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LTE will help make in-flight data access cheaper, vendors say

Deutsche Telekom, Alcatel-Lucent and Airbus are convinced it can supplant satellites

Deutsche Telekom, Alcatel-Lucent and Airbus have tested data communication between an aircraft and the ground, using LTE, which helps make in-flight data access cheaper, the three companies said on Thursday.

LTE can provide a more efficient, low-cost alternative to current systems that use satellites, offering high-speed connections for passengers via onboard Wi-Fi or mobile networks, according to a statement from Deutsche Telekom.

Besides the lower cost, easier installation on the planes could help make LTE more attractive, Airbus said.

The trio doesn't specify expected speeds or when the use of LTE to connect airplanes will become a reality, only hinting that it could happen "in the near future." The first test flight took place in November over the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Airbus provided an A320 aircraft equipped with test equipment for Alcatel-Lucent, including an onboard unit that used special algorithms to send and receive the mobile data signals. On the ground, Alcatel-Lucent provided the LTE radio access and core network, as well.

Deutsche Telekom built a network consisting of two base stations positioned about 100 kilometers (62 miles) apart. The base stations were connected to Alcatel-Lucent's LTE test center in Stuttgart via Deutsche Telekom's network.

LTE continues to attract more followers. There are now 57 commercial LTE networks around the world, according to a report published by industry organization GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) on Wednesday.

In total, about 300 operators have committed to commercial LTE network deployments or are engaged in trials, technology testing or studies, the GSA said.

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