Airborne Wireless Network is on a mission to eliminate dropped calls and lost data connections by using airborne aircraft as satellites. Its recent proof of concept testing done in Roswell, New Mexico, is proof ABWN will be a sure winner for all of us.
Little has changed in the basic methods of airborne communications since 1957 when Sputnik first launched.
Signals are beamed out, received and relayed by satellites, then beamed back down to Earth. These single link systems have an obvious weakness. When one point fails so does the connection.
Airborne Wireless Network is creating a multiple link system using not satellites but already existing aircraft and their flight networks. Using patented technology developed by ABWN, signals are directed to aircraft carrying on-board hardware and the aircraft begins acting as a repeater or router, effectively using commercial aircraft as mini satellites.
If a link is interrupted, the signal is simply redirected to the nearest participating aircraft or station in the chain to eliminate dropped calls or data connections.
When updates or upgrades are needed, it’s as simple as a maintenance order. Working on a grounded aircraft versus sending an entirely new satellite up into a junk-filled space orbit is on track to disrupt an entire industry.
In addition to providing greater coverage to rural areas around the world, the stronger bandwidth and signal quality will be a boon to emergency and disaster communications, including tracking missing craft fitted with the ABWN technology, defense systems, and even better on-board WiFi.
LA Tech News had the opportunity to speak with Marius D. de Mos, Vice President of Technical Affairs, to discuss how this technology will help eliminate dropped calls and lost data connections, and why this high-speed, airborne, broadband network technology will change the world of modern communications.
LA Tech News: We’ve haven’t heard of the concept of using airborne aircraft as a replacement of satellites for communications. How did you come up with this idea? Is it new and where is it being used?
Marius D. de Mos: It’s a new development and we completed our first proof of concept test this past May with two 767-300 jetliners and a ground station in Roswell, New Mexico. We proved we can, in real time, link aircraft to aircraft and ground to ground and back to the aircraft while on a Skype call.
If you ever used the internet on an airplane, you know it’s slow and sometimes you have to wait a very long time for your data to go through. Most probably, you’ve dealt with dropped calls and lost data connections.
With us, it’s real time and very fast. That’s the biggest difference.
When we roll out and are fully operational, we will be installing our equipment on most aircraft around the globe, and every aircraft then becomes a mini satellite. At that point, every aircraft can be linked to the next, always allowing at least two additional connections. That means three connections minimum between each aircraft.
By doing that, you theoretically never run into a situation where the signal gets interrupted, eliminating dropped calls or lost data connections.
If you look at a satellite, you have an uplink and a downlink. If that link gets broken because the airplane has to bank or you have bad weather, it doesn’t work anymore.
“With our technology, if there is bad weather, we simply go around it because we have an aircraft to aircraft to aircraft to ground connection and we can choose where we land the signal. This will eliminate dropped calls and lost data connections.”
That is a very different concept called a mash network.
It’s like a spider web where, if one of the stings breaks, the web stays intact. If you have just a single strand across two points and that strand breaks so does the connection.
It’s actually a very unique application. You know our primary business is really the telephone industry so we have been studying systems that help eliminate dropped calls and lost data connections.
“We intend to augment the fiber optics in the ground by offering very high-speed data from point A to point B using aircraft, and since we use the aircraft as an airborne repeater or router, we also have it available for a company like Gogo that provides in-flight connectivity.”
We have a backbone structure, a pipeline basically, that you can connect almost anything to.
LA Tech News: Is this technology developed by Airborne Wireless Network and/or proprietary to you?
Marius D. de Mos: Correct, we purchased a patent that allowed us to develop this technology. It’s still in the development stages and the patent is really using aircraft as mini satellites, connecting aircraft to aircraft to aircraft to aircraft in a wireless mesh.
We need high speed because as the amount of connected devices increases there will always be a need for speed not currently available in the traditional radio signal.
In the RF world, you cannot get the throughput that you need so we filed for a patent which uses free space optics similar to the fiber optics you have in the ground.
It’s the same concept of communication except it’s accomplished through the air instead of travelling through fiber optics. When we have a clear shot, we use the free space optics.
We are using the radio RF signals to synchronize the free space optics. So, when you fly through the clouds where it is possible to experience an interruption, the radio link takes over and keeps us connected at all times.
Our next test is coming up early in 2018. We will test 10 GB of data through the system. By the middle of 2018, we are scheduled to test 100 GB, and when we finish development of our own modem, our plan is going to be TB per second, which nobody can even dream of.
LA Tech News: The plan is to have this technology in all aircraft. How will you accomplish this?
Marius D. de Mos: We have a company called Air Lease Corporation which holds 10 percent of ABWN.
Air Lease Corporation is the third largest leasing company of aircraft. They have 86 airline clients around the world and that gets us into the airlines.
We also have relationships with aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus. Airborne Wireless Network has a relationship with the new Chinese aircraft manufacturer, Comac, as well. Comac came to us looking for equipment to be provided and built in at the manufacturing level.
Retrofits for aircraft are being handled by a company called Inflight Canada. So, if you have an existing airline that wants our equipment, Inflight Canada has the experience and knowledge to modify and retrofit any aircraft.
Inflight Canada has completed retrofits for flight carriers implementing Gogo and other satellite based technology systems.
So that includes aircraft operators, manufactures and retro fitters.
“It’s all patented and proprietary technology, and once rolled out, it will be the future of telecommunications globally, whether airborne or ground-based. We’re linking aircraft to aircraft to aircraft to ground and bridging the gap for anywhere fiber optics can’t go or gets into trouble.”
LA Tech News: Why and how is this different and better than what is happening today?
Marius D. de Mos: If you look at the satellite industry, they’re talking about launching 4,000 satellites, but on any given day, there are roughly 5,000 aircraft flying the globe. So, better coverage is already in place if we use aircraft as mini satellites.
The logistics of shooting a satellite into space and it being obsolete by the time it launches is another difference with our technology.
With our system, you put it on an aircraft, and when that aircraft lands, you can update, upgrade or repair any component necessary.
We also fly at lower altitudes than satellites so you can use spectrum and be much more efficient.
The next test we do will be with small aircraft because we want to interrupt our free space optics as many times as possible in order to prove we can re-synchronize the signal, putting us one step closer to eliminating dropped calls and lost data signals. This should happen in January, and at that point, it will be a major media event.
It will be the largest throughput of data between airborne aircraft ever.
We are working hard to eliminate dropped calls and lost data connections so consumers like you can have a better experience.