Fans of the Terminator movies series will be familiar with Skynet, the artificial intelligence system controlling the cyborgs and determined to exterminate the human race. But before you begin to panic, the Skinet we at Telstra are working on is far more human friendly and is looking to take our LTE network into the sky.

While Wi-Fi is provided on some commercial flights internationally, it is achieved using either 3G or Satellite technology and provides a varied customer experience. What we are looking to do with Skinet is to establish 4G coverage in the sky for use on aircraft.

Using our own 4G expertise in conjunction we have constructed four dedicated mobile sites that cover most of the commercial air route from Melbourne to Sydney. These sites utilise upward facing antennas and are designed to allow users to access the network as the aircraft travels at high speed.

In order to test the capability, we borrowed some spectrum to run a number of test flights. We used a number of different aircraft fitted out with special terminals to pick up the signal and we were able to successfully establish and maintain data connections, achieving a maximum data throughput of 15 Mbps, with an average throughput around 10 Mbps.

the antenna attached to the plane
Pictured: The ‘Shark Fin’ antenna on underside of aircraft

These test flights are encouraging and are a significant step in the development of a potential Skinet network that might one day deliver high speed broadband connectivity to a range of aircraft-based applications that could extend from commuter use to a range of remote monitoring and control applications.

We will look to do additional tests later this year and take those results into account as we explore the possible economics around building a nationwide, commercial LTE network in the sky.

Of course like all things wireless this also needs spectrum and we will continue to work with the relevant authorities to make this possible.