#MWC18: Airbus and OneWeb get onboard to put 5G on planes

#MWC18: Airbus and OneWeb get onboard to put 5G on planes

OneWeb has forged a new alliance with Airbus to develop in-flight 5G services that will enable passengers to continue using their smartphones and other devices in the air, via satellite links.

“The Seamless Air Alliance will usher in a new era of innovation for airlines on all routes,” the companies said in a joint statement today.

“By empowering member mobile operators to extend their services into airline cabins, the Seamless Air Alliance will allow them to continuously provide their customers – via satellite technology – with the same high speed, low-latency connectivity from ground to air and back again.”

Ground-to-air disruption

The Alliance plans to disrupt rival satellite services by allowing customers to roam in the air, while the billing is still handled by their own carriers. Rivals include the European Aviation Network, a project headed by Inmarsat that combines high-capacity satellite coverage with a complementary 4G LTE ground network across all EU states.

Hailing the launch, Greg Wyler, founder and executive chairman of OneWeb, said: “What if the best internet you ever experienced was in the air? Keeping this goal in mind, together we will enable an affordable and frictionless experience for passengers everywhere.

“With the launch of our first production satellites set for later this year, we’re one step closer to bridging the global digital divide on land and in the air.”

“Easy-to-use, high-speed connectivity is part of the next revolution in aerospace,” added Marc Fontaine, Airbus digital transformation officer.

“We’re excited to create this seamless experience for our airline customers and their passengers. As we showed with our Skywise aviation data platform, Airbus is committed to innovation that creates value across the aviation industry.”

More founding partners

US airline Delta has also signed up to the Alliance, alongside Kansas-based telecoms company Sprint. Airtel, the third largest mobile operator in the world, is another a founder member, as is in-flight entertainment specialist, Gogo. The Alliance says it now wants to attract more industry players.

OneWeb satellite graphic

Read more: SpaceX successfully blasts broadband into space

“We know that Delta customers have an expectation that their internet connection just works, no matter where they are in their travel journey” said Gil West, the airline’s COO.

“Delta is constantly looking at innovative ways to improve the customer experience. We are excited to be collaborating with other visionary companies, and that our existing partner Gogo will be joining the alliance as Delta develops a system that not only benefits Delta customers, but the entire airline industry.”

Gogo CEO Michael Small added:  “As the market-leader in inflight connectivity, Gogo is excited to join the Seamless Air Alliance. We look forward to working with the Alliance to develop future generations of inflight connectivity, which will provide airline passengers worldwide with simple, fast and reliable connectivity”

Dow Draper, chief commercial officer at Sprint, said: “With our 5G network rolling out next year, we’re investing heavily to make sure our customers have the best mobile internet experience possible. As an initial member of the Seamless Air Alliance, we’re looking forward to enabling customers to experience Sprint’s high-speed connectivity in the air, hassle-free.”

Bharti Airtel CEO (India and South Asia) Gopal Vitta added: “We are delighted to be an initial member of this innovative technology platform to bring seamless connectivity to customers in the true sense.

“Over 370 million mobile customers across Airtel’s global network will be able to enjoy uninterrupted access to high speed data services even while they are in-flight. We look forward to collaborating with all partner members to ensure this platform goes live at the earliest.”

Internet of Business says

This new alliance, Inmarsat’s rival project, and SpaceX’s successful test launch of two test satellites last week, reveal that internet connectivity and mobile communications have left their earthbound ambitions behind. The goal is global, high-speed connectivity. Combined with incoming 5G devices, chipsets, and services, the future is looking bright for connected business and content.

And there’s more good news. As the chorus of disapproval rises about poor connectivity in many areas – in rural parts of the US, for example, and even in some urban zones of the UK – radical alternatives are rapidly becoming available. Indeed, it’s ironic that many people may soon find better connectivity in the air than they do via their own expensive broadband services.

Let’s hope that the days of arrogant and obstructive companies such as BT hailing 10Mbps connections as “superfast” will soon be over.

Read more: #MWC18: Huawei unveils the worlds first 5G chip

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