OneWeb Satellite in Space. Panasonic, Intelsat and Hughes are among the distributors

Eutelsat OneWeb to support inflight connectivity from September 2024


Eutelsat OneWeb expects to start supporting inflight connectivity services with its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Ku-band satellite network in September 2024, Dermot Cahalan, aviation market development director, Europe, revealed at the Airline Passenger Experience Association’s APEX TECH conference in Los Angeles. He said the ground infrastructure delay announced by parent Eutelsat Group last month does not affect Eutelsat OneWeb’s LEO IFC launch customers.

“We’re launching our first aviation service in September, I believe, so the announcement that you heard recently doesn’t impact our aviation services. So at the moment we have got all the ground infrastructure in place for those launch customers and we’re building the remaining infrastructure well ahead of any future customers who are in the pipeline who we hope to announce imminently,” said Cahalan.

Having pursued a B2B approach that sees it servicing civil aviation through a bevy of integrators, Eutelsat Group currently supports IFC with its network of geostationary (GEO) satellites including payloads in the very high-throughput variety. But the launch of Eutelsat OneWeb’s IFC service, facilitated by its 648-strong LEO satellite network, is hotly anticipated.

Indeed, several airlines have already signed up for Intelsat’s multi-orbit inflight connectivity solution, as powered by Intelsat’s GEO satellites and the global Eutelsat OneWeb LEO service, for which Intelsat is a distribution partner (DP). Panasonic Avionics is also understood to have secured undisclosed customers for the inflight entertainment giant’s multi-orbit IFC, powered by its GEO network and Eutelsat OneWeb LEO. Hughes Network Systems, meanwhile, plans to launch Eutelsat OneWeb LEO-focused IFC with airlines in 2025. In business aviation, Eutelsat OneWeb LEO-based IFC solutions are being launched by Gogo and Satcom Direct, using Hughes and Gilat antenna hardware, respectively.

LEO and GEO services are naturally synergistic. LEO provides fully global coverage — including overlapping coverage over the poles — and it supports a snappy, low-latency onboard experience, whilst the latest generation GEO satellites are very high-throughput, high-capacity, boast spot beam coverage and are increasingly software-defined to maximize flexibility. As such, GEO operators can pinpoint capacity where they need it, including at busy hub airports.

With the merger of Eutelsat and OneWeb complete, Paris-headquartered Eutelsat Group is currently the only satellite provider operating both LEO and GEO networks, and many of its new LEO distribution partners have procured Eutelsat GEO services from the firm in the past, Cahalan noted during APEX TECH. Consequently, Eutelsat Group can offer “a one-stop-shop” for GEO and LEO capacity and, as it goes through the integration and consolidation of its businesses, it will be able to offer “significant benefits” and “obvious synergies” for its distribution partners, he said.

Eutelsat Group sees its ability to support multi-orbit configurations as a key differentiator for the firm. In contrast, SpaceX’s Starlink Ku-band network is LEO-only.

Multi-orbit, noted Cahalan “gives a significant level of optionality and flexibility to airlines when they are making their IFC selections. They’re not constrained to a particular constellation you know, and when we look at a world of increasing geopolitical uncertainty I think that is certainly something that’s a significant value to airlines.”

In what it sees as another differentiator, the company is also carving out dedicated capacity for the mobility sector on the Eutelsat OneWeb LEO network and offering a committed information rate (CIR). “We manage our capacity very rigorously and provide service level guarantees (SLAs),” said Cahalan, adding that Eutelsat OneWeb’s distribution partners “have vast experience in deploying solutions and supporting solutions in the aviation industry and we feel that’s a significant differentiator to Starlink who are obviously relatively new in the domain.”

But in terms of the best mousetrap for airlines, Eutelsat Group focuses on operating the satellites and doesn’t necessarily advocate for one type of satcom service over the other, whether it be LEO-only, hybrid LEO/GEO or GEO-only service. That fits with the firm’s B2B model which enables integrators to pursue the approach they think is best based on various use cases. “[U]ltimately the market will decide based on use cases,” said the Eutelsat OneWeb executive.

He added:

There are use cases, for example, such as flying over Russia or China [where] we are unable to provide LEO services today for geopolitical reasons and clearly GEO is the option there.

Ultimately, we expect that customers will increasingly want low latency because of that kind of snappier more immersive customer experience that you described. Once you become accustomed to that on aircraft, and all the additional productivity features that it enables you to do and things like gaming, etc., we feel it will be markedly noticeable when kind of operating on GEO-only.

There are, of course,  terminals in the pipeline where you won’t need necessarily to select a primary or a secondary, where you will be able to use the two services on a complementary basis.

To his latter point, Gilat and Get SAT are presently developing nextgen dual-beam electronically steered antennas to support simultaneous GEO and Eutelsat OneWeb LEO transmissions, and Stellar Blu Solutions is also throwing its hat into the multi-beam ring using BAE Systems tiles.


For the last year, Intelsat has been testing its multi-orbit IFC solution — which uses Stellar Blu’s first-generation, single-beam antenna package — over the Eutelsat OneWeb network and its own GEO satellites aboard an experimental CRJ700. The satellite operator and aero ISP doesn’t tell customers flying aboard its CRJ what network they’re on “but they can tell us”, said Intelsat senior vice president of engineering Pat Walsh at APEX TECH.

“So, we can have our engineers switch orbits and right away we’ll get some customers saying ‘you switched’,” he confided. “When our customers take the flight we tell them ‘do whatever you want, no limitations, whatever applications you want to use’ and the experience on LEO is noticeable.”

Meanwhile, Eutelsat Group is already planning its next generation of Eutelsat OneWeb LEO capacity to ensure it expands the network to outpace growth and demand. “In terms of our next generation, we have been reviewing and specifying that solution over the past few months and we have been evolving our next generation strategy, and what we will be doing from 2026 onwards now is gradually deploying new satellites to increase our capacity,” said Cahalan, describing this strategy as an “evolutionary step where we’ll be gradually adding more capacity to Gen 1”.

As to whether or not Eutelsat Group will go direct in aviation like SpaceX, Cahalan assured that Eutelsat Group is “absolutely” continuing to adhere to its B2B approach to the IFC market, facilitating integrators. “Our expertise is providing satellites. We believe that the best solution for the airline is to leverage the expertise of our distribution partners, Intelsat, Panasonic and Hughes [in commercial aviation] who’ve got that experience in deploying and supporting solutions in service.”

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Featured image credited to OneWeb