Can SmartSky Deliver on its Lofty High-Speed Connectivity Promise?

“Office-like Internet” expected to go live nationwide for business aviation companies in mid-2018.

Citation Excel
We tested SmartSky's 4G LTE network over Florida in a Cessna Citation Excel.SmartSky

As my flying routine typically involves cramped middle seats on bargain commercial flights, the thought of actual high-speed Internet at cruising altitude is about as realistic as finding the treasure of Oak Island. So, when SmartSky invited me on a recent flight to test its 4G LTE network over Florida, I was skeptical at best that I'd be able to stream a movie or FaceTime my family, as they'd promised me before boarding a Citation Excel at the Satcom Direct hangar in Melbourne.

“Basically, we said, put us to the test,” SmartSky Networks Vice President of Product Management Eric Brooks said of the trip. As a habitual multitasker and a web-surfing Kelly Slater, I eagerly accepted the challenge.

Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to watch the season two finale of Stranger Things as I'd planned, but SmartSky offered us approximately 20 minutes of Internet time, so I made the most of it. And since we flew on a Tuesday, I set myself a very specific challenge: Manage my fantasy football waiver picks and transactions.

Obviously, I could have spent my time any number of ways, challenging the bold limits of SmartSky’s 4G technology and the network’s “unrivaled” speed and capacity, but my two devices were among nine total operating on this flight, so I was admittedly skeptical that I’d be able to check my email at anything higher than ancient dial-up speeds, let alone try to solve my bye-week dilemma.

SmartSky delivered as promised, though — albeit in a small sample window — and what we pulled off was truly impressive. In addition to accessing multiple websites simultaneously with my iPhone in my left hand and my Surface Pro in my right, my media peers and fellow passengers successfully made multiple FaceTime calls to family and friends, downloaded eBooks, purchased items on Amazon, and streamed music and YouTube videos. And just to test if I'd have been able to watch Stranger Things if we'd had an hour, I opened Netflix on my Surface, and it streamed flawlessly for five minutes before we headed back to the hangar.

SmartSky
SmartSky's 4G LTE network allows passengers to experience seamless high-speed, "office-like Internet" while using multiple devices on the same flight.SmartSky

During our debriefing session, SmartSky Networks President Ryan Stone spoke of a “revolution in connectivity,” while his team peppered us with terms and phrases like “beam handovers,” “multi-Gigabyte-per-hour data rates inflight,” “high multi-Mbps bidirectional data rates,” and “low latency.” This information sounded like a foreign language, but what mattered more were phrases like “best value” and “network security.”

The latter was especially of concern, seeing as we didn’t need an app or special password to access the network, leaving me to wonder if my personal information was literally and figuratively up in the air for hackers and cyber-thieves to steal. The Satcom Direct team was quick to ease these worries, ensuring us that the SmartSky network is as secure as any on the ground.

And that’s ultimately what this all boils down to: Bringing high-speed connectivity, and all of its advantages, from the ground to the sky. When SmartSky 4G LTE goes live nationwide in mid-2018, as each aircraft model’s supplemental type certificate (STC) becomes available, smartphone-wielding passengers will be able to leave a lounge or hangar, board an aircraft and take off for their destinations, all while never experiencing lack of network connectivity.

In addition to Satcom Direct providing customer service and support, SmartSky has partnered with Bombardier, Textron Aviation, Western Aircraft and many more companies for hardware sales and installations. SmartSky is currently offering a network launch promotion with bonus data for a limited time.