When evaluating phased arrays for inflight connectivity, particularly when considering electronically steered arrays (ESAs) still in development, you’re likely in the weeds of product spec sheets.

To help you navigate these technical details more easily and compare your options effectively, we’ve summarized the top specs to consider in the table below, followed by details on why they matter. (Here’s a PDF for future reference.)

phased-array-specs_thinkom-v-esa

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 its 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 Hours MTBF
To put it in perspective, this translates to over 20 years of failure-free operation. Having accrued over 8.5 million flight hours to date, ThinKom’s industry-leading 100,000 hours MTBF—based on field-measured data—is unprecedented.

2. Antenna Size vs. Gain

Why it Matters
Simply put, more antenna gain out of a smaller antenna improves spectral efficiency and ultimately lowers OpEx. In other words, you get more data throughput for less bandwidth cost in a smaller antenna size.

ThinKom Spec: 25” D for Ka and 30” D for Ku at 18 dB/K G/T at Broadside
With spectral efficiency 2x to 5x better than other phased arrays, including ESAs in development, ThinKom delivers 3-7 dB/K higher G/T for the same active area. This translates into annual bandwidth cost savings of $75K per aircraft or a net present value of $480K per aircraft over 10 years.

3. Minimum Elevation Angles

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 separates the elite from the pack.

ThinKom Spec: 5o Elevation (85o Scan)
From wing to wing and tail to tail, ThinKom maintains optimal measured performance at these elevation angles which allows aircraft to fly to the most extreme polar latitudes—typical for transoceanic flights—with uninterrupted access to connectivity.

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: 350+ MHz for Ku, 500+ MHz for Ka
Instead of repointing the antenna for frequency changes, which is common for narrow channel bandwidth antennas, ThinKom’s phased arrays simply see a broader range of frequencies all at once, with no re-steering required.

5. Beam Agility

Why it Matters
For upcoming LEO/MEO constellations, 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 service lapses.

ThinKom Spec: Up to 1,000o/sec2
This translates into a worst-case re-steer time of 800 milliseconds, which is no worse than a typical GEO ping time that people are accustomed to now, and can easily be buffered by the modem for a seamless transition and smooth user experience.

6. LEO/MEO/GEO Interoperability

Why it Matters 
Even if a fraction of the upcoming LEO and MEO constellations are successfully deployed, they will change the whole landscape as we know it. GEOs 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, thereby lowering the price of bandwidth.

ThinKom Spec: Yes, Interoperable
Only a truly integrated multi-constellation solution—in which the antenna would be able to switch seamlessly back and forth from GEO to MEO and LEO satellites—will provide truly reliable, global, pole-to-pole connectivity. This is entirely possible and necessary, and ThinKom has already demonstrated it.

7. Full FCC/ITU 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 the airline and connectivity providers, allowing them to consider network changes without having to swap out hardware.

ThinKom Spec: 3.5 GHz for Ka, 2 GHz for Ku
From the Americas to Asia to EMEA, ThinKom’s phased arrays are compatible with every current and planned satellite for complete global connectivity.

8. Modulation and Coding (MODCOD)

Why it Matters
Since data rates are directly related to the modulation factor, the higher the MODCOD, the more Mbps/Hz can be squeezed out of the same bandwidth.

ThinKom Spec: Up to 32APSK (> 4 bits/Hz)
Operators often have a difficult time believing how clean ThinKom’s antenna patterns are. As a testament to this, our phased arrays’ ability to efficiently and flawlessly push IP traffic frequently exceed the modem’s throughput capability.

9. Average Prime Power/Cooling

Why it Matters
High power consumption = high heat dissipation = long-term damage to electronic components. Power guzzlers, like ESAs, require thermal management to prevent the electronics from overheating. This burdens the aircraft’s power system, limits gate-to-gate operation and ultimately negatively impacts MTBF due to high component-junction temperatures.

ThinKom Spec: 70W (Excluding SSPA)
ThinKom’s phased array runs cool and doesn’t break a sweat, 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 happily connected even through long flight delays and endless taxiing.

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