Friday, June 27, 2014

Data Comm Tools We Need

I spent the last week on a business trip, and managed to go most of the week without WiFi. The airplane I flew on didn't have WiFi, and while in the car I didn't have it either. I was staying at a 5 star hotel for 4 nights, and had only marginal coverage, at $13 a night. I ended up using my mobile hot spot on my phone and burned through over half my monthly allotment LTE internet in 4 days. I learned how much I rely on data connections.

Several years ago, probably 1998 or so, my wife and I were at Oshkosh, and walked by the Iridium booth. The Iridium sales person offered us a free phone call to see how great their products are, and maybe we could use them in our airplane. This was before my wife or I had a cell phone, and we wanted to check in on the kids. After three or 4 failures, we never got to talk to the kids, and we walked away unimpressed.

About a week ago, the Airplane Geeks had the president of Iridium on the show and allowed him to hawk his products.He presented a new product that sounds like something pilots can use in the plane, and maybe other times as well. The Iridium Go looks to be the perfect implementation of the Iridium network for us.

The Iridium Go is a WiFi hotspot that will work anywhere in the world, at almost any altitude. This is the opportunity to make a tablet and phone work anywhere all the time. When in the air, the tablet can get all the data updates desired, along with making VOIP phone calls on the phone. The Go also has tracking and other useful features built in.

I know FIS-B and TIS-B should have much of the datalink covered, there are some things it won't have covered. Items like downloading whole graphical charts while in the air, or additional weather information will not be available over FIS-B.  TIS-B and FIS-B aren't available outside the CONUS either, operations there will benefit from additional datalinks.

Airlines have the ability to use Iridium datalink today, and the ICAO flight plan has a capability letter reserved for CPDLC using Iridium (J7 CPDLC FANS 1/A SATCOM (Iridium)) in Item 10. To put Iridium radios in commercial aircraft is a very expensive aftermarket event. Using the Iridium Go for non-safety of flight purposes is a much smaller cost (More than an order of magnitude!).

The price is around $600 for the GO, and while that sounds high, consider the cost of a typical smart phone is in a similar ballpark (off contract). One might guess if these devices become quite popular, the price may come down.

For tooling around in your Taylorcraft, this might be overkill, but I could see it becoming almost an expected item on a Citation, or King Air. People rely on data communications a bit more in the 21st century.

(Iridium hasn't talked to me at all, I saw this and thought this is  great product!)

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