Broadband Communications for Aircraft in Oceanic and Other Remote Areas

Broadband Communications for Aircraft in Oceanic and Other Remote Areas

Stephen John Curran (Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), Daytona Beach, FL, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijasot.2014010106


Data communication with aircraft presents unique technical challenges and these challenges are more pronounced when the aircraft are travelling over oceanic or other remote areas. When in populated areas, systems are available that can support high speed data services, one Gigabit per second (Gbps) and beyond via, terrestrial ground stations. However no such systems exist to provide airborne communications with high bandwidths among aircraft and between aircraft and the ground in more remote regions. Passengers will expect data service on the aircraft similar to what they typically experience on the ground. Multimedia activities, such as video streaming, are very bandwidth intensive and the provision of these services presents a serious technical challenge. On the ground, fibre optic cables are the method of choice for the provision of high speed data service, and in contrast, an airborne high speed data communications solution will need to be a wireless one.
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Literature Review

The issue of improving the bandwidth between air and ground has been addressed in several papers. Future bandwidth requirements per aircraft have been estimated to be in the region of 375 Megabits per second (Mbps) per 300 passenger aircraft (Buchter, 2012). An overhead of 25 Mbps could be added to account for aircraft telemetry and other aircraft (non-passenger) generated specific data giving an overall average bandwidth requirement of 400 Mbps per aircraft.

One proposed solution for an Airborne Communications Network (ACN) contains three main elements; photonic high capacity communications links, hybrid photonic/RF diversity networking and High Altitude Platform Stations based ACN to internet connectivity (Buchter, 2012). The proposed mesh solution uses laser ground stations to transmit information optically to balloons in the high atmosphere. From there the balloons would relay the data traffic via laser to the large aircraft.

Past implementations of airborne satellite platforms at L-band frequencies suffered from low-data rates, lack of available spectrum, and high costs. More modern satellite systems have been launched that use higher frequency parts of the spectrum band that have more available bandwidth as shown in Figure 1. These newer Ku- and Ka-band commercial satellite solutions help to eliminate the issues of the L-Band systems (Losada, 2011).

Figure 1.

Satellite band plan (Maritime Telecom, 2014)


One of the main challenges that must be overcome in any airborne implementation is the fact that the antenna is on board an aircraft in motion, at speeds of up to 600 miles per hour. As the aircraft is moving dynamic re-pointing is necessary to track the satellite (Losada 2011). A Ku band antenna systems with a mechanically steered dish would have a dish diameter in the region of 0.65m, the antenna should track the satellite during movement of the aircraft at an angle speed of up to 25 degrees per second and have pointing error no more than 1 degree (Tyurin, 2007).

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