Inmarsat, Deutsche Telekom complete European Aviation Network

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WASHINGTON — British satellite operator Inmarsat and mobile network operator Deutsche Telekom have finished building the ground infrastructure for the hybrid satellite and cellular European Aviation Network (EAN).

The companies announced Feb. 5 that the network’s 300 LTE towers are set up across the 28 European Union member states, along with Switzerland and Norway, forming the air-to-ground half of the pan-European inflight entertainment and connectivity network. That ground network pairs with an S-band satellite called Inmarsat S EAN, which launched in June on an Ariane 5 rocket.

Built by Thales Alenia Space, Inmarsat S EAN is a “condosat,” sharing a spacecraft bus with Greek operator Hellas Sat’s Ku- and Ka-band Hellas Sat-3 payload. The satellite has been operational since September.

Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom said EAN service is scheduled to start during the first half of this year, a delay from previous schedules that anticipated a service start during the second half of last year. Inmarsat attributed the later-than-expected service start on having to switch launch vehicles for the condosat from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to Arianespace’s Ariane 5 after Falcon Heavy fell behind schedule.

Inmarsat had also encountered legal opposition from competitors Eutelsat of France and ViaSat of California, both of which object to Inmarsat’s use of an S-band spectrum license from the European Commission for the EAN service. Inmarsat has sought to downplay ViaSat and Eutelsat’s opposition as an eleventh-hour publicity stunt.

EAN can provide internet connections to aircraft with data rates above 75 Mbps, and latency below 100 milliseconds.

London-based International Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, is EAN’s first customer, and is currently installing antennas for the service on aircraft. EAN’s builders say installations can generally be performed during overnight breaks, enabling fleet-wide deployments within months.

“With the completion of the first ever integrated pan-European LTE ground network component we are now able to fully support EAN’s satellite connectivity and maximize the performance of the EAN system,” said Rolf Nafziger, Deutsche Telekom’s senior vice president of international wholesale business. “The network is specifically designed to meet future capacity demands for connectivity in the European airspace, with passenger volumes expected to double in the next 15 years.”

Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom say the network can be scaled up to meet future connectivity demand as needed.