Updated at 5:06 p.m. Eastern with information from NSR.
WASHINGTON — A decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to allow the use of Thales FlytLive aeronautical terminals opens the market to a fourth competitive reseller in what is currently the largest regional inflight connectivity market.
Thales announced July 27 that FCC approval was given earlier this month for a commercial service that will launch later this year. Winning FCC approval took three months, Thales said.
The five largest inflight connectivity providers — Gogo, Panasonic Avionics, Global Eagle Entertainment, ViaSat and Inmarsat — all provide internet access on aircraft flying over the United States. Another rising competitor, SmartSky Networks, is building a network of air-to-ground stations throughout the U.S. that is also expected to go live later this year, bringing the number of major service providers in this market to seven.
According to analysts at Euroconsult, North America has roughly 4,600 aircraft equipped with inflight connectivity and over 8,500 total aircraft — more than any other geographic region in the world.
Claude Rousseau, research director at Northern Sky Research, told SpaceNews July 27 that satcom-specific inflight connectivity units number over 2,200 in-service in North America, or 45 percent of the global market.
“It will grow to over 8,000 at the end of 2026,” he said. “Revenues from IFC [inflight connectivity] satcom equipment and services in North America was $270 million last year and is expected to reach close to $790 million at the end of the next decade, dropping from 46 percent to 26 percent of all revenues.”
Thales will be the third company to focus on high-throughput Ka-band satellite connectivity for the U.S. aero market, joining Inmarsat and ViaSat. Thales has capacity on four spacecraft — Hughes’ EchoStar-17 and EchoStar 19 satellites and SES’ AMC-15 and AMC-16 satellites — as well as SES-17, a “very high throughput” or VHTS satellite sporting close to 200 spot beams that Thales Alenia Space is building for a 2020 delivery.
The FCC license green-lights Thales’ use of terminals on U.S. and internationally registered aircraft within the FlytLive coverage footprint of the first four satellites for 15 years.
“This is a necessary step to launch service this year on our new FlytLIVE Ka-band network for the Americas,” Dominique Giannoni, chief executive of Thales InFlyt Experience, said in a July 27 statement. “This terminal will operate with all four satellites we have deployed in our network. The satellites, terminal, and network technologies are all converging to meet our program objectives.”
Thales said other registrations with regulatory bodies across the American continents are ongoing.