Alcatel-Lucent to supply Inmarsat with LTE kit for EU in-flight broadband network

Alcatel-Lucent will contribute towards the development of Europe's first aviation telecoms network, which is being constructed by mobile satellite communications provider Inmarsat.

The infrastructure provider will jointly develop ground equipment for the Europe-wide network, which is due to be up and running by the end of 2016. Alcatel-Lucent will provide LTE-based air-to-ground technology to communicate with an S-band satellite currently being constructed by Thales Alenia Space.

Inmarsat said the combination of LTE ground infrastructure and satellite communications will make the network the world's first true hybrid aviation network. Maximum in-flight broadband connectivity rates of 75 Mbps will be possible, exceeding the capabilities of rival air-to-ground networks in North America, the company added.

Alcatel-Lucent was the first infrastructure supplier to conduct field trials of LTE-based air-to-ground technology when it carried out tests in 2011, Inmarsat said in its announcement of the deal. The initial contract will see the vendor adapt its current LTE technology to make it compatible with the S-band spectrum utilised by the satellite.

Michel Combes, Alcatel-Lucent's CEO, said the deal meets the company's aim to grow through innovation and "diversification into new, vertical areas."

Inmarsat Aviation's president, Leo Mondale, said the network will allow airlines "to offer their passengers access to online services for work or leisure using their own devices and with reliability and speeds previously only available on the ground."

The company revealed it has received approval for the satellite element of the network from 23 EU member states, and said that it has also received its first ground licences.

While interest in providing in-sky communications is certainly growing, the concept is also prompting fresh concerns about bill shock for passengers who may be unaware of the volume of data they are consuming.

Last week, one passenger reported that he was billed nearly $1,200 (€965) bill after a flight to Singapore. The user said he only used the in-air network to access emails rather than high-bandwidth services such as streaming video, primarily due to the slow data rate provided. However, his usage was sufficient to exceed the $28.99, 30-MB package he signed up to when boarding, meaning he racked up huge overage charges.

For more:
- see this Inmarsat announcement
- view this bill shock article

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If consolidation comes to Europe, let's hope bill shock doesn't make a return