SA awaits in-flight Internet service

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In-flight Internet will be available to SA air passengers as soon as the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) gives it the green light.

An application for in-flight Internet will be submitted to the South African Civil Aviation Authority this month, says Wireless G's Carel van der Merwe.
An application for in-flight Internet will be submitted to the South African Civil Aviation Authority this month, says Wireless G's Carel van der Merwe.

According to Internet service provider WirelessG, the satellite-based technology, which delivers high-speed Internet at high altitude, will be rolled out locally in partnership with one airline, which it could not reveal at this time.

However, the SACAA says there has been no formal application nor approval granted by the authority for in-flight usage of Internet services.

Earlier this year, Mango Airlines announced it was going to offer Internet connectivity onboard for its Johannesburg and Cape Town routes on 1 May. However, this project did not take off as planned.

The company says it will submit an application to the SACAA this month.

WirelessG CEO, Carel van der Merwe, says this will be a major breakthrough in terms of convenience, productivity, entertainment and advantages of having communication in general. He says this will benefit more than 19 million local airline passengers.

“SA is a country with a device penetration rate of more than 100% and broadband take-up grows more than 30% per annum. In-flight WiFi is the missing link in telecommunications,” he says.

Two factors that determine the solution viability in Africa are the bandwidth capacity to meet user expectations and the route coverage over remote areas, Van der Merwe points out. “There is only one solution at this point in time that caters for this, which is WiFi connected to satellite backhaul, he says.

[EMBEDDED]The technology uses a low-profile antenna, four compact line replaceable units, a server management unit, a high power amplifier, an antenna control unit and a modem data unit on each equipped aircraft.

To deliver a WiFi signal, one or more wireless access units will also need to be placed in the aircraft, says WirelessG.

Van der Merwe says WirelessG is ready in terms of getting the first aircraft connected. “Further announcements related to progress and readiness will be made together with our first airline and backhaul provider partners.”

Certification issues

SACAA spokesman, Kabelo Ledwaba, says just like fitting any additional equipment on aircraft; this equipment will have to first be approved by the SACAA. In this case, the applicant will have to apply for and be issued with a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) Safety certification, he explains.

Moreover, provided that an STC is issued for a particular type of aircraft, an airline or operator may apply for the piece of equipment to be installed for each individual aircraft and that will be recorded in the aircraft file, he says.

Regardless, he continues, to enable in-flight Internet usage, an aircraft would have to be modified with equipment such as antennae, wiring, and the like, in order to enable in-flight WiFi transmission.

The STC has already been approved by the Federal Aviation Authority and will be submitted to the CAA this month, Van der Merwe says.

On Tuesday, SACAA announced that it would now allow the use of cellphones onboard. This means while a passenger's phone is on in-flight mode, they will be able to connect to the in-flight WiFi, WirelessG says.

The SACAA acknowledges that technology advances rapidly.

“It would, therefore, come as no surprise when we receive an application by an operator who may want to provide passengers with an additional benefit, thus gaining competitive edge over other airlines.”

Jacob Nthoiwa
ITWeb journalist.

Jacob Nthoiwa is a journalist at ITWeb.

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