Comparing Antenna Technologies

From Every Orbit to Every Seat

Delivering high-speed in-flight connectivity to every seat from every orbit is the endgame. And we know selecting the right antenna system to get you there can be a bit daunting. To help you more easily compare options, we’ve compiled a list of key factors to consider and why they matter – to you and your passengers.

Factor #1: Reliability

Why it Matters
Antennas should just work—all the time. No airline wants to interrupt their flight schedule to maintain or repair an antenna. Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), a typical measure of reliability in most hardware, is just as it sounds: the average time it takes for a failure to occur under normal use. The more flight hours a technology has under its belt, the more meaningful and accurate the MTBF.

ThinKom Spec: 100,000 MTBF
Our patented airborne VICTS phased arrays have measured MTBF of >100,000 hours, tallying over 30 million operating hours from first taking flight through August 2022. And with no belts, gears or even discrete motors, ThinKom phased arrays don’t have the typical moving parts of traditional antennas—significantly reducing failure risks.

Learn more about VICTS:

Factor #2: Size and Spectral Efficiency

Why it Matters
More gain out of a smaller antenna improves spectral efficiency and ultimately lowers operating expenses. In other words, you get more throughput for lower bandwidth costs.

ThinKom Spec: 2.5x to 8x More Efficient 
To achieve the equivalent G/T, other solutions—including electronically scanned arrays (ESAs) in development—need to have an aperture area 2.5 to 8 times larger than ThinKom’s. This spectral efficiency advantage translates into annual bandwidth cost savings of $75K per aircraft or a net present value of $480K per aircraft over 10 years.

Want to dive deeper into spectral efficiency? Contact us to schedule a call with one of our experts.

3. Minimum Elevation Angle

Why It Matters
Aircraft fly all over the world and should have a SATCOM antenna that can keep up. Passengers expect 100% connectivity regardless of where they’re flying, whether in equatorial or polar regions. Phased arrays routinely perform best at high elevation angles (looking straight up), but it’s the low-elevation-angle performance that’s a key discriminator.

ThinKom Spec: 5o Elevation (85o Scan)
From wing to wing and tail to tail, ThinKom maintains optimal measured performance at these elevation angles. This means your passengers can fly to the most extreme polar latitudes (typical for transoceanic flights) with uninterrupted access to connectivity. As a practical example, every day, our Ku3030 system supports multiple flights at latitudes above 70N (i.e., well above the Arctic Circle) reliably closing GSO links below 10° elevation.

Phased array elevation angle

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Factor #4: Wide Transponder Bandwidths

Why it Matters
User bandwidth demands only trend upwards, so current and future generations of satellites are constantly pushing the envelope with frequency reuse, narrower spot beams and larger transponders. These new satellite architectures require antennas to support a minimum of 250 MHz channel bandwidth.

ThinKom Spec: 500 MHz to 2 GHz
ThinKom VICTS antennas have an instantaneous bandwidth ranging from 500 MHz to 2 GHz, depending on the frequency band and use case. They simply “see” the entire frequency spectrum all at once, with no antenna beam re-steering required (vs. those with narrow channel bandwidths that need to continually repoint for frequency changes). So, you don’t have to worry about scrutinizing repointing specs like you would with a narrow-channel-bandwidth antenna.

Factor #5: Beam Agility

Why it Matters
For upcoming constellations in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) antennas must be able to re-steer their beam up to 180o in azimuth to move from a “setting” to a “rising” satellite in less than one second to avoid lapses in service and disconnecting passengers from their content.

ThinKom Spec: <800 milliseconds
VICTS phased arrays switch between satellites in less than 800 milliseconds, which is less than a typical GSO ping time that people are accustomed to today. This can easily be buffered by the modem for a seamless transition and smooth passenger experience.

ThinKom beam switching

Factor #6: GSO/NGSO Interoperability

Why it Matters
Even if a fraction of the upcoming NGSO networks are successfully deployed, they will change the whole landscape as we know it. GSOs will still play a vital and stable role in the connectivity mix, however. Providers and end-users should have access to the best of both worlds for risk reduction and healthy competition.

ThinKom Spec: Multi-Orbit Interoperability
Only a truly integrated multi-constellation solution—in which the antenna would be able to switch seamlessly back and forth from GSO to NGSO satellites—will provide truly reliable, global, pole-to-pole connectivity. This is entirely possible and necessary, and ThinKom has already demonstrated it. With separately pointable transmit and receive apertures, a VICTS antenna supports true make-before-break (MbB) in half duplex, or very fast break-before-make (BbM) at full duplex. Further, if two truly simultaneous full-duplex beams are required, two separate antennas can be utilized while still maintaining a small footprint.

Factor #7: Average Prime Power/Cooling

Why it Matters
Some antenna technologies are power hungry, leading to overheated components and the need for  thermal management systems. This burdens the aircraft’s power system, limits gate-to-gate operation (under solar loading and high ground ambient temperatures) and ultimately negatively impacts MTBF due to high component-junction temperatures.

ThinKom Spec: 70W (Excluding SSPA)
With no electronic components to overheat, ThinKom’s phased array runs cool, even when running full tilt on the tarmac in Phoenix in the middle of summer. The SSPA or KRFU is located in the temperature-controlled aircraft cabin and away from the effects of solar loading so passengers can stay connected even through long flight delays and endless taxiing. For example, ThinKom’s Ka2517 airborne antenna consumes only 70 W of power (used for beam steering while the aircraft is in flight). The antenna controller and HPA which are installed in the cabin consumes 50 W and 375 W, respectively.

Factor #8: Full FCC/ITU Regulatory Compliance and Operating Frequency Coverage

Why it Matters
The ability to operate across the whole spectrum of frequency and polarization provides the ability to be agnostic to all networks. This diversity is important to service providers and airlines, allowing them to consider network changes without having to swap out hardware. Additionally, terminals operating on NGSO satellites (which can be located anywhere in the sky) must limit their emissions so as not to interfere with GSO satellites.

A challenging regulatory requirement has emerged, as many countries plan to (re)use the same frequencies for terrestrial 5G point-to-point backhaul and distribution services as for satellite systems. Hence, the most recent drafting of the WRC-19 “ESIM” rules which establish new standards to protect terrestrial 5G networks from interference from airborne and other mobile terminals.

The elevated sidelobes emitted by some antennas are problematic when operating with NGSOs, because of the potential interference with 5G, rendering them unlikely to meet these new and more challenging ITU requirements.

ThinKom Spec: Fully Compliant with Low Interference Risk
Our phased arrays uniquely meet both the ITU Article 22 and WRC-19 ESIM interoperability requirements, as they exhibit unusually low “below-horizon” emissions and well-managed above-horizon emissions with no grating lobes or elevated sidelobe floors.

Connect with one of our experts to dive deeper and get your questions answered.

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