Thursday, 17 December 2020 17:08

NZ prepares for in-flight broadband trial


In-flight broadband could be coming to New Zealand thanks to an agreement between Auckland-based engineering company Broadtech Group and Germany-based in-flight connectivity specialist SkyFive.

A memorandum of understanding between the two companies calls for a detailed technical evaluation and a proof-of-concept trial of SkyFive’s direct-air-to-ground (DA2G) system, and potentially a nationwide rollout.

New Zealand's Flightcell International will provide the DA2G on-board terminal.

SkyFive's technology is already in use with the European Aviation Network (EAN) covering 35 countries and providing data speeds of up to 100 Mbps per aircraft with less than 50 milliseconds end-to-end latency even in high-altitude jet aircraft.

Organisations expressing interest in participating in the trial include NZ Police, St Johns Air Ambulance, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, the Royal NZ Air Force and the commercial airlines. All are said to be keen to experience high-speed access to their private networks or Internet-based data for purposes including the secure streaming of high-definition video for marine and terrain surveillance, and transmitting critical patients’ biometric data ahead to hospitals.

Broadtech recently secured a trial spectrum licence in the proposed A2G frequency band in New Zealand.

DA2G is said to overcome the disadvantages of other types of data communications with aircraft.

Traditional cellular networks are not optimised for airborne operation, resulting in poor performance. Satellite-based systems are expensive, provide limited bandwidth, and add to fuel consumption (and therefore cost and carbon emissions) due to the added drag created by the fuselage-mounted transceiver.

DA2G cellular networks are land-based, but optimised for aerial coverage (and optionally ground coverage for airports and heliports). This improves bandwidth, reduces latency, and supports private and secure services.

They are built on 4G and 5G network standards with enhancements to deal with issues around altitude and speed.

New Zealand's DA2G trial network design is almost complete, and the physical build will commence soon in Auckland and Waikato.

“We are delighted to announce our partnership with SkyFive for this pilot-study, and to explore the opportunity to build a DA2G network across New Zealand. Our technical experts are working together to develop the ecosystem in New Zealand to bring this outstanding technical solution to the NZ aviation industry," said Broadtech Group managing director Merv Taylor.

SkyFive director of APAC business development Zoltan Losteiner said: “We are thrilled to be participating in the development of the local ecosystem to enable SkyFive’s DA2G to be trialled, and eventually commercially developed in this part of the world. We are committed to keeping New Zealanders at the cutting edge of technology and are confident that they will benefit from SkyFive’s global reach, expertise and agility to create new value for the aviation industry and its customers.”

SkyFive was founded by former Nokia executives, and in late 2019 the company acquired a substantial part of Nokia's air-to-ground assets (including patents) and many employees of Nokia's A2G business joined SkyFive.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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