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Aviation broadband ready for take-off

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The European Aviation Network has taken to the skies, offering the world’s first integrated satellite and air-to-ground network dedicated to providing a true in-flight broadband experience.

The European Aviation Network (EAN) has taken to the skies. Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, together with their technology partners Nokia and Thales have successfully conducted a programme of test flights in the UK.

This is a major milestone in the development of EAN, the world’s first integrated satellite and air-to-ground network dedicated to providing a true in-flight broadband experience for the European aviation industry and for millions of passengers travelling across Europe.

EAN is planned for introduction in mid-2017. The flights serve to test the performance of the EAN system including the onboard equipment being provided by Thales and the ground network provided by Deutsche Telekom and Nokia.

As a precursor to the test flight series, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia jointly achieved the first EAN live over-the-air connection, in Nokia’s Stuttgart laboratory. There, all components of the LTE ground network were thoroughly tested and validated. The first live connection in the field was accomplished in a broadband video conference with both parties connected via the dedicated EAN LTE mobile network.

“We are happy that we achieved a major milestone in building the European Aviation Network. With these successful tests we once more underline our goal to be the leading European telecommunications operator,” says Claudia Nemat, Board Member Europe and Technology at Deutsche Telekom. “The EAN allows us to offer our customers outstanding connectivity services not only on the ground but also in the sky. The new technology based on LTE standard makes sure that EAN is flexible for any further technology developments in the future. Deutsche Telekom’s aim is to drive technology leadership to bring best network experience to our customers.”

Leo Mondale, President of Aviation, Inmarsat said: “EAN is progressing extremely well, both on the ground as well as in the air, to achieve the world’s first integrated service providing true in-flight broadband experience. The actual performance and quality of the in-flight datalink exceeds design expectations and is truly game changing for European airlines.  We look forward to further successful testing milestones working with all the EAN partners to bring together this integrated system.”

Thorsten Robrecht, Vice President, Advanced Mobile Networks Solutions at Nokia says “Nokia is extremely excited to be a pillar of the European Aviation Network project. As a global leader in communications technology, we are looking forward to the close cooperation of these distinguished partners to transform the passenger experience and deliver new services with advanced in-flight connectivity.”

“We are very proud of our employees who have helped make the first flight trial a huge success and look forward to working with our partners to bring high-speed broadband to passengers and operators across Europe,” says Stephen McCann, Vice President, Avionics at Thales.

Innovation in the skies, from the ground up

To achieve EAN’s live connection of the LTE ground network, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia have adapted Nokia´s LTE base stations and Remote Radio Heads (RRH) to the frequency used for EAN, provided by Inmarsat, and build a specific base station antenna to cover the sky. The LTE ground network for EAN differs from “normal” LTE networks as it needs to work at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h, at cruising altitudes requiring cells of up to 150 km. Nokia will manage the operations for this advanced network from its global delivery centre in Romania.  In addition to the live network, Nokia and Deutsche Telekom set up a full end-to-end ground network reference system in Stuttgart, Germany, including all components and integrated on-board equipment from partner Thales, to prepare for technical challenges, for example compensation of the Doppler effect due to high aircraft speeds.

The flight trial tested the performance of the onboard equipment being provided by Thales and the ground network provided by Deutsche Telekom and Nokia. Tests were performed to see if the network could successfully attach to the ground system, which it did at all four test sites located in the south west of the UK.

The systems performed multiple successful handovers between sectors and cell towers, and maintained a stable connection. The transfer of data to and from the aircraft was also tested. The outcomes have exceeded expectations for this early flight trial and provided valuable data for the development teams.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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