Deutsche Telekom installs first LTE antennas for EAN project

Engineers at work on installing the first LTE antennas for the European Aviation Network.

Deutsche Telekom said the first three of 300 LTE antennas planned to support the future European Aviation Network (EAN) have now been installed in the South of England, marking further progress towards the launch of the hybrid in-flight broadband network.

The Germany-based operator is working on the project with satellite operator Inmarsat, and is responsible for building and managing the LTE sites on the ground together with Nokia (following the Finnish vendor’s takeover of Alcatel-Lucent). The operator noted that it would work with current site partners where possible. In England, for example, independent infrastructure provider Wireless Infrastructure Group is providing access to its towers.

Deutsche Telekom also suggested that EAN-based services with maximum in-flight broadband connectivity rates of 75 Mbps could be available by mid-2017. That appears somewhat ambitious given that the installation of LTE antennas has only just started and the satellite that will form part of the network has not yet been launched. Thales Alenia Space completed the construction of the Europasat/HellasSat-3 satellite in July.

Indeed, the launch date for the satellite has raised some concerns about the viability of the entire project. In early August, Space News noted that Inmarsat is subject to a deadline of Dec. 1, 2016 under the terms of its S-band service licence: EAN will use Inmarsat’s 30 MHz S-band spectrum allocation in all 28 European Union (EU) member states, plus Norway and Switzerland.

Space News said delays at launch-service provider SpaceX mean that this deadline is certain to be missed. Inmarsat also said in July that the launch of the satellite is scheduled to take place in 2017 at Cape Canaveral in Florida once rigorous tests have been completed. The satellite could launch on SpaceX rockets Falcon Heavy or Falcon 9.

The Space News report suggested that this could lead to one or more governments revoking Inmarsat’s rights to the S-band spectrum, although the paper also noted that Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce dismissed any possible regulatory threat to EAN resulting from delays in the launch of the satellite.

Deutsche Telekom and Inmarsat did not respond to requests for comments before publication.

The two companies first unveiled the EAN project in September 2015 and said Lufthansa would be the first airline to trial the LTE/satellite-based service in 2017. As well as Nokia, other partners in the project include Cobham Satcom and Deutsche Telekom’s Greek subsidiary OTE.

Inmarsat previously said that the collaboration with Lufthansa on the EAN would build on an existing strategic relationship that will also see the German airline become the first in Europe to trial the satellite company's Global Xpress (GX) satellite-based broadband service from October this year.

For more:
- see the Deutsche Telekom release
- see this Inmarsat release from July
- see this Space News article from August

Related articles:
Inmarsat teams with Deutsche Telekom for in-flight broadband
Inmarsat completes Global Xpress broadband network
Alcatel-Lucent to supply Inmarsat with LTE kit for EU in-flight broadband network
Inmarsat plans 'compelling' in-flight passenger broadband service in Europe