Deutsche Telekom claims the European Aviation Network (EAN) “will change how connectivity is consumed in the air” as, with partners Inmarsat and Nokia, it edges closer to commercial launch.

International Airlines Group is EAN’s first customer and British Airways would be among the first to launch in the first half of this year. In-flight connectivity could be worth $8 billion to airlines by 2035.

Plans for the EAN were announced in 2015. The intent is to provide connectivity across Europe for airline passengers through a dedicated EAN satellite (which has been in operation since September 2017) and an LTE network on the ground. Deutsche Telekom and Nokia have now completed the ground network infrastructure, which comprises 300 base stations across the 28 member states of the European Union, plus Switzerland and Norway.

To complete the network, two antennas will be deployed on aircraft: one at the top for the satellite link and one on the bottom for access to the LTE ground network.

Scalable, exclusive capacity

Rolf Nafziger SVP, International Wholesale, Deutsche Telekom (pictured centre), said EAN is “a truly disruptive integrated service” and added “we are able to provide unprecedented performance of the entire integrated system using the available spectrum as efficiently as never before”. His company has promised speeds of more than 75Mbps to aircraft, with low latency and scalable network capacity to meet what it expects to be rapidly rising demand due to the growing number of European flights.

Nafziger explained the service runs on frequency and capacity exclusive to airlines, and will not have to share the bandwidth with other industries.

Thorsten Robrecht, Nokia’s VP, Vertical Network Slices, Nokia, explained the three companies were open to working with operators planning to copy the framework on other continents, noting that EAN was the only one of its kind under development in Europe.

From zero to billions

For the airline industry, Inmarsat Aviation’s SVP Frederik van Essen (pictured, right) said EAN will be game changing: Europe’s airspace is the busiest in the world, with 22,500 flights per day and 500 million passengers per year. The companies’ research found more than half these passengers would rather have in-flight connectivity than a meal. More than two-thirds said they’d be willing to pay for it.

Van Essen cited a study conducted in collaboration with the London School of Economics which also found there was “exploding demand” from people wanting broadband during travel, and its provision could generate $8.2 billion for European airlines by 2035.

“That figure is currently around zero… we cannot underestimate the benefits this can bring to Europe,” added van Essen.