Google reportedly in talks with Nokia about acquiring in-flight tech unit

Google office (Google)
Bloomberg reported that Google is in talks to acquire Nokia’s airplane broadband business. (Google)

Alphabet’s Google isreportedly in talks to acquire Nokia’s broadband technology business for airplanes—one that uses an air-to-ground network to maintain real-time ultrabroadband connections with planes.

The solution hasn’t received a lot of press—until now. Bloomberg reported that the companies are in talks, though a final decision hasn’t been made and they could still call off a deal. It cited people familiar with the matter, but its sources did not want to be identified.

Nokia declined to comment on the report.

According to Nokia's website, its 4G LTE Air-to-Ground (A2G) solution is an aviation-specific LTE variant that supports real-time and ultrabroadband communications in flight. The company says LTE A2G services are more affordable than satellite-based systems and will support new onboard applications that benefit passengers and airlines.

While such a system could compete with Chicago-based Gogo, it’s unclear how it would work internationally.

In 2016, Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, together with technology partners Nokia and Thales, announced they had successfully conducted a program of test flights in the U.K. for the European Aviation Network (EAN), which has been described as the world’s first integrated satellite and air-to-ground network dedicated to providing an in-flight broadband experience for the European aviation industry and for millions of passengers traveling across Europe.

According to Inmarsat’s website, the EAN will officially enter commercial service following the completion of testing on board a launch customer’s aircraft, which is scheduled for the first half of 2018.

To achieve EAN’s live connection of the LTE ground network, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia adapted Nokia's LTE base stations and Remote Radio Heads to the frequency used for EAN, provided by Inmarsat, and built a specific base station antenna to cover the sky, according to DT.

The operator explained that the LTE ground network for EAN differs from “normal” LTE networks, as it needs to work at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, at cruising altitudes requiring cells of up to 150 km.  

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Bloomberg noted that onboard internet has been a consumer pain point for years, with spotty service and weak bandwidth, but travelers are willing to pay for connectivity on flights, representing a potential business opportunity for Google.

Last year, Mobile World Live reported on an online presentation by Nokia’s Thorsten Robrecht, VP of advanced mobile network solutions, about the benefits of using a ground-based LTE solution to provide connectivity in planes. Airplane connectivity based on LTE would be eight times cheaper than satellite, with installation times five times faster and latency six times quicker, it said.  

The article noted that Nokia had been developing its LTE A2G for five years.