Tuesday, March 31, 2009
IFExpress Special Edition

ASI SafeCell

SafeCellFor some time now, the AIRFAX.com team has worked with Ron Chapman, CEO of ASI, ASIQ, and now SafeCell. Having known these Australian Aviation Innovators some 14 years, we have followed their aircraft and IFE related development exploits in our news reporting. This history has led to a few exclusives and this is another that we wanted to share with our readers.  

When we first saw SafeCell at an IFE conference in 2007, we thought the idea was novel and not quite ready for prime time!  For starters, it has a Bluetooth to Wi-Fi interface we knew would be not only troublesome, they would be at the behest of the aircraft and/or connectivity service provider. Further, the world of 3G and the wire meshed cell phone holder needed another generation of development to deliver a foolproof airplane solution. 

As a result of his previous experience with satellite connections, both airborne and ground operations, the combination of an aircraft-handset and satcom connection solution was on the road to reality. In his own words: 

"I took this onboard solution and went back to the drawing board and spent the next 12 months developing the ground application, which I built into the backbone of Skype. What I realized was that the best way to launch SafeCell in aviation was from the ground up. Also with the way cell phone technology was heading I could see if I waited another 12 months, I would no longer need Wi-Fi or the shield, which would simplify the aviation system."

Then Bluetooth 2.0 came along and Ron Chapman had an even better idea! Why not connect via Bluetooth, do away with the wire mesh handset holder, use software on the cell phone to control Flight or Offline mode and build the Access Point into a one box device that is an easy swallow for a business jet. We should note here that Bluetooth is not only an ideal communication solution because of low power levels but also it has sufficient bandwidth for data and voice solutions. More on that later. 

The resultant system is simplicity itself. A Bluetooth equipped handset (yours or theirs) talks directly to a Bluetooth-based wireless access point and connects to the aircraft radio in a send/receive link to the chosen satellite via an installed, exterior antenna. 

Airborne/Ground System
Airborne/Ground System

The key here is the messaging software on the cell phone and it is based on the most successful user installed SMS and messaging software applications, SKYPE (300 Million subscribers). SafeCell was built on the backbone of an existing communication kernel that is a key feature in the reduction of development time and affects our ability to easily provide future growth for ground connections and applications.

Noted Chapman,  "By modifying and upgrading one of our existing satellite communication units, we were able to combine a Thuraya and Iridium satellite link and provide a small, lightweight radio that really showcases what low power and low bandwidth will do for a satcom radio size and weight... not to mention cost.” He also noted, “If you already have an existing Iridium or Inmarsat platform, all you need is the Access Point.. . The SafeCell Access Point, incorporates an Ethernet, Serial and Wi-Fi interface, so no matter what satellite link or network you have onboard, we have a connection solution. 

Our aim is to get it approved as a standard factory option with major Bizjet manufacturers as soon as possible. This solution cant wait because the operators we talked to want realistically priced data and voice solutions... anywhere they fly.      

The SafeCell team was not happy with data-only connectivity so next they turned their attention to the first phase of voice communication.  

The minute you install a Bluetooth access point and connect it to a SATCOM, it opens up all kinds of interface options. Just imagine you have a high quality noise cancelling Bluetooth headset and SafeCell has access via Bluetooth directly to your Iridium or Inmarsat SATCOM voice channel. All you then need to do is have SafeCell pull up your address book, dial the number via Bluetooth and patch the call to your headset. Now you are only paying for the direct SATCOM charge as you are outside the global cellular roaming network.  Billing is by the minute through you normal Iridium or Inmarsat account. The quality of the call is as good as the normal SATCOM link which is a proven reliable system. The only difference in the hardware is the addition of a simple analogue to digital interface for Iridium and Inmarsat, which will be standard in the box.

One of the major issues in developing any aircraft system, is how do you test the system without modifying the aircraft and this is where SafeCell is really unique. If you already have an Iridium system (currently 18,000 aircraft do) ASI has developed a simple solution using a laptop or UMPC with Bluetooth dongle.  The system works just the same as a permanent installation and has been in operation now for three months on a Falcon2000ex. 

Laptop/UMPC systems providing the full messaging capability will be available in April. Also any existing certified PC can host the SafeCell software, as long as it has either an Ethernet or USB connection for a Bluetooth dongle.  

The new ASI low cost access point with voice capability should be available in the next quarter and are being certified and manufactured in the USA.  SafeCell will be on full display at the next WAEA and NBAA shows and the SafeCell patent application has now been filed in the USA, China, Australia and the EU. 

Contact info – ron.chapman@asiq.com  Tel 61+3 94371233

SafeCell

"You will see in the photograph all a crewmember needs to control SafeCell is a basic laptop (with a Bluetooth dongle) connected to the Iridium data port. The laptop software shows the Iridium link status and the message 'In and Out' status."

-- Captain Bruce Perey

"For the IFExpress Special Edition Reader, Bruce has been operating the system since January sending SMS, text email and receiving news updates. I can confirm that the owner is now proceeding with a permanent installation which is very simple as the cabin and cockpit is already pre wired for dual iridium data and voice. Note that one single dongle can currently handle 7 cell phones at once, but the new CoolSpot access point with our new software will handle a full A320 or B737. "

-- Ron Chapman, CEO SafeCell

Falcon Business Jet

Bizjet Solutions With SafeCell

We asked Ron Chapman, SafeCell’s CEO to outline the benefits of the SafeCell solution to business aircraft voice, data and messaging needs. Noting that their clever approach uses FAA tested Bluetooth connectivity and a new, small Wireless Access Point (WAP), we felt that users would realize startup cost savings, as well as, price competitive, communication advantages.

"What we have successfully achieved is an in-flight mobile phone system that is, 95% cheaper, 90% lighter and less than half communication cost of the existing solutions and unlike its competitors, does not require Telco approval.

SafeCell takes control of the mobile phone and communicates via satellite outside the global cellular roaming network. The benefit of this approach is obvious; SafeCell does not incur global roaming charges just because it is in the air. As for value, a voice call via SafeCell costs $1.00 per minute, compared to other-system calls (They can cost up to $5.00 per minute).

The basic SafeCell messaging hardware provides SMS/MMS and Text email (which can also accommodate in-flight news updates) and starts at US $10K for the aircraft equipment. For $20K SafeCell will include our new voice capability. New cell phones are provided as part of each system installation and high quality noise canceling wireless headsets are included with the voice option.

If IFExpress readers think the Bizjet system is unique, wait until we release the airline system! For those airlines who cannot afford an entertainment system and do not want to pay $500K for an existing mobile phone solution, SafeCell will be the answer!"

-- Ron Chapman, CEO, SafeCell

More Information

SafeCell Technical Overview
(PDF, ~390k)

Safety Evaluation of Bluetooth Class ISM Band Transmitters On Board Commercial Aircraft
(PDF, ~700k)

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