XM on Your iPad
By far the most popular choice for pilots is the XM Satellite Weather service, an extremely useful and popular tool for strategic weather decision-making that includes not just Nexrad imagery but also winds aloft, icing levels, turbulence reports, areas of IMC and VMC conditions and more. There’s really no need to dive too deeply into the XM WX service since it has been around for years, but what you might not know is you can now buy a portable data transmitter for $199 and display all of that great XM information on your iPad, Android or other mobile device.
WxWorx, the provider behind the XM service, last summer launched Mobile Link, essentially a Wi-Fi transmitter that takes the data from your already-installed XM weather receiver and broadcasts it to your handheld tablet. This fall, WxWorx improved the product by adding support for up to four devices simultaneously. The only downside is that you must already have an XM weather receiver in your airplane for the Mobile Link unit to function.
Another choice for in-cockpit weather is the WSI InFlight service transmitted over the Sirius satellite network. This is the choice of Avidyne for its MLB700 weather receiver, which also doubles as a Sirius audio programming receiver. Avidyne also offers the MLX770 weather data receiver, which is capable of transmitting data over the Iridium satellite network for coverage anywhere in the world where weather data is disseminated. The XM and Sirius products, as you probably know already, are limited to the United States.
Free ADS-B Weather
A prediction we’re hearing more and more is that the availability of free ADS-B weather data is going to put the XM and Sirius services out of business. So why aren’t pay services quaking in their shoes? The ADS-B mandate begins in 2020, and it’s a safe bet that a great many buyers will choose to add weather capability when it comes time to upgrade. Still, many pilots who often fly in marginal or worse weather say they’ll never give up their XM service because the data they receive is so much better.
Given the choice between XM or ADS-B weather, I’d pick XM every time since ADS-B coverage can be spotty and it has limitations in what you can do with it. But as the FAA builds out the ADS-B coverage network and improves the data it transmits, there’s no question the free weather service will grow in popularity. It’s happening already with the sudden interest in portable ADS-B weather receivers, including the Stratus unit from Sporty’s and Appareo systems, which seamlessly links with an iPad running ForeFlight Mobile. Garmin has followed suit by introducing the GDL 39, a portable ADS-B weather receiver that can also receive limited ADS-B traffic data. And new to the market is the XGPS 170 portable ADS-B weather and traffic receiver from Dual that works with popular apps such as WingX Pro7 running on iPads or Android devices.