Want to live-stream 10,000 feet in the air? Honeywell’s inflight tech will let you

With the growth in the internet of things (IoT), there is rarely a moment when we aren’t connected. Air travel used to be a time when we had to turn our tech off, but no more: planes, too, are becoming a node in the IoT.

However, if you’re a frequent traveler you’ve likely experienced the pain that is inflight Wi-Fi — even on the most cutting-edge airlines. You get in the air, find out there’s internet access, pay the unworldly fee, and you’re supposedly good to go. We say supposedly because inflight Wi-Fi is famously slow and spotty, and while some are advertised as high-speed, you are restricted from using streaming services like Netflix, Spotify, and HBO Go. Although it’s definitely a feat of engineering that there’s internet in a plane at all, it could use some work. And that’s where Honeywell is stepping in.

Last week, in San Francisco, we had the opportunity to check out what Honeywell has been working on in the way of in-flight internet connections, and we were pleasantly surprised. The company is conducting a worldwide tour on a 757 “Connected Aircraft,” and it’s demonstrating its satellite-based inflight Wi-Fi concept in partnership with Boeing and GX Aviation (the Wi-Fi services arm of satellite communications company, Inmarsat, which counts Air New Zealand, Lufthansa, and Qatar Airways as customers).

“You’ve got to be able to connect in-flight, even through conditions that are tough on a satellite receiver.”

Using satellites for broadband internet isn’t new — the concept dates back to 2000 when Boeing launched its now-defunct Connexion service, and, today, it can be found on planes serviced by GX Aviation, Gogo, Panasonic Avionics, Global Eagle, and Viasat, among others. To date, most airlines in the U.S. connect to the internet through air-to-ground (ATG) connections (Gogo is the largest service provider in this front). Switching over to satellites helps alleviate many of the issues associated with air-to-ground connections, primarily a constant connection that covers a wider area, including over large bodies of water. And what early satellite technology lacked in speed, the newest equipment, such as Honeywell’s JetWave (the onboard product used by GX Aviation to connect to three existing Inmarsat Ka-band satellites), aims to improve that.

With its Connected Aircraft, Honeywell is demoing just how its hardware delivers on said performance. And, because the JetWave uses two receivers instead of one, it results in speeds that are up to 100 times faster when compared to existing global connectivity solutions today. According to Honeywell, the simultaneous beams to the satellite allows for seamless switching, and it’s how it achieves a consistent experience, whether over land or water – one beam allows users to stay connected, while the second receiver acquires the new spot beam as an aircraft moves from one beam to another. GX users use one beam at a timeThe JetWave equipment can be installed in new planes prior to delivery to airline partners, but Honeywell says older aircraft could easily be retrofitted with JetWave.

And just how fast is it? Honeywell is advertising speeds of up to 30Mbps, which isn’t bad at all and is just enough to allow for live-streaming purposes. When Honeywell invited us to take part in the flight, it specifically encouraged us to try live-streaming. During the test flight, we were able to conduct a Facebook Live broadcast on the Digital Trends Facebook page, and even though that live video was a little choppy, the fact that we could conduct one at all shows that this is an improvement over previous implementations.

We also verified those speeds with a speed test — it actually surpassed the 30Mbps range, although it’s highly likely that results will be slightly less impressive on a standard commercial flight compared to Honeywell’s fully decked out test flight. Even if an airline chooses to use that bandwidth for other purposes instead, it could, for example, offer improved entertainment streaming in lieu of installing seatback displays, which could help a plane fly lighter and use less fuel.

A better connection opens the gateway for a slew of new tools for pilots and ground control.

“Satellite technology has come a long way,” said Honeywell’s VP of Connected Aircraft Kristin Slyker, in an interview with Digital Trends. “You’ve got to be able to connect in-flight, even through conditions that are tough on a satellite receiver.”

Now, we know what you’re thinking: More reliable and faster Netflix! And that’s true, but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the advantages of a connected aircraft. And ultimately, many of those advantages could have seriously positive effects on the overall flight experience.

For starters, a better connection opens the gateway for a slew of new tools for pilots and ground control, essentially allowing planes to communicate in real-time. According to Honeywell, instead of a pilot having to spend a few hours before the flight sifting through data that they have and having to file a flight plan, pilots can get can update their flight plan in real-time if, for example, unforeseen bad weather is ahead. That can make for a faster flight that’s better on fuel efficiency, and more comfortable for passengers who might otherwise be flying through spotty weather patterns.

A connected experience also makes for better maintenance management. Different components of Honeywell’s test plane had sensor in them that could detect when those components might wear out or break based on terabytes of previous data, using predictive analytics. That could ultimately save a lot of money for airlines, which wouldn’t have to take a plane out of use for a few weeks for repairs, instead being able to quickly and efficiently replace worn-out parts as they come up in Honeywell’s system.

These services are available to flight operators through Honeywell’s GoDirect suite of apps, which include apps for weather, flight planning, ground control, and so on.

Of course, Honeywell isn’t alone. As the biggest service provider of inflight broadband Gogo is making serious moves of its own. The company is transitioning from its ATG infrastructure in favor of its satellite-based systems, called 2Ku, which should make for a much better customer experience than ATG. But what Gogo doesn’t necessarily have, according to Honeywell, is Honeywell’s experience in aviation and its ability to help pilots — not just the customers sitting in the cabin. Honeywell also isn’t selling connectivity directly to passengers — it’s selling to airlines who will, in turn, handle pricing and connectivity for passengers, including how much of that bandwidth is allocated to passengers and how much goes to pilots and the connected plane.

According to Honeywell, within the next 18-24 months we’ll see a much wider adoption of its JetWave technology, including on domestic flights in the U.S. Regardless of which company is delivering the connection, the flying consumer can get ready for better inflight Netflix.

Emerging Tech

Will we ever fly supersonic again? Unraveling the concorde’s complex legacy

In a new book, Last Days of the Concorde, journalist and author Samme Chittum delves into the mindset that inspired engineers to design this marvel, the series of events that led to its fatal crash, and the possibility that commercial SSTs…
Cars

Heads up, George Jetson: Terrafugia starts taking orders for its flying car

The Terrafugia Transition flying car will go on sale next year, roughly a decade after the first prototype rolled out of its hangar. Terrafugia promises improvements, including a hybrid powertrain, to make up for the long wait.
Product Review

Volvo’s redesigned 2019 S60 sedan is the best kind of remix

The 2019 Volvo S60 borrows almost everything from other recent Volvo models, but that’s not a problem. From its infotainment system to an available plug-in hybrid powertrain, the S60 takes the best bits from a lineup of great cars.
Business

Singapore reclaims longest flight, but could you sit on a plane for that long?

Singapore Airlines has reclaimed the record for the world's longest commercial flight with a service it scrapped five years ago. The first flight takes off from Singapore on Thursday and takes nearly 19 hours to reach New York.
Computing

Google to shut down Google+ after exposure of 500,000 users’ data

After Facebook revealed that 50 million users may have been exposed as a result of a security vulnerability, Google announced it discovered a bug that left 500,000 Google+ users exposed. It will also shut down Google+.
News

GE Appliances augments its new smart kitchen hub with SideChef

Sidechef is an incredibly handy app for home cooks because of its ability to access more than 5,000 recipes and now home cooks will be able to access the app in the smart kitchen via GE Appliances' new kitchen hub.
Photography

Apple acquisition points to possibility of easy background removal in photos

According to a Danish newspaper, Apple now owns a company that uses machine learning to remove or replace the background on photos and videos. Spektral's website says it is working to bring the A.I. background removal to smartphones.
Cars

Going my way? Waze takes its carpooling service nationwide

Following a tentative rollout over the last two years, Waze is now expanding its carpooling service to all 50 states, offering drivers a chance to fill their spare seats with riders heading in the same direction.
Movies & TV

‘Venom’ devours the box office competition with monstrous second weekend

Sony Pictures anti-superhero movie Venom won the weekend box office for the second straight week, beating musical drama A Star is Born, as well as three new releases that made it into the weekend's top ten movies.
Mobile

OnePlus charges into U.K. carrier stores, leaving online-only start in the past

OnePlus's next phone, the OnePlus 6T, will be more widely available than any OnePlus phone before it, as the company has announced major deals with retailers in the U.K. The device launches on October 30.
Home Theater

Apple Music recommendations could get superpowers thanks to latest acquisition

Following the approval of its Shazam acquisition, a new report has surfaced saying that Apple has acquired music analytics firm Asaii, with its founders now members of the Apple Music team.
Mobile

Google will start charging Android manufacturers to use its apps in Europe

Google announced that it will be charging Android device manufacturers in Europe a licensing fee to use its apps and services. The announcement comes as an effort to comply with new European Commission regulations.
Emerging Tech

This gadget lets you sleep on airplanes without snuggling a stranger

Odd gadget, or a hug for your face? The Napup Fly+ is a travel pillow, sleep mask, and personal speaker system all rolled into one, attached to the back of the headrest to hold your head up.
Smart Home

Amazon has an even dozen new smart devices. Here’s how to order

Amazon's hardware announcement meant a whole bunch of new Amazon Alexa gadgets. From a microwave to stereo equipment, here is the complete list of devices that were announced, as well as reviews for some.