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A new paradigm for communications

Date: 06th May 2015
Topic: Monthly Features
Tags: WiMAX, WiMAX Forum

WiMAX_.jpgThe latest report on the progress of AeroMACS has just been published, and the fifth WiMAX Aviation event held in Madrid. Tim Guest provides an update

The World Air Traffic Management Congress (WATMC) took place in a chilly Madrid in March. An integral part of the event was the two-day WiMAX Aviation 2015 programme, hosted by the WiMAX Forum under the wings of its president, Declan Byrne.

Participants came together to hear about and discuss all things AeroMACS (Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communications System), from international standardisation, equipment and device certification, applications and current deployments, to current and future aeronautical communications and the technology as the right platform for ATM applications. The event was a great success for a technology that the WiMAX Forum chief hopes will be the communications technology of choice for 50 per cent of the world’s airports by 2020.

Before the event Nikos Fistas, a senior COM expert at EUROCONTROL (the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation), said: “AeroMACS is the first component of the future aeronautical communication infrastructure and is building a new paradigm for aviation communications. The aviation community has worked together with the WiMAX Forum to create a global standard in ICAO. AeroMACS can be used worldwide to ensure interoperability and efficiently support the communication needs at airports for all aviation stakeholders: airlines, airport authorities as well as ANSPs [air navigation service providers].”

With leading analyst firm Senza Fili Consulting’s latest AeroMACS white paper – AeroMACS: A Common Platform for Air Traffic Management Applications – presented at the event by its president Monica Paolini, now is an ideal time to catch up with Declan Byrne for his take on where AeroMACS stands, how the Madrid event went, and how the new white paper dealt with this versatile and capable technology.

Land Mobile: Over the past 12 months, have plans for AeroMACS gone as expected?
Declan Byrne, president of the WiMAX Forum: Yes. In fact, I believe the adoption path for this technology has exceeded industry expectations. Over the past year, we’ve confirmed with airports, airlines and Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs) that AeroMACS remains the solution of choice for licensed broadband communications across the airport surface.

The Europeans are planning a fairly significant trial involving AeroMACS – and other technologies – across 24 major airports over the course of the next few years. The Japanese are working hard on deploying and the Chinese have rolled out in one airport and have a plan to add an additional 20 airports over the next 18 months. In the US, we’re working with several airports and aviation service companies to accelerate the deployment of AeroMACS.

The trials conducted in the US, Europe, China and Japan have begun to explore the potential of AeroMACS as a standard for air traffic management (ATM) operations, leveraging highcapacity broadband connectivity for a number of unique applications. For example, AeroMACS enables up-to-date information on flights, maps and weather forecasts delivered to pilots in realtime; the accurate guidance of aircraft moving on the ground; and the transmission of detailed real-time data.

In general, AeroMACS has come a very long way, having undergone a rigorous evaluation and standardisation process since its inception. Due to the fact that AeroMACS meets the industry’s key requirements in terms of connectivity, throughput and reliability, the above-mentioned test bed deployments continue to help promote the introduction of new use models, priority applications and services. In our role to drive further growth, the WiMAX Forum continues to consult with, and support, these deployments globally.

Land Mobile: You’ve previously said that with new technology standards in the aviation industry taking about five to seven years to establish, this factor alone makes AeroMACS a “foregone conclusion in our opinion”. Who is the ‘our’ in this opinion – the WiMAX Forum or wider industry? And has anything changed in the past 12 months to make you want to revise that statement in one direction or another?

DB: ‘Our’ opinion is certainly that of the WiMAX Forum, supported by our friends in regulatory and international standards adoption bodies, such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). There are many industry experts and leading organisations who share this opinion, as demonstrated by the adoption of the technology.

The aviation authorities, air carriers and airports all help to make up the wider industry. The WiMAX Forum then supports these shareholders by working in partnership with the foremost players in the aviation ecosystem – authorities such as the ICAO, EUROCONTROL and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The ecosystem over the past 12 months has really been focused on ‘fi nishing’ all the co-dependent standards – ICAO, RTCA, EuroCAE, ARINC, ITU (for spectrum), and associated FCC and other work.

This has been necessary ‘heavy lifting’, which I am happy to report is largely done. There remain two standards items, which are being readied for final adoption at the ICAO and ARINC level, and we have a good path forward within the US on the equipment licensing front from an FCC perspective. All of this work had to be finished so that the ecosystem can truly market a commercially ready and standards approved solution.

The ecosystem of manufacturers and aviation service companies (such as Hitachi, Siemens, Selex, Telrad, SAAB Sensis, Honeywell, etc.) are now focusing on visiting with airports across the world and marketing the capabilities and benefits of the system. Our goal is to have the technology in use at multiple airports across three continents, over the course of the next 12 months.

Land Mobile: Other than the three main stakeholders – airlines, air traffic agencies, and airport authorities – which the Senza Fili report says AeroMACS can support, what others are there?
DB: Beyond these stakeholders there are regulatory players that are driving AeroMACS, such as ICAO. Working with ICAO, we’ve encouraged country regulators to publish ITUharmonised rules for access to spectrum in the AM[R]S band for their markets, according to ITU recommendations. The FAA has identified more than 300 programme requirements for safety and regularity of flight for which AeroMACS is a key enabler. According to a Mitre technical paper from September 2014 (AeroMACS Implementation Analyses), the FAA is currently in the process of developing a strategy for the implementation of AeroMACS in the National Airspace System (NAS). AeroMACS networks will provide high data rate communications in the airport environment in support of next generation air transportation system operations.

Land Mobile: The Senza Fili report offers a clear argument for AeroMACS. What other technology developments could derail AeroMACS on its path to success in this space?
DB: The apocalypse?! No, seriously though, in the world of communications, you never know what may change. Having said that, considering the measured way this particular industry adopts (and for that matter abandons) technology, I see no realistic derailing factors that could be expected.

For an industry accustomed to robust, unyielding and often proprietary solutions, the characteristics of AeroMACS are driving widespread adoption. The platform is based on WiMAX technology, which has been widely deployed commercially for more than a decade. WiMAX has a long history, used both in public networks to provide fixed and mobile broadband, as well as in vertical markets such as utilities, oil and gas, and transportation. As such, it’s a mature, affordable solution that delivers high throughput connectivity and operates in a similar way to Wi-Fi, but at higher speeds, over greater distances,with greater reliability, and for a greater number of users.

For these reasons, aviation stakeholders have taken care not to stray from the WiMAX 802.16e-2009 standard, which already satisfies the technical requirements of the aviation community. While there are other wireless solutions that support ATM applications (narrowband radio, 3G/4G and Wi-Fi), any new entrant in aviation would have to undergo the rigorous process that AeroMACS has [already undergone] in order to become widely adopted in the aeronautical environment.

The WiMAX Forum offers a certification programme to ensure equipment compliance and interoperability across WiMAX-based solutions in aviation. Industry experts across the board agree that AeroMACS has the unique ability to deliver on the sector’s requirements with unparalleled agility and flexibility. It brings a much-needed assurance that well-governed, standards-based deployment profiles and environments are developed in alignment with institutional bodies, which define protocols to deal with the specific nuances of the aviation industry.

Land Mobile: How did the Madrid event go, from the perspective of AeroMACS?
DB: The Madrid event was a smashing success and demonstrated the tremendous interest in AeroMACS by key players. Attendees from around the world included vendors, airlines, airport authorities, and various government representatives from the US, Europe and Canada. We were particularly pleased by the participation of very senior representatives from ICAO, FAA and EUROCONTROL.

One topic that received a particularly high level of attention from attendees was a new reference model for AeroMACS deployment that we call the Network Reference Model (NRM). Over the past year, the WiMAX Forum has identified this unique use model in which standalone applications at an airport are initially integrated into ground-based wireless infrastructure, such as surface radar/navigation, weather sensors and surveillance video systems.

AeroMACS deployments are then expanded in a phased roll-out process, delivering more coverage and capacity as new applications are added to various stakeholder departments.

Currently this model is being used as a guide at the US’s fourth busiest airport – Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – with plans for additional hub airports to roll out the NRM on our 2015 roadmap.

Land Mobile: Can we coax any further predictions for AeroMACS out of you?
DB: If I were a betting man, I would say that AeroMACS will be deployed by one out of every 10 airports globally by 2020. If I were a high roller, I’d go so far as to say that 50 per cent of those airports will have the technology adopted.

In the coming decade, I foresee that AeroMACS deployments will continue to spread to additional airports and to new aircraft models that have more demanding data communications requirements – implemented on the ground as well as in cockpits.

Although AeroMACS technology can support a wide range of applications, the ITU spectrum allocation is specifically earmarked for airport-based applications dealing with traffic management, airport operations, safety and regularity of flight.

From flight decks to control towers, there is no question that our aviation system is in the middle of imperative technological change. Dating back to the very first test site at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport, AeroMACS continues to offer a new paradigm for communications. It provides efficient, reliable and secure broadband connectivity across the entire airport. It is an innovative, scalable and advanced platform that addresses the challenges of rising congestion and delivers uniquely capable surface communications and mission-critical connectivity between airport buildings and their ground-based counterparts at some of the world’s largest airports.

The bottom line is that AeroMACS represents safety, efficiency and increased capacity when it comes to airport communications. What airport in the world doesn’t want all this?

AeroMACS white paper research
Senza Fili Consulting’s latest whitepaper, AeroMACS: A Common Platform for Air Traffic Management Applications, explores how a WiMAX-based platform known as the Aeronautical Mobile Airport Communication System – or AeroMACS – benefits some of the world’s leading airports.

The research identifies how the technology supports various air trafficmanagement (ATM) applications, delivering
enhanced performance, cost efficiency and economies of scale.

It says early adoption of the AeroMACS platform is occurring in developed countries and at larger airports, and that its main strength is its ability to support many applications concurrently, in a scalable and cost-effective way. It will play a crucial role in maintaining security and safety standards as air traffic congestion grows.

Image: At WiMAX Aviation 2015 – Madrid, held at World ATM Congress, Declan Byrne, president of the WiMAX Forum (pictured left) hosted a seminar on AeroMACS and its role in the future of ATM. Panellists included Chris Dalton, Chief, Airspace Management and Optimisation (AMO) Section, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Air Navigation Bureau (pictured middle), and Aloke Roy, Chair, WiMAX Forum Aviation Working Group - Sr. Program Manager, Honeywell 


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