European Aviation Network completes test flights for air-to-ground connectivity
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The European Aviation Network (EAN), a collaboration between Inmarsat, Deutsche Telekom and their technology partners Nokia and Thales, has completed a programme of test flights in the UK. The programme has tested the performance of the EAN system including the onboard equipment being provided by Thales and the ground LTE network provided by Deutsche Telekom and Nokia.

EAN is an integrated S-band satellite and complementary LTE-based terrestrial network across Europe, which is seeking to bring “unprecedented passenger connectivity to the aviation industry”. It is scheduled to go live in mid-2017.

To achieve EAN's live connection of the LTE ground network, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia have adapted Nokia's LTE base stations and Remote Radio Heads (RRH) to the frequency used for EAN, provided by Inmarsat, and build a specific base station antenna to cover the sky. The LTE ground network for EAN differs from "normal" LTE networks as it needs to work at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, at cruising altitudes requiring cells of up to 150 km. Nokia will manage the operations for this network from its global delivery centre in Romania. In addition to the live network, Nokia and Deutsche Telekom set up a full end-to-end ground network reference system in Stuttgart, Germany, including all components and integrated on-board equipment from partner Thales, to prepare for technical challenges, for example compensation for the Doppler effect due to high aircraft speeds.

The flight trial tested the performance of the onboard equipment being provided by Thales and the ground network provided by Deutsche Telekom and Nokia. Tests were performed to see if the network could successfully attach to the ground system, which it did at all four test sites located in the south west of the UK.

The systems performed multiple successful handovers between sectors and cell towers, and maintained a stable connection. The transfer of data to and from the aircraft was also tested. The outcomes have exceeded expectations for this early flight trial and provided valuable data for the development teams.

European Aviation Network antenna under airplane body

Deutsche Telekom and Nokia are on track to deliver the ground component of the project, with the on-schedule rollout of the approximately 300 antenna sites and connecting the network live over-the-air. In parallel, Inmarsat and Thales completed construction and associated sub-system tests of the satellite earlier this year.

"We are happy that we achieved a major milestone in building the European Aviation Network. With these successful tests we once more underline our goal to be the leading European telecommunications operator," said Claudia Nemat, Board Member Europe and Technology at Deutsche Telekom. "The EAN allows us to offer our customers outstanding connectivity services not only on the ground but also in the sky. The new technology based on LTE standard makes sure that EAN is flexible for any further technology developments in the future. Deutsche Telekom's aim is to drive technology leadership to bring best network experience to our customers."

Leo Mondale, President of Aviation, Inmarsat said: "EAN is progressing extremely well, both on the ground as well as in the air, to achieve the world's first integrated service providing true in-flight broadband experience. The actual performance and quality of the in-flight datalink exceeds design expectations and is truly game changing for European airlines. We look forward to further successful testing milestones working with all the EAN partners to bring together this integrated system."

"Nokia is extremely excited to be a pillar of the European Aviation Network project,” said Thorsten Robrecht, Vice President, Advanced Mobile Networks Solutions at Nokia. “As a global leader in communications technology, we are looking forward to the close cooperation of these distinguished partners to transform the passenger experience and deliver new services with advanced in-flight connectivity."

"We are very proud of our employees who have helped make the first flight trial a huge success and look forward to working with our partners to bring high-speed broadband to passengers and operators across Europe," said Stephen McCann, Vice President, Avionics at Thales.

A video with some footage of the test flight series can be seen here


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