Michael Skou Christensen, Director of Business Development Asia for Satcom Direct International, on the company’s Global Voice and Text offering
Q: Let’s begin with the latest offerings from Satcom Direct…
A: Two things spring to mind immediately. Last year’s big buzz was our Satcom Direct Router (SDR), which was huge for us since it provides the platform that enables us to get new technology and functionality and new developments onto the aircraft very rapidly. The other really important announcement was our Global Voice and Text (GlobalVT) offering. This allows clients on board the aircraft to place and receive calls using their own caller ID, rather than the aircraft’s ID. We provide a full GSM-like service, which is of great benefit to our clients.
Q: Is there anything different about your approach to GSM that differentiates you from other providers offering GSM services on business aircraft?
A: The biggest differentiator for us is how easy it is to get our product onto the aircraft. All you need is the GlobalVT app installed on your phone, the SDR and an applicable SATCOM Satcom system installed on your aircraft. There are competitor offerings out there that basically create a GSM cell inside the aircraft, but it is very hard to certify such a solution. As everyone knows from their own flying experience on commercial airlines, with all those warnings about switching off mobile phones, there is considerable regulatory nervousness about GSM signals interfering with aircraft systems. With our approach, there is no GSM signal inside the aircraft. The calls inside the aircraft work over the wi-fi and Internet network in the aircraft. The calls are transferred via the SDR over the SATCOM system to our ground infrastructure, where it is terminated into the GSM network. Moreover, because our solution is Internet based, you have coverage within the entire footprint of the satellite system installed in the aircraft. Our solution is also not subject to the same restrictions that apply to GSM picocell solutions, which are not allowed to operate in certain airspace, such as China for example.
Another important aspect of GlobalVT is the proprietary voice vodec that our engineers developed, which gives you crystal clear voice quality, and limits the delay that is characteristic for satellite phone calls.
Our GSM offering supports the vast majority of manufacturer handsets, including Apple and Android devices. All the user needs is to have global roaming enabled with their usual mobile phone provider and they are contactable wherever they are in the world.
Q: Is this an expensive application?
A: The SDR is competitively priced compared to other router platforms. When you look at how feature-rich the SDR is, I personally think it is a steal. For exact installation cost, customers should contact their preferred installation/maintenance facility to ask for a quote. The GlobalVT app itself is free for our customers.
Q: What are you seeing by way of demand?
A: We already have a very solid install base flying with the services today and continue to see it expanding. The market is clearly taking the idea of a reasonably priced GSM service with voice and text messaging very well.
The SDR also brings other features that are new and unique to the industry. Key here was the introduction of our GOIP service, or Global One IP service. This provides a seamless way of transitioning the client between the various satellite networks. So for instance if the aircraft has both Viasat Ku band and Inmarsat SBB, the SDR will seamlessly, and without any connection disruption, transfer the client from one satellite system to another.
This means that a user who opts for a communications package that gives him or her the fastest connectivity available at all times, the service handles all the network transitions seamlessly in the background. If they were on the ground the service would be delivering connectivity through the GSM network, because that is the highest speed, lowest cost option; then in the air it would switch to the Ku band and if it was outside Ku band coverage, it would switch to swift broadband, and all this without the user losing connectivity.
We have a client in Asia, for example, who trades commodities and it is absolutely vital for him, while he is in flight, to be able to retain his trading links. No matter where the client is he has to have seamless coverage.
Q: How popular has your SDR 3G solution been?
A: This has been and continues to be a very popular service. We have negotiated some very good data plans around the world. When in their home territory, people would connect directly from their phone to the 3G network through their own provider, as usual. But if you fly to Dubai, say, suddenly one megabit of data downloaded costs you £4, so that is a real disincentive. With the SDR and our data plans, we are able to offer customers much better download rates than that, across a range of countries and destinations.
Q: Anything else that is new?
A: One of our most recent developments, which we announced at NBAA, is SD FlightLogs. This is a new web-based service, powered by our FlightDeck Freedom datalink service, that allows you to automate some of the inputs that would otherwise have to be manually entered into the flight log by the pilot. So, for example, it will collect data on flight times automatically, which eliminates a lot of the human error that creeps in to these records. SD FlightLogs creates an efficient, single access point for all operational users from pilot to maintenance and scheduler, revolutionising the way aircraft movement events are accessed and recorded, and keeping flight personnel in sync with their aircraft anywhere in the world.