US firm AS-IP Tech (ASIP) recently completed ground testing – including electromagnetic interference (EMI), network performance and full functionality – of its fflya Bluetooth connectivity kit on board a Wizz Air UK Airbus A321, and is now moving into preparation for passenger use.
The lite inflight connectivity solution, which will support messaging, payments and telemetry, features ASIP’s easy-to-install Iridium-supported, dual-window antenna system. According to ASIP founder and president Ron Chapman, ground testing aboard the Wizz Air A321 was very successful.
“Notably was the block 1 performance of the new generation Iridium satellites. Not at any point in time during the entire 8-hour test period, did our dual-window antennas not have satellite reception,” Chapman tells Runway Girl Network.
“The other key component was the performance of the dual-window antennas. During a 40-minute satellite handover test, (equates to four satellite handovers), only on one occasion per antenna did the signal strength drop below two bars. (the minimum requirement for packet transmission). In each case, the period below two bars was approximately 30 seconds. Due the staggered satellite footprint, the opposing antenna had full signal, so our antenna switching algorithms ensured we were always online.”
Using a Bluetooth access point/router and Iridium classic service for messaging offers a significantly lower-cost, lower-bandwidth alternative to a traditional onboard Wi-Fi network.
Bluetooth 5, the latest iteration of Bluetooth, promises a longer range and faster transfer speed. Chapman says in reference to ASIP’s testing: “On the Bluetooth 5 front, at our lowest setting, 1 Milliwatt (which is 100th of the classic Bluetooth audio spec) we independently confirmed complete aircraft coverage for an A321, even with the router in an enclosed bagged locker surrounded by bags, including the cockpit door closed.”
He continues: “Due to our propriety Bluetooth profile, full coverage on a narrowbody was as expected, as we had previously ground tested it on an A340 and A380 and flight tested on a fully loaded 777 and 787. This is one of the inherent benefits of short burst data, combined with low-power long-range Bluetooth. We are able to set power, which in turn controls range.”
ASIP is also now undertaking telemetry integration to an Aircraft Interface Device (AID) and will test live credit card transactions in-house. For low-cost carriers, live transactions are usually targeted at meals and promotional items. And for cabin crew, the distribution process can’t be held up by satellite link delays and rejections or repeats.
“We have had the Bluetooth EFTPOS [electronic funds transfer at point of sale] terminal interface for several years, as we originally developed it on Inmarsat SBB [SwiftBroadband]. We shelved it as the GEO [satellite] latency was just too high for the link to be reliable. We use Bluetooth as its more secure, the network is invisible, and we have the range with only one access point. Combine that with low latency LEOs and you have the final solution,” says Chapman.
ASIP is targeting low-cost carriers for its fflya solution.
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Featured image credited to ASIP