Satellite uplinks will also allow Aircell to offer services outside the continental U.S., on carriers based both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Airlines that want to provide Internet access on international flights before the Ka-band satellites become available will be able to use an existing network on the so-called Ku band, Chari said. The Ka band will be more economical, he said.
Individual passengers should see better performance on their phones and laptops once the faster links are installed. Because not everyone is typically using the shared link at a given time, users are likely to get 5M bps or more, Chari said. However, there will still be limits to what they can do online on a typical flight, he added. For one thing, Aircell uses traffic engineering to make sure everyone sharing the network gets the best possible experience.
"If you want to sit on a plane and watch a Netflix movie, it's not going to work very well for you, because we did not build the network where everybody can watch a Netflix movie," Chari said.
Aircell said in 2008 that it hoped to deploy LTE beginning in 2011 and achieve a 300M bps link from the ground to the air. However, the company doesn't yet have enough radio spectrum to use LTE, though it is working on acquiring more, Chari said. EV-DO Revision B will be a hardware and software upgrade to Aircell's existing EV-DO network, which is supplied by Chinese telecommunications vendor ZTE.
EV-DO Revision B has been available for several years but was upstaged by LTE (Long-Term Evolution), which can offer even higher speeds. Only three mobile operators in the world have deployed Revision B, according to Qualcomm (QCOM), the pioneer of EV-DO. However, Aircell is better able to take advantage of the technology, Chari said. For one thing, Revision B requires a clean signal, which is harder to achieve when it has to go through walls and other obstacles, he said.
"We have a very unique situation: There is nothing between the aircraft and our towers," Chari said.
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