Deutsche Telekom joins mile-high club with in-flight wifi win

Deutsche Telekom and its friends with benefits have helped joined the mile-high club following trials to bring LTE-based connectivity to the skies.

The trial, in partnership with Inmarsat, Nokia and Thales, relate to the European Aviation Network project being run between the foursome. The EAN is an integrated satellite and air-to-ground network dedicated to in-flight wifi across Europe. Currently, in-flight wifi only really exists on a handful of airliners and a handful of airlines – and it usually sucks. Emirates has done a decent job of providing a relatively acceptable level of on-board wireless service, but some airlines have opted out of deploying in-flight wifi despite the technology being available on certain models.

That in itself suggests there’s more of a problem for airlines than simple connectivity. Perhaps it is the case instead that the sheer cost of connectivity is massively prohibitive, which usually indicates an immature technology model introducing a market-changing service. The very early days of in-air wifi would be hideously inconsistent: your correspondent remembers the first time he boarded a long-haul flight and immediately connected to the local network, only for his mile-high surfing experience to go no further. #FML

And with air travel pretty much the only remaining extended period of not-spotting left to cover, the EAN will be going live mid-2017. S-band satellite is providing broad and far reaching connectivity, with capacity of up to 50 Gbps, with Deutsche Telekom and Nokia developing and deploying 300 antenna sites, thus connecting the network live over-the-air.

According to Deutsche Telekom the LTE ground network for the EAN project differs from your bog standard LTE network, considering it needs to cover connectivity for vehicles travelling at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h at cruising altitudes of up to 150 km.

The clever bods used the south west of the UK as a test bed for four trial flights and sought to tie together all four vendors’ kit in real-world scenarios. They wanted to check the network could successfully attach to the ground system, which it did. High fives all round. It then even successfully handed over between cell towers and coverage sectors, while maintaining a stable connection. Even more high fives all round.

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