Honeywell International Inc. is teaming up with OneWeb Ltd., a satellite-based Internet startup, to offer small aircraft high-speed broadband that’s currently only available to airliners and large business jets.
The catch: It won’t be available for another four years.
Aircraft as small as a single-engine piston plane would be able to attach the smaller antenna required for OneWeb’s system because the array of 648 satellites will hover only about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) above Earth rather than 22,000 miles for geosynchronous ones, said Carl Esposito, the marketing and product management chief at Honeywell’s aerospace unit.
The low-orbit satellites reduce the time it takes for the signal to reach Earth by 25-fold, making the service cheaper and faster, OneWeb founder and Chief Executive Officer Greg Wyler said in an interview.
That means more potential customers for Honeywell’s aircraft Internet business. The company, based in Morris Township, New Jersey, will begin offering in-flight broadband as an exclusive provider of airtime to business aviation this year from satellites launched by Inmarsat Plc.
“We see probably a three to five times increase in the market space once you start to go down to the smaller business jets and the smaller general aviation class aircraft,” Esposito said. “This will help bring high speed connectivity to small classes of aircraft at really unprecedented speeds.”
In the U.S. and Canada, there are 5,128 large and 5,096 mid-size jets compared with 9,623 light jets and 8,336 turboprop planes, according to JetNet LLC’s iQ report, which compiles aircraft data. Piston planes such as Cessna’s Skyhawk and the Cirrus SR22 would add thousands more.
The OneWeb Internet service will be sold to private, commercial and military aircraft, Esposito said in the phone interview. It will be available for passengers as well as providing real-time flight information to pilots and ground crews, such as weather, navigation and mechanical performance, Esposito said.
The service isn’t expected to cannibalize Honeywell’s Internet offering through Inmarsat, he said, especially with the time difference when they each will be available.
“It’s very, very complementary,” he said. “We offer different solutions of connectivity for all different classes of aircraft.”
The aircraft market fits with OneWeb’s mission to provide affordable Internet to everyone, said Wyler, who is also a founder of O3b Networks Ltd. OneWeb will also provide a choice for those who are connected, but only have one provider.
“Satellite can bring access everywhere into the nooks and crannies of the world whether you are momentarily without access because you’re in an aircraft or you’re in an emerging market,” Wyler said.
The aircraft antenna is less than 2 inches thick (5 centimeters) and 15 inches in diameter and could get smaller, Wyler said. That will allow it to be placed on the top of the fuselage without creating much drag. The antenna also doesn’t have to pivot to maintain the signal because the large number of satellites means there always one directly above, he said.
Honeywell Aerospace also will seeks to supply in-orbit satellite equipment to OneWeb, Esposito said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas Black in Dallas at email@example.com