Auckland-based technology engineering firm The Broadtech Group has teamed with German inflight connectivity specialist SkyFive to evaluate and test broadband in the sky.
The duo has signed a memorandum of understanding to evaluate and deliver a proof of concept of SkyFive's air-to-ground (DA2G) solution, with intentions to progress to a nationwide rollout.
The technical design phase of the trial is almost complete, and the physical build will commence soon for the Auckland and Waikato trial network to be built and integrated by Broadtech.
If the project goes to plan, New Zealand would be the first country after the European Aviation Network (EAN) to truly experience broadband connectivity in the sky, the partners said.
As well as delivering an improved inflight experience for passengers the project would enable a wide range of practical, data-intensive use cases for the local aviation industry.
Also participating in the planned trial are Flightcell International from New Zealand and Nokia, to provide the DA2G on-board terminal and DA2G cellular base stations respectively.
In Europe, the European Aviation Network (EAN) covers 35 countries and utilises SkyFive technology to provide data speeds of up to 100Mbit/s per aircraft with less than 50 milliseconds of end-to-end latency to passengers and crew in high-altitude jet aircraft.
"Our technical experts are working together to develop the ecosystem in New Zealand to bring this outstanding technical solution to the NZ aviation industry," said Merv Taylor, managing director of the Broadtech Group.
Stakeholder engagement has commenced with NZ Police, St Johns Air Ambulance, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, the Royal NZ Air Force and commercial airlines, all expressing interest in participating in the trial.
The air agencies were keen to experience high-speed access to their private networks or Internet-based data for secure streaming of high-definition video for marine and terrain surveillance, transmitting critical patients’ biometric data ahead to hospitals or a wide range of other use cases, in real-time.
A DA2G network could also support future unmanned aerial vehicles enhancing data services for both operations and passengers.
The use of dedicated radio frequency spectrum is the key enabler for both the performance and data security of DA2G communications. Broadtech recently secured a trial spectrum license in the proposed A2G frequency band.
Traditional cellular networks are ground-facing and not optimised for airborne operation, resulting in intermittence and interference challenges at inflight altitudes, and minimal to no data throughput.
Satellite-based solutions, meanwhile, provide limited bandwidth at slower speeds with expensive data plus substantial fuel and carbon emissions and costs due to the added drag created by fuselage-mounted satellite transceiver equipment.
In contrast, a DA2G cellular network, built on 4G and 5G standards, is land based but optimised for aerial coverage, dedicating its full capacity towards aircraft.
"We are committed to keeping New Zealanders at the cutting edge of technology and are confident that they will benefit from SkyFive’s global reach, expertise and agility to create new value for the aviation industry and its customers," said Zoltan Losteiner, director of APAC business development at SkyFive.