Satellite Beach, Florida-based Satcom Direct (Booth H231) has launched a new service that allows travelers in business aircraft to use their cell phones seamlessly. The new technology consists of what is effectively an on-board mobile phone cell. All that is required to access the “Global VT” service is a Satcom Direct Router (SDR) in the aircraft, with the latest software update, and a smart phone. As of mid-February, some 75 aircraft hadSDRs installed.
The company launched the service at its Connecting with Customers event, March 2-5 in San Diego, California. A small group of customers had already been beta testing Global VT on their aircraft, starting in late 2014, but now it will start rolling out to a larger fleet, fuelled by a large number of orders, reported the company.
The advantage of Global VT is that “anyone can get hold of you on your mobile,” said Satcom Direct chief commercial officer international, Chris Moore. “Also, the coverage is global; and discrete as you are not swapping to other networks in different parts of the world, so it can be ‘always on,’” he said.
In the cabin, it works through an app (currently for iPhone only, but with Android coming soon), using the cabin WiFi provided by the SDR. “The phone sees a normal 3G/4G cell tower,” said Moore. He added that the system eliminates the problem where passengers from the aircraft make a call but the recipient rejects it, because they don’t recognize the number. “It could be the CEO,” he said.
“We’ve invested in technology on the ground so you don’t have to worry about roaming agreements, so we’re effectively a mobile operator,” said Ken Bantoft, v-p satcom technologies & development, who was instrumental in designing the SDR and building in the capabilities for Global VT.
He added that the unit, which costs around $35,000, should be good for as long as 10 years because of this. “We’re pumping out several hundred [SDRs] this year,” he said, with supplemental type certificates (STCs) already obtained for a wide range of aircraft types.SDR/Global VT is already available as original equipment on Gulfstreams. “We’ll have several hundred SDRs flying by the end of the year,” said Moore, who claimed that putting a normal GSM cell on a Dassault Falcon would cost $250,000. “[Itt would be] more like $1 million for a BBJ,” he said, while an SDR, installed,should cost only $70-75,000 plus a license fee.
Satcom Direct plans to have an aircraft with an SDR and Global VT installed and running at the EBACE show in Geneva next month. Moore said visitors will be able to try the service on their own phones, which will be like roaming, but on an aircraft (and the new European standard roaming rates will be applicable). “We’ll be making a big splash at EBACE,” concluded Moore.