to the maritime industry for inspiration in how to manage this precious resource for disparate user groups and activities. While the potential for passenger monetization has attracted a great deal of attention, VSAT capabilities also increase logistics efficiencies fleet-wide with real-time mapping and geo-fencing, automation, weather, maintenance and other cloud-based technologies.

VSAT Optimization Technologies

With multiple classes of users onboard, there will have to be more sophisticated ways to manage bandwidth use by group, individual, device and application. Adoption of higher throughputs and HTS satellites will help bring more bandwidth to each aircraft. However, as with maritime industry, airborne connectivity will not deliver the same experience as a land-based connection. This discrepancy will always leave the users wanting more.

Dynamically allocating bandwidth lets access flow from one user group to another while preserving dedicated bandwidth for the most critical operations and tasks. Applications like BlueTide’s AMP – Access Management Portal – app lets customers manage their wireless networks remotely by blocking or authorizing devices instantly for real-time control. Tools like application filtering ensure high-priority applications receive more bandwidth than less urgent functions and prevent bandwidth hogs from disrupting operations.

Cybersecurity

At the forefront of every mission are the issues of malware, viruses, streaming updates and background content that not only consume bandwidth, but also compromise proprietary data. This issue is further compounded with the introduction of non-secure passenger devices on a network. The maritime industry has developed numerous tools and applications for visibility, accountability, content and application filtering, automatic application updates and Wi-Fi control.  Many of the most operation-critical functions like systems automation, vessel mapping, cloud computing, live and recorded video, and monitoring rely on real-time cybersecurity solutions like BlueTide’s SECaaS – Security as a Service – for continuity of operations and minimization of network threats.

Voice and Video

While there are logical reasons to limit the use of voice technologies for passengers—imagine sitting in a middle seat while passengers on both sides talk on the phone—there could be other uses for voice on an aircraft.  For example, flight crew could simply call the airport ahead to schedule any unforeseen maintenance, catering or cleaning needs. This is how the ball gets rolling.

Video in the maritime industry is currently used for logistics, communications and security. Maritime communications have been able to incorporate traditionally data-intensive, real-time video transmission into applications like BlueTide’s DeckVision, for example, which allows both onshore and offshore real-time viewing of cargo or other operational areas. There is no reason why airlines would not be able to discover valuable and efficient use for real-time and recorded video the same way maritime vessels have.

Going Airborne

The process of integrating new technologies into daily aviation practices has challenges, but for companies who fully understand system capabilities and requirements, progression to airborne VSAT is a natural next step. Just as the aviation industry includes everything from drones and small fixed-wing trainers to cargo planes and airbuses, the maritime VSAT industry has packages to serve recreational boaters, yachts and fishing trawlers as well as cargo vessels, supply vessels and oil rigs. To learn more about VSAT capabilities and package offerings, visit BlueTide or contact one of our representatives for more information.

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