Providing a true in-the-air as on-the-ground broadband connectivity service for aviation businesses and their passengers, EAN is a Europe-wide initiative helping to transform experiences, drive operational efficiency and deliver new revenue streams for airlines.

Together with Inmarsat, Deutsche Telekom and their supporting technology partners, Cellnex is making it happen. Its Site Share solution was an instrumental part of the testing programme, and continues to play a key role now the service is commercially available.

The challenge

Prior to the 2019 commercial launch of the service, comprehensive flight trials were conducted – to analyse the performance of on-board connectivity equipment, and to test the system’s ability to link up with infrastructure on the ground.

Here, the vital ground network comprised various base stations and remote radio heads which needed to be deployed at suitable sites around the UK. This requirement was managed by T Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.

Unlike typical LTE setups, the EAN had to be capable of working at aircraft speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, and at cruising altitudes requiring cells of up to 150 km.

This was no ‘normal’ network, and no simple feat.

The Cellnex solution

The necessary ground equipment was installed at multiple Cellnex sites around the UK. These key locations were carefully chosen by T Systems (and in collaboration with Cellnex engineers) to ensure connection stability throughout the tests and beyond.

The subsequent installations were delivered by Cellnex, and the newly set-up ground network was thoroughly prepared for the test programme.

The results

The EAN trial was a resounding success. The on-board systems seamlessly connected to the ground network at all the Cellnex test sites in the south west of England.

The test team achieved multiple handovers between sectors in the sky and cell towers below, while maintaining a stable connection throughout. Transfer of data to and from the aircraft was also tested as part of the programme, with great results.

With the outcomes of the test flights having exceeded all expectations, the way was open for EAN to begin commercial deployments. British Airways became the first customer in 2019.

Today, Cellnex continues its association with this ground-breaking programme, providing access to its portfolio of 9000 sites across the UK to ensure EAN can rapidly scale to support customer demand.