EAN: The final countdown

How a unique Europe-wide inflight Wi-Fi network is set to address the demands of the continent’s congested airspace

The European Aviation Network (EAN) is a game-changer that will revolutionise air travel for passengers and usher in a host of benefits – and revenue opportunities – for airlines too.

As the world’s first inflight wifi solution that integrates connectivity from a satellite, operated by Inmarsat, and an LTE-based ground network, operated by Deutsche Telekom, EAN covers all 28 member states of the European Union, as well as Switzerland and Norway.

The combined satellite and ground network was completed earlier this year and offers super-fast, low latency performance over land and water. It can therefore meet highly demanding internet use, such as working remotely, streaming videos, enjoying online gaming and sharing images, with service that compares to mobile broadband on the ground.

A series of demonstration flights have followed in recent months to showcase EAN’s capabilities, the most recent of which took place in August 2018. This was another exciting milestone for EAN, as both commercial airline and business aviation customers were granted an exclusive preview of the ground-breaking service at 35,000 feet, where they experienced its speed and efficacy first-hand.

The feedback from those onboard the flights was that Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom delivered a new gold standard in inflight broadband. The market is genuinely excited about both the benefits for passengers and revenue potential.

That excitement was shared in equal measure by our reporter Keith Maynard, who perfectly summed up the experience from one of the demo flights. “Sometimes these things are overhyped… not in this case,” he said. “Up at 35,000 feet, we were streaming, we were downloading huge documents in record time, I uploaded [HD video] onto Facebook in under 30 seconds. It’s pretty much turned this small aircraft into a virtual office in the sky with a much, much better view”.

To see the EAN in action, watch our short demo flight video.

EAN will change the way connectivity is delivered and consumed in the air

The success of the recent demonstration flights have reinforced EAN’s award-winning position as a truly disruptive and integrated service. Designed to meet Europe’s unique aviation needs – in particular the demands of its congested airspace – EAN will transform European air travel, bringing unprecedented quality of service for passengers and generating economic value for airlines.

“EAN will change the way connectivity is delivered and consumed in the air,” said Rolf Nafziger, Senior Vice President, International Wholesale Business at Deutsche Telekom.

“Since our initial announcement in September 2015, we have developed and built a very sophisticated ecosystem comprising a satellite launch, development of new on-board equipment, new LTE antennas for the base stations and the rollout of the EAN ground network component.”

The demonstration flights have also shown that EAN has exceeded its design parameters. Latency – the time it takes for you to click on a website and actually see the page requested is a common challenge for inflight connectivity. And it’s a particular strong point of EAN, noted Nafziger, with an unprecedented low-latency performance of less than 100 milliseconds. He also added that because the EAN antennas were both small and lightweight, airlines would be able to install them quickly. Entire fleets can be turned around within only a matter of months.

This user-friendly service is also extremely cost effective for airlines. Because EAN is less complex than any comparable solution it’s also easier to maintain. The lightweight, low drag antennas will also minimise fuel burn and reduce maintenance costs.

In Europe we’re unique in the world that we have so many hubs so close together. You need a lot of capacity to serve this well and that’s what we’ve achieved with the European Aviation Network

Frederik van Essen, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Business Development at Inmarsat Aviation, noted that the challenges Europe’s busy skies threw up were manifold, but by combining the best of both worlds – the satellite and ground network – passengers would experience seamless connectivity over land, and water.

“Busy doesn’t just mean the number of flights and passengers,” he said. “It also means density. In Europe we’re unique in the world that we have so many hubs so close together. There are so many flights taking off and manoeuvring in such a small airspace. This poses problems when you’re trying to design a solution to provide connectivity to these aircraft. You need a lot of capacity to serve this well and that’s what we’ve achieved with the European Aviation Network.”

Van Essen added that thanks to these complementary networks, capacity can be added on busy routes. It also means that EAN can keep up with demand in an easy and scalable manner. And with passenger volume expected to double across Europe in the next 15 years, this last point is key.

EAN Partners with EAN aircraft connectivity equipment

Another significant benefit for airline customers, Nafziger highlighted, was the system’s exclusivity to aviation. Airlines using EAN will not share network capacity with any other industry or user-type, he said.

Both were keen to stress that this was a true pan-European partnership. Bringing connectivity to the skies was a complex effort, Nafziger said, and it could only be realised through cross-border collaboration with Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom’s European partners, including Nokia.

“Each of the partners couldn’t do it on its own,” he explained, “but by bringing everyone together, and with each partner the best in their field, we have been able to bring the project in on time and also on budget.”

Thorsten Robrecht, Vice President Vertical Network Slices at Nokia endorsed this view, stating: “Our joint endeavour breaks the technological boundaries between ground and inflight connectivity. EAN’s ground network had to meet technical prerequisites that are quite different from ‘normal’ LTE networks: it needs to work at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, at heights of 10 km and requires large cells of up to 150 km.”

And now that this infrastructure is in place – and designed to last for decades –the benefits for the aviation industry will soon be realised.