Satellites are the most popular means of communication today. However, they are expensive, and also unreliable due to possibilities of collision with space junk and issues with clouds that can interfere with signal transmission. Furthermore, it is more or less impossible to maintain, repair, or upgrade a satellite in any way, once it is set into space. Addressing the issues with satellite communication is the California-based Airborne Wireless Networks (ABWN) that has put forward an innovative idea to use commercial aircraft as “mini-satellites” for efficient, cheap, and reliable communication.
ABWN’s patented technology helps create a wholesale broadband network in the sky. In fact, when it gets commercialized, it will be the first and only true airborne broadband pipeline, providing connectivity for global data and communications service providers, using commercial aircraft that are implemented with company’s wireless equipment. ABWN utilizes the readily available communication equipment and technology to be cheaper and cost-effective to build these wireless network systems. “We are just innovatively using the available technology by packaging it ‘purpose-specific’ to comply with FAA and FCC regulations,” explains ABWN’s CEO, Michael Warren.
The company’s network system will operate in a safe and controlled environment, typically between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. In addition, the system will be capable of connecting with commercial ships, allowing improved tracking, and communication, while acting as a receiver and a transmitter that helps to maintain ABWN’s chain.
ABWN’s network in the sky will be fully configured with robust meshed redundancy, while the satellite communications allow “single path” connectivity. Because it will be a meshed network, it acts like a web where all nodes are connected via multiple links. This setup eliminates the single points of failure. In ABWN's network, if a link gets interrupted, the signal will be redirected to the next participating aircraft, ship, or earth station in the chain. Also, unlike satellites, the ABWN systems can be easily updated when the new software becomes available. “When new and more efficient data transmission technologies emerge, upgrading ABWN’s system can be as easy as replacing a single module and the system will be ready for ‘the future,’” remarks Warren. “The Network will never be obsolete.”
ABWN’s network in the sky will be fully configured with robust meshed redundancy, while the satellite communications allow “single path” connectivity
As an added advantage, ABWN’s innovative wireless communication system can improve the flight safety and security. With aircraft connected to one another through the system, each aircraft will have a better view of the position of other aircrafts that are in the chain via onboard radar. This interlocking effectively will assist in bringing down the response time for rescue operations during instances when a flight goes offline. The neighboring plane in the chain can alert the closest Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit about the flight in danger which has suddenly stopped its communications. This setup improves the airline communication and safety features.
Moreover, ABWN envisions the application for collecting in-flight maintenance reports about any internal or mechanical issues during the flight. The system upon obtaining all the complaint information, will help prepare a diagnostic report that can be shared with the support engineer, rather than waiting for the pilot to give a report, facilitating faster resolutions.
In the near future, the firm will be conducting a 20 plane test to transform the concept of a mesh network in the sky to reality. “After the successful trial, we will fine tune our equipment, as well as, improve our software to be even more responsive and flexible. We will be moving to the commercial market in 2019,” concludes Warren.