China Offers Opportunity For Satcom1
One of Satcom1’s fastest-growing markets is China, and the Danish company is exhibiting here to highlight its capabilities as a satellite communications service provider. “The potential in China is growing by the day,” said Satcom1 international sales manager Jimmy Larsen.
Satcom1 (Booth P1308) focuses on government, military and VVIP aircraft and large-cabin business jets, which can carry the large intermediate- and high-gain antennas that facilitate high-speed communication between aircraft and satellites. As a service provider, Satcom1 helps customers configure and support satellite communications equipment, arranges airtime services and billing and offers value-added capabilities via its own in-flight services and software. In China, the government and Satcom1 have a legal agreement allowing Satcom1 and its business partner MCN to activate satellite communications services for Chinese aircraft.
One of the capabilities that Satcom1 has developed for its customers is aggregation of satellite channels on Inmarsat SwiftBroadband systems. Where the maximum speed for each channel on a two-channel system is 432 kilobits per second (Kbps), Satcom1 can bond the two channels to provide peak speeds up to 800 to 900 Kbps and up to 1.2 megabits per second and average speeds of about 700 Kbps. This bonding requires using extreme channels, which are the most expensive and capable high-gain channels available on SwiftBroadband.
This service costs about $35 per minute, according to Larsen, because the bandwidth provided by the satellite is not shared with other aircraft and is dedicated to the user of those particular channels. Naturally at such a cost, this service is used primarily by VVIP customers.
Satcom1, however, is considering offering a similar bonding service on regular SwiftBroadband channels, which would speed up the data delivery but cost far less than the bonded extreme channels. “This would make solutions more compatible or competitive in the normal business jet market,” said Larsen. Ordinary (non-extreme) SwiftBroadband service costs about $7 to $8 per megabyte (it isn’t billed by the minute).
Satcom1’s AvioIP software runs on cabin routers made by AES, Cobham, Emteq, ICG and Vision Systems. “We provide the software package,” said Larsen, “which is a shell on the basic router software that adds possibilities that we excel in, such as acceleration and optimizing satellite links.” One key feature of AvioIP, the Internet user manager module, is that it allows filtering so more bandwidth can be assigned to a VIP passenger, for example. “We can do a lot of fun stuff,” he said, including the aggregation feature that bonds extreme SwiftBroadband channels together. “Unless you’re using our software on your hardware, we can’t do aggregation,” he explained.
AvioIP also offers other “office-in-the-sky” features, according to Satcom1, “such as enhanced Internet access, email, videoconferencing, VoIP, built-in printer and scanner servers and much more.” Each of these services can be purchased as a module.
Most business jet travelers want to use their smartphones for voice-over IP (VoIP) telephone calls while in the air. Satcom1’s AvioIP smartphone app is a VoIP client, and it is available for Android and Apple iOS devices.
Recently, Satcom1 launched the new Flight Billing service, which allows a charter or fractional operator to sell Internet access to individual passengers, just as a hotel sells access to guests. While the operator could do this manually, Flight Billing makes the process a simple matter of the passenger viewing a splash screen and choosing the amount of bandwidth to purchase during a flight.
“Today if you want to sell a charter flight,” Larsen said, “being able to offer connectivity is a must, it’s a huge differentiator. Operators are losing flights if they don’t have connectivity.” With Flight Billing, a passenger can use a credit card to buy bandwidth in chunks of 10, 25, 50 or 100 megabytes. Or the operator can buy 100-megabyte vouchers from Satcom1 and sell or give these to passengers. The vouchers and the splash screen can be branded with the charter operator’s logo and information. If passengers buy, say, 100 megabytes worth of bandwidth and don’t use it all, they can use the rest on the next flight.
“This is a huge benefit for fractional or charter operators,” he said. Too often, operators are left with a huge bill for satellite services after a charter flight, and tracking down who should pay is difficult. “Trying to figure out who flew…it’s a nightmare. The only thing that happens is the customer is unhappy and annoyed. [Flight Billing] makes the charter customer understand that [satellite time] costs money. Nobody pays until he punches in a voucher or credit card. Unless they pay, they won’t have access.”
Satcom1 charges a small fee to set up and maintain Flight Billing. “We make money on selling airtime,” Larsen said.