Innovation

European telecoms set to launch inflight LTE-powered Wi-Fi network

The Europe-wide network is a world first data network dedicated solely to aviation traffic and is expected to launch in the coming months.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • A new airline-only LTE network in Europe is using a new hybrid of air-to-ground and satellite technology, a first for inflight Wi-Fi.
  • The new network will likely expand inflight Wi-Fi to budget airlines and is designed to scale for predicted doubling in European airline traffic over the next 15 years.

Deutsche Telekom, in partnership with Inmarsat and Nokia, has announced a new continent-spanning European Aviation Network (EAN) that will deliver data connections to commercial flights.

The network is made up of 300 base stations operating in every country of the European Union, making it the first Europe-wide LTE network. EAN's first commercial client will be the International Airline Group, which includes British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Vueling, all of which will have flights offering the new network.

EAN is restricted to commercial airline flights, which have resulted in test flights with a consistent 75 Mbit/s speed and 50 Gbps capacity from tower to aircraft. The network uses a hybrid of on-the-ground base stations and satellites to maintain constant connection over land and air.

According to Rolf Nafziger, SVP for international business at Deutsche Telekom, air travel in Europe is expected to double in the next 15 years, which EAN was built to account for. Its 300 towers, EAN's website states, will be more than enough to scale up service as demand increases.

Expanding inflight connectivity to smaller airlines

The hardware needed on individual planes is small and lightweight, Inmarsat said, and most commercial jets would be able to have it installed during an overnight stop.

Speaking at a press conference, Inmarsat senior vice president Frederik van Essen said that EAN's affordable hardware will make a growing demand for inflight Wi-Fi a reality for smaller airlines that would normally not be able to afford it.

SEE: IT budget research 2018: Funding and spending priorities (Tech Pro Research)

While LTE-speed inflight Wi-Fi isn't new, EAN's website does claim the hardware is the "world's first satellite and air-to-ground (ATG) integrated network." Inflight Wi-Fi has relied on both technologies in the past, but the limitations of both satellite (high latency) and ATG (intermittent connectivity) is the hurdle that EAN aims to jump.

With EAN's Europe-wide release scheduled for June 2018, continental travelers won't have to wait long to see if it delivers on its promise of faster, more reliable aviation Wi-Fi. If it does work as promised it's sure to be a boon to business travelers and could kick off wider adoption of its technology.

Those of us unfortunate enough to be flying in the rest of the world will have to continue to rely on traditional ATG or satellite—there aren't any US carriers that offer the same service for now.

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About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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