" ITREALMS: Understanding in-flight GSM solution

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Understanding in-flight GSM solution

Features of the week:

Plans are rift to introduce in-flight Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) solution worldwide. REMMY NWEKE examines some of the technologies behind the innovation.

'Dying to use your mobile phone while air bound, don’t worry your ‘miracle’ is just around the corner, if the tinkering of telecommunications equipment manufacturers is anything to go by'.

SHUTTLING for business between major cities of the country, namely Kaduna, Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, through aircrafts could make life easy for a Kaduna-based political contractor, Malam Mohammed Taiwo. This is because he could connect all of these cities within a day, especially now the hassle for 2007 is gearing up.
But then, he always feel headaches any time he is onboard and aircraft attendants announce that all Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) or any other system like laptops be switched off until the flight gets to its destination.

This is cumbersome, because Malam Taiwo operates to the best of his knowledge a mobile office, and when he has to connect about four flights in a day, it means that approximated six hours would be lost mid-air due to what he understand as civil aviation regulation to switch off his mobile gadgets while air bound.
Imagine how elated Malam Taiwo was when recently he read in Champion Infotel, ‘Siemens, Airbus in joint GSM solution for aircraft,’ while on his way to Enugu in eastern part of Nigeria.
He ensured that the copy never get out of sight until he returned to base in Kaduna, and reached out to the writer through the company to enable him understand the concept better.
Innovative concept
Although the innovative concept of developing a GSM solution for aircrafts have began in earnest, it did not start with Siemens and Airbus deal and the stages of business development varies from one mobile communication technology equipment company to another.
But not without a trace to Airbus or its subsidiary, OnAir, which is a joint venture with SITA Inc and lately Tenzing, a software company based in Seattle, as approved by the European Union Commission for Competition.
Whereas the deal between Siemens and Airbus is to develop a solution to enable the use of in-flight communications via GSM, Siemens said it would provide the technology while Airbus, leading aircraft manufacturer, would see to its integration in existing electronics systems, marketing to airlines and maintenance, according to President, Mobile Networks at Siemens Communications, Mr. Christoph Caselitz.
He also said the solution will be anchored on Siemens-nano-GSM/General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) base station on the airplane to be attached behind the ceiling panel so as to allow reception for a mobile phone, Personal computer or organisers among other devices from any seat on the plane.
Describing this base station as the smallest and lightest globally, Mr. Caselitz said it would be based on Internet Protocol (IP) and linked to terrestrial GSM mobile network with the aid of a satellite technology.
Prerequisite to implementing the solution, the mobile network boss explained, is the integration of channel selector technology, preventing devices from establishing contact or interfering on aviation terrestrial networks referred to as avionics.
“It therefore ensures that radio communication from the airplane is conducted solely via satellite,” he assured, adding that the solution is expandable to accommodate more GSM capacity apart from the technology such as the wired or wireless Local Area Network (WLAN).
He explained that with this integration, airline passengers of all categories, like Taiwo will in near future be able to use their own mobile devices for in-flight phone calls or internet surfing, even as it would open new revenue sources for airlines.
Ericsson focuses on operators
While Siemens date for commercial launch is planned for 2006, Ericsson, another communication equipment manufacturer, said it has reached the cruising altitude with own version of technology, RBS 2708, which is telecom operators’ focused.
This would be available for installation before the year ends, as said by vice president, Product Management for GSM at Ericsson, Ulf Ewaldsson.
This came as ARINC Incorporated Maryland and Telenor of Norway, recently demonstrated joint in-flight solution under Aeromobile using Inmarsat Swift 64 kilobytes per second (kbps) and Swift Broadband 432 kbps on aeronautical satellite services.
Vice President, Mobile Connectivity at Telenor, Mr. Bernt Fanghol anticipated that mobile data would become essential part of in-flight communications in no distant future.
The ARINC director, Aircraft Mobility Connectivity, Mr. David Coiley, noted that research has already shown that Short Messaging Service (SMS) is likely to top list of in-flight communications with e-mail close behind by 2009.
Hence, Aeromobile’s mission centered on ‘Pico cell’ is bent on getting right solution for all passengers’ needs. And for director, Market Manager at Inmarsat, Mr. Robert Johnson, it would enable travellers toplace and receive mobile calls and messages wherever they fly.
Therefore, “the days of missing calls and important messages while in the air will soon beover”.
KLM on pulpit, modify’s IFE
And all things being equal, OnAir, has since March began in-flight SMS and email for KLM long-haul passengers enroute New York, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Cape Town, Dubai, Tokyo to name a few, says the Product Strategy manager at KLM, Mr. Frank Vink.
This was the outcome of successful trials, causing KLM to modify its In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system on10 Boeing 777s, while six new Airbus A330s flying majorly to Middle East and Africa have been completed since August to facilitate the offer for both short and long haul passengers. It’s anticipated that all KLM aircraft would have this service before end of April 2006.
Air bound through in-flight GSM solution on any platform as currently envisaged would require mobile telephone users to use the international roaming service of their home mobile operators, Laptop user on the other hand will connect to onboard server either via a wireless link such as Wireless Fidelity (Wi Fi) or wired connection, using Universal Serial Bus (USB) port or RJ45 plug generally located in the arm rest ofthe seat.
The server in turn would be connected to a ground infrastructure via an air-to-ground communications link, with the ground infrastructure further connected to the public networks, which could be mobile or fixed network operators. Usage would however, not be allowed during take-off or landing, and when aircraft is below 3,000 meters.
Tariff as determinant
One thing worth known is that this Value Added Service (VAS) aboard flights are not free as the airlines getready to smile to the banks, passengers like our dear Taiwo, should be ready also to pay for the cost which some experts say would be another determinant to acceptance.
For instance, tariffs onboard are expected to assume an international roaming rate on the ground on Aeromobile subscription.
Passengers on KLM would haveto pay $2.50 about N332.50k, for each message received or sent; even as incoming messages are only paid for if the passenger decides to open them, which is most likely; after viewing the subject and the sender’s name.
Generally, it would not be less than 50 cents, about N93.10k per message according to OnAir projection. On the other hand, Internet access charges will be inline with that which business travellers incur at hotels and remote access locations.
OnAir also said that recommended price for all airlines using Swift 64is $9.95 for webmail/chat access on an entire flight including unlimited text messages. Attachments, however, attract extra cost per kilobyte, and there is no charge for viewing an in box, thus enabling passengers to decide whether to read their emails before paying for the service.
As Malam Taiwo and friends wait for the introduction of this offering at short and long haul; domestic cum regional and international routes respectively, aclear challenge lies in the licensing of the spectrum for this kind of services, mostly at the international levels and no doubt, requires the co-operation of aviation and communication regulatory authorities, without leaving out the mobile operators in the country and specifically in Africa as well as globally.
Achieving this would not only offer the passengers and many Taiwos, a fulfilled dream but a sense of belonging in a world of Information and Communications Technology.

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