The UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom has today cleared plans for airlines and other transport operators to use satellite-based ‘earth stations’ to deliver broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than is currently available, the organisation said.

While accessing the Internet from a plane, ship, train or coach is already possible in many instances, the new technology will provide far more bandwidth to users, meaning faster download speeds and therefore an altogether more useful Internet service. In order to provide the capacity for the planned services, Ofcom is freeing up 4,128 MHz of spectrum. To put that in perspective, the UK’s 4G spectrum auctions assigned just 250MHz across the whole country.

In order to deliver the faster speeds (around 10Mbps downstream, or higher, to an individual passenger or around 50Mbps to a single earth station), the ship, plane or vehicle would carry an earth station device which connects to a geostationary satellite orbiting the earth’s equator at an altitude of 22,300 miles.  However, today only marks Ofcom clearance for these devices to be fitted to land-based vehicles like coaches and trains as it has deemed land-based earth stations as exempt from requiring a license.

The regulator added that it expects to start accepting applications to license ship-mounted earth stations by February this year, and that it’s working with the Civil Aviation Authority to make licensing for aircraft-mounted devices available in a similar time frame.

While it is undeniably good news for people that like to stay connected to the Internet as much as possible, the plan is still at a formative stage and we’re yet to see just how much these superfast services cost the end user. If it’s anything like the current situation on aircraft, it will be a considerable premium over the comparable cost on terra firma.

➤ Statement on the Authorisation of Earth Stations on Mobile Platforms [Ofcom]

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