Viewpoint: Tips For Selecting A Bizav Connectivity Provider
Today’s business aviation operators and owners expect high-speed, quality internet that provides experiences similar to those on the ground. That includes media streaming, live, HD video conferencing, downloading large files, email, web browsing, and live in-flight TV services.
While many of these services weren’t available only a few years ago, a host of companies now offer reliable business aviation connectivity, delivered by very different methods.
With so many providers, features and package options available, how do you choose the best one for your aircraft, crew or customers’ needs?
Let’s take a look at four areas you’ll likely want to take into consideration as you choose an aviation connectivity partner.
Where Your Aircraft Travels
If your aircraft only flies over land, the options are broader. Air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity, which transmits the internet between a tower on the ground and the plane, requires the aircraft to be in range of a tower. The ATG system works in the continental US and parts of Canada, but not over large expanses of water.
A satellite-based — or SATCOM — system connects the aircraft to the internet by sending data to the satellite, then down to a ground station and back. This kind of connection can provide a much broader, even global, service.
SATCOM providers include those operating in nongeosynchronous-orbit (NGSO) and geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO).
The NGSO market — which includes Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations — is fast developing, with several companies already in it or on their way.
While NGSOs may offer lower latency than GEO-based services, GEO satellites have the bandwidth and flexibility to provide more capacity in specific regions, typically those that are densely populated or see periodic high demands for bandwidth. That includes busy airports like New Jersey’s Teterboro or California’s Van Nuys — or even specific events — where business jets tend to concentrate in short bursts.
The limited capacity and coverage of each fast-moving NGSO satellite make meeting such spikes in demand a challenge.
A GEO carrier like Viasat, for example, already has some ability to focus bandwidth with its ViaSat-2 satellite, and each of the satellites in its upcoming ViaSat-3 global constellation is expected to be able to temporarily concentrate capacity at geographic points of demand, reducing coverage to places that need less capacity. That ability will provide a much better connectivity experience.
It also currently provides coverage where 90% of business jets fly, and the launch of its upcoming ViaSat-3 global constellation is expected to expand that coverage around the world.
Consider the usage needs and desires of everyone who may board your aircraft, including your pilot and/or crew. How much will they be online and for what purposes?
If it’s primarily used for business passengers, you’ll likely need a provider and plan that can accommodate multiple connected devices, and support virtual private networks (VPNs), document downloads, cloud uploads and high-quality video conferencing.
ATG and GEO-based satellite services can both provide video conferencing. LEO-based services are not yet widely available, but as mentioned earlier, the nature of these constellations means they likely will struggle to meet demand in densely populated areas or during high traffic. The key to a quality video conferencing experience is capacity, which is where GEO satellites have a distinct advantage.
If the service will be used by non-corporate users, these passengers will likely want to use Zoom or another live video chat service, stream movies and live sports, and access social media — all at the level of quality to which they’re accustomed on the ground.
Your data usage needs likely will change based on who’s on board. If that’s the case for your aircraft, search for a provider that offers flexible data plans to help accommodate those shifts.
Online needs are constantly evolving, and systems and equipment are always upgrading. Passengers, pilots, and crew members likely will increase their use of in-flight video tools, virtual/augmented reality systems, and business, collaboration, and productivity applications in the years to come.
So business jet owners and operators should look ahead to their future connectivity and usage demands, and the ease of upgrading systems to meet them.
Consider also whether your plane’s destinations may change in the future. An ATG system may work well today and could provide some initial cost-savings, but remember that if that plane ever flies more than a few miles from shore, it will lose connectivity.
If an operator invests in a connectivity solution, they should be assured it will also work in the future. The Viasat Ka-band solution guarantees business jet owners backward and forward compatibility, ensuring the antenna and in-cabin systems can scale as Viasat launches new satellites.
Installation And Ongoing Costs
Installation costs vary widely based on the system chosen and the aircraft on which it’s being installed. And the process of mounting antennas and installing routers and wiring requires work on a plane’s exterior and interior. All of that costs not only money but downtime — for the initial installation and potentially for repairs and upgrades down the road.
Most business aviation operators and owners typically can’t afford to let their aircraft sit idle for long. A connectivity solution that can cope with technology changes can help keep costs and downtime to a minimum, alleviating stress for maintenance directors, and ensuring reliability for crew and passengers.
Monthly plan costs also vary widely. Make a list of your connectivity must-haves. Then shop and compare to find the plan that best suits your needs and finances.
James Person is Viasat's senior director of global business development for Business and VVIP aviation.