Perle Systems Case Study
Operating an Air-to-Ground (ATG) 4G LTE In-flight Broadband Network
Driven by the need to stay in touch with family and friends, enjoy entertainment, and maintain critical business communications, todays travellers are accustomed to roaming broadband connections. On an airplane these expectations do not change. While in the air, passengers and crew still want full access to email, SMS, social media and online video streaming services via smartphones, tablets and laptops. However, current in-flight broadband service is either slow or non-existent.
Most in-flight connectivity uses satellite backhaul. A wireless signal is distributed to plane passengers via an on-board router. Data from a passenger’s cellular device is transmitted via an antenna on the aircraft to satellites in geostationary orbit located about 35,786km above the earth. Data is passed between the ground and the plane via the satellites. These are the same satellites used for television signals, weather forecasting, and covert military operations.
Overall, this method is unpopular because it is bulky, expensive, and slow. Capacity is limited and it exhibits high latency.
The alternative, being implemented by SmartSky Networks, is an Air-to-Ground (ATG) network based on 4G LTE technology. It works by using ground-based cell towers to send signals up to an aircraft’s antennas. As the plane travels into different sections of airspace it automatically connects to the signal from the nearest cell tower, just like a mobile phone does on the ground, so there is no interruption to the passengers broadband connectivity. This allows SmartSky to offer high-bandwidth in-flight connectivity to passengers and crew. Providing office-like internet access in the sky is Smartsky Networks main objective.
The ATG network takes advantage of patented spectrum reuse, advanced beamforming technologies, and 60 MHz of spectrum for significantly enhanced connectivity. To achieve this, SmartSky Networks have deployed a network of 250 ground-stations, cell towers, and antennas across the USA. These act as receivers and transmitters creating the 4G LTE-based Air-to-Ground (ATG) in-flight broadband service.
Frank Wang, Principle Network Architect at SmartSky Networks, explains, "At each ground-station we install an electronics cabinet that contains Cisco routers, antennas, and other specialist equipment critical for the ATG network. We needed a way to access the serial console port of all the equipment to manage and monitor it remotely. Cisco recommended Perle Console Servers."
Perle Console Servers provide remote access and management capabilities of all equipment in the ground-stations via their console ports. Even if the network goes down, System Engineers are still able to gain access to the mission critical equipment. As the ground-stations are spread throughout the USA, some in extremely remote sites, it was important for all equipment to be reliable, temperature hardened and Telco certified.
Frank comments “The Perle Console Servers have a very good interface which we have found easy to install and use. We need to be sure that all the equipment we use is reliable. And it is.”
SmartSky 4G LTE delivers data to the aircraft with speeds comparable to next generation satellite solutions and provide unmatched speeds for data transmissions off the aircraft. Video calls can be conducted and movies can be streamed, with no buffering. This real-time, low latency, bidirectional link makes SmartSky 4G LTE a key enabler for the new and enhanced apps, services and hardware that will usher in the digitization of the aviation industry.
About SmartSky Networks: www.smartskynetworks.com
Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, SmartSky Networks was formed in 2011 by senior aviation and telecommunications executives seeking to transform aviation using disruptive communications technologies. Working with leading aerospace and technology partners, SmartSky has begun the rollout of its innovative, air-to-ground network, SmartSky 4G LTE.