Antenna maker ThinKom eyes commercial Ka connectivity space

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Just two years ago not many in the inflight connectivity industry were talking about ThinKom. Today the company is something of a darling, enjoying its position as the exclusive antenna provider for Gogo’s 2Ku product – currently in testing and expected to enter commercial service before year-end – and also some of the pressures associated with that role. Demand for its hardware is significant and Greg Otto, ThinKom’s director of sales & marketing, sees potential for that demand to grow, both on the existing product lines and expanding into new markets.

On the Ku antenna front the company is focused now on ramping up production of the 2Ku antenna units. ThinKom employs a hybrid manufacturing approach, contracting out most of the component production while performing final assembly and testing in its own facilities. It recently opened an expanded final assembly facility and is now working to ramp up production of the Ku hardware to a target of 20-30 units per month. With an order of more than 500 units (and Gogo working hard to sell more) this is potentially a two-year backlog; 2Ku is coming soon but the deployment is going to take time.

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Looking beyond the 2Ku platform for narrowbodies and widebodies,  ThinKom sees potential in deploying a similar hardware solution on smaller aircraft including regional jets. While very thin, the system in its current iteration is also very wide (and weighty), and is unlikely to be deployed on a regional jet as it exists today.

Additionally, ThinKom’s antenna hardware can be configured to support Ku or Ka connectivity with the main difference being spectral efficiency related to the size of the antenna. As Ka-band uses a shorter wavelength the smaller version of the ThinKom antenna is well suited to serving the Ka market, according to management.

The Ka hardware is currently in use on military missions including the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center. Getting from there to commercial use is expected to be an 18+ month process, says Otto. Despite that timeframe the potential value proposition of such a move is significant.

The same spectral efficiency benefits the ThinKom hardware offers for Ku service should extend to the Ka spectrum as well. The ThinKom solution could extend the financial advantages Ka has over Ku if it can bring down the per-byte costs of Ka the way it is doing with Ku on the Gogo 2Ku solution.

Gogo hosted a media day on 12 November, at which point journalists were given the opportunity to test 2Ku on board the company’s Boeing 737-500 flying testbed. See our coverage of the event in the links below.