AirCell Inc has announced the completion of the demo phase of its direct air-to-ground technology for in-flight WiFi connectivity.
A number of companies are developing so-called WiFi-in-the-sky capabilities, in particular the Connexion by Boeing, CBB, division of the US aircraft manufacturer and OnAir, which has Boeing’s main competitor Airbus as a shareholder. Services based on CBB are already available on longhaul flights from a number of airlines.
Both these groups’ technologies involve installing access points on the aircraft and using satellite for the air-to-ground leg of the connection. AirCell, on the other hand, has installed special upturned antennas on an existing 125 cellular base stations across the US, with which it plans to backhaul data and voice over WiFi connections, passing them on into the PSTN network, without the need for a satellite.
Because the system uses standardized equipment and a direct air-to-ground link, its installation and operating costs will be a fraction of similar systems that use satellites, said the Louisville, Colorado-based company. The AirCell Broadband System supports all the common WiFi and cellular standards required for the US market, and in the demos carried out in recent weeks was used for apps such as email, as well as VoIP calling from a Skype client and watching broadcast TV with a Slingbox device from Sling Media Inc.
However, the service, which promises to offer WiFi connectivity at prices below services using CBB or OnAir, will only be available in North America. The frequency band in which the service will operate is the 800MHz range, which the FCC is repurposing for direct air-to-ground, a situation Europe’s multi-country, multi-regulator scenario makes impossible. In other large landmasses where it might be appropriate, such as Australasia or South America, the land infrastructure simply doesn’t support the antenna network AirCell is envisioning.
AirCell expects commercial services based on direct air-to-ground technology to become available in 2007.