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Wireless Networking Hardware Technology

Boeing Drops Wireless System For 787 217

Posted by kdawson
from the heavy-radios dept.
K7DAN writes "It appears that state-of-the-art connectivity in Boeing's newest aircraft means a wired, not a wireless network. The Seattle Times reports that Boeing has abandoned plans to bring entertainment and information to passengers through a wireless system in its 787 Dreamliner due to possible production delays and potential conflicts with other radio services around the world. A side benefit is an actual reduction in weight using the wired system. Amazingly, the LAN cables needed to connect every seat in the aircraft weigh 150 lbs less than all the wireless antennae, access points, and thickened ceiling panels required to accommodate a wireless network (the design called for an access point above each row)." The article concludes: "The net impact, [a Boeing spokesman] said, is less technical risk, some weight saved, the system's flexibility and quality preserved plus 'a bit of schedule relief.'"
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Boeing Drops Wireless System For 787

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  • plane-LAN to WAN? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Reverse Gear (891207) * on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:48AM (#17768302) Homepage
    Wired seem to be a better solution for a plane anyhow, I wouldn't expect the need for moving around the plane with your laptop to be that massive, I mean people are usually pretty tied to their seats when going with a Boeing.
    The problem probably is that different airline companies want different seating positions, but the article says that they should have solved this issue.

    The article says nothing about how the LAN on the plane connects to the internet though. I think that is where the state of the art comes in, the only possible solution I see is through satellite connection, but with a moving plane I imagine that is going to give some problems.
    Another problem in this is the bandwidth given by a satellite connection, if there are 20 passengers surfing the net that isn't going to give a lot of bandwidth pr. user.
    • by CheechBG (247105)
      You raise a very valid point, I am curious to see how they get around this myself. Not to mention the fact that satellite usually means about ~300ms latency right off the bat, not to mention the fact that the moron sitting next to me just HAS to email a 1GB Powerpoint presentation over VPN...
      • by CheechBG (247105)
        Not to mention the fact that I should have hiw Preview instead of Submit. Grammar (and reading!) nazi's flame away!
      • by Ucklak (755284)
        This shouldn't be seen as a viable business service, only a "just be glad we have it at all".
        ~300ms latency is better than 2-4 hour latency.

        The alternative is to pay $2 a minute on those phones they have and use the modem.
      • Actually, we are still averaging around 800ms latency on our static stations with mobile units (including aircraft) increasing slightly. The best we have been able to get -in the center of our coverage area with optimal atmospheric conditions- is around 400-450ms.

        While this pretty much guarantees you will get fragged as soon as you spawn, it is still better than watching the same in-flight movie over and over when you forget to pack DVD's.

        if we could get the kinks worked out of the (proposed) air-to-air mes
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by icebrain (944107)
      The "big idea" with the wireless system was to allow the IFE (in-flight entertainment)--TV screens on the backs of seats and such--to run over the wireless. That way, you wouldn't have to rerun wires if you changed the seating configuration. I think the need for an access point above each row was driven by a need to handle streaming video and games to eight or nine people in each row at the same time. Regular laptop access and all would have been secondary, I think.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by markov_chain (202465)
        Access point in each row, with 8 people per AP doing streaming video? That's nuts! I bet they couldn't make it work and wouldn't admit it.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mike260 (224212)
          Agree.

          Plus, I was under the impression that although 802.11 b/g has 11-13 'channels' there's only really 3 non-overlapping frequency-ranges. So each frequency would be fought over by 10+ APs, all stuffed inside a giant pringles-tube, all trying to shout each other down.
          • It's actually even worse, the non-overlapping channels are only non-overlapping by definition. In practice, all radios leak power into adjacent channels. The outcome is that it's hard to predict how something like this will work; have to try it and see. I wish they'd make public some of their experiences...
        • by rekoil (168689)
          Another possibility is that in order to avoid potential interference with flight systems, they would have had to run the APs at some extraordinarily low power, limiting its range to the point that one AP per row would have been necessary to get a signal to every seat. IIRC WLAN client cards modulate their output power based on incoming signal strength, so the clients would have lowered their transmit power to match.
          • Some technologies like Bluetooth do auto-adjust tx power. However, WLAN 1) doesn't have power adaptation in the standard, 2) most hardware out there doesn't have adjustable power, 3) for most of the hardware which does, drivers don't do adaptation. I would guess the reason for this is that power adaptation in practice doesn't work all that well. The key issue, especially indoors, is that received RF signal varies in weird ways due to all the reflections and bouncing off of objects and walls. (Like the ot
      • by 1u3hr (530656)
        you wouldn't have to rerun wires if you changed the seating configuration.

        I think just wrestling the chairs around and bolting them to the floor would be a lot more time consuming than plugging in a couple of sockets. Besides, they already wire the seats for sound, video, electricity, adding one more cable isn't a big deal. They could combine them all into one fat cable and a single socket to make moving easier.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mike260 (224212)
        They'd still have to rewire seats for power if they moved them about, so surely doing network cabling at the same time would be no great hardship. They'd only need to scatter a few switches around the plane with enough ports and capacity for the densest possible seat config.

        Wifi seems like a really complicated way to move bits the few feet between the floor and the seatback.
      • That way, you wouldn't have to rerun wires if you changed the seating configuration.

        And how often is a commercial passenger jet's seating re-configured? Once every 5-10 years maybe?

        Whatever wireless standard they would have chosen to serve the cabin would have been obsolete by the time they could have taken advantage of it anyway.
    • by brunes69 (86786)
      Considering that lots of planes (including low cost budget airlines) have had live satellite seat-back TV for many years, I think the satellite problem has been solved long ago. I don't know how offhand, but I imagine it involves GPS tracking the satellite location, and rotating antennae of some sort.
    • Re:plane-LAN to WAN? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by frdmfghtr (603968) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:24AM (#17768976)

      I think that is where the state of the art comes in, the only possible solution I see is through satellite connection, but with a moving plane I imagine that is going to give some problems.
      Satellite connectivity for an aircraft wouldn't be that hard, really. I would expect the issues to be the same as with marine SATCOM, mainly tracking the satellite and having a clear view of the satellite. On an airplane the LOS issue would be pretty easy, since there isn't much that is above the airplane except empty space. As far as tracking the satellite, a flat-panel phased array antenna would do the job marvelously. In fact, that's one way that the former Connexion by Boeing [wikipedia.org] did it.

      As far as bandwidth per user goes, how much does one passenger really need at any given moment? Sending and receiving email doesn't take a lot of bandwidth, and you can go on to do other things while your email client handles that. If you are web surfing, once the page is loaded, your bandwidth requirements are zero until you load a new page. It's not like anybody is going to try hosting a web server at 32,000 feet :)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jalet (36114)
        "32000 feet ought to be enough for anybody."

        Bill Gates.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by mgabrys_sf (951552)
        Never underestimate the bandwidth requirements for PRON!
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by WilliamCotton (856410)

        It's not like anybody is going to try hosting a web server at 32,000 feet :)

        Aw man, my Web 3.0 plans are out of the bag.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Planetes (6649)
      This was essentially the point of Boeing's Connexion service but since Boeing canned Connexion it's essentially a non-issue. Connexion was the in-flight internet among other things. Whether or not an equivalent comes around in the future is completely up to the company and it's definitely not a priority among the 787 people in BCA.
    • I think that is where the state of the art comes in, the only possible solution I see is through satellite connection, but with a moving plane I imagine that is going to give some problems.
      Couldn't the connection be handled the same way that in-flight phones work?
    • Re:plane-LAN to WAN? (Score:5, Informative)

      by tenchiken (22661) on Friday January 26, 2007 @11:38AM (#17770312)
      Some technical background. The wireless technology they were trying to use was actually draft 802.11n. Obviously part of the problem is the delays that the 802.11n stuff has had getting to spec. The secondary part of that is without a ISO spec, at least one large government(who might have a interest in pushing a native spec) refused to permit 802.11n in the airspace, claiming it might interfere with military applications.

      Boeing pitched this solution pretty hard when they started selling the 787. The 787 overall appears to be a runaway success. It's the fastest selling commercial airliner in history. Airbus has been playing catch up, and currently is in their 7th revision of the plane they are trying to sell to compete with it directly.

      So far the wireless is the only feature spec'd for the 787 that Boeing hasn't been able to make work. Given the huge technical risks (incredibly high usage of composites, larger electrical system, increased FBW, huge global supply chain, bleedless engines (normal planes use a portion of the planes airflow to power de-icing and air conditioning) etc. It really will be the state of the art when the plane flies.

      Wireless would have been nice though.
  • No surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BadERA (107121) on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:51AM (#17768374) Homepage
    Considering every commercial airline's effort to offer WiFi to date has been scrapped either before takeoff (pun intended), or not long after launch. The costs are simply not supported by the revenue, simple as that. Other considerations like weight and maintenance complexity are secondary.
    • by raehl (609729)
      Considering every commercial airline's effort to offer WiFi to date has been scrapped either before takeoff (pun intended), or not long after launch. The costs are simply not supported by the revenue, simple as that. Other considerations like weight and maintenance complexity are secondary.

      The costs for an ADD-ON system are not supported by the revenue. Putting a wireless system on an EXISTING plane means you have to:

      - Take the plane out of service
      - Partially disassemble the plane
      - Run supplemental wiring
      -
  • Not surprising. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adamstew (909658) * on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:51AM (#17768386)
    They would need to have cables running throughout the plane anyway to all the wireless antenna. Just put a hub in place of an antenna and run a few more cables to the seats. With all the shielding and such that a plane has, you'd probably need a boatload of antennas...Then you have to worry about extra shielding for all the onboard components, etc.

    Besides, all this means is that the business traveler will have to carry around a 2 ft CAT 5 cable...big deal. I bet some creative laptop maker comes up with one of those airline power adapters that also integrates a CAT 5 cable in to it. Just plug the one end in to the back of your laptop, and plug in the power and network cables in to the appropriate ports on the other end.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by eln (21727)
      Besides, all this means is that the business traveler will have to carry around a 2 ft CAT 5 cable

      My first thought was that they would just have cables permanently attached and resting in, say, the little pocket in the seat back in front of you. Then I thought, the most likely scenario would be for them to charge you $5 for a cable just like they do with headphones. Then, they could make the connector that goes into their network unique in some way so that your standard cable wouldn't fit, and you would b
      • by Politburo (640618)
        I don't think they would require you to bring a cable with you, since it's probably only a matter of time before they ban all cables of any kind from airplanes because they could be used to make bombs or something.

        Of course, if you bought your Cat-5 cable in the terminal, you could take it on the flight...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AeroIllini (726211)

        I don't think they would require you to bring a cable with you, since it's probably only a matter of time before they ban all cables of any kind from airplanes because they could be used to make bombs or something.
        Or I could use a CAT5 cable to strangle the TSA representative who is telling me that my 4 oz bottle of hair gel is a danger to the plane and its passengers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Deadstick (535032)
      More to the point, why install wireless to save wiring the seats when you have to wire the seats for laptop power anyway?

      rj
      • Yup, the whole thing was a big marketing ploy. Even with the high price of copper these days its going to be cheaper in the long run to hard wire stuff. If they really wanted to get fancy, run fibre to all the seats instead of copper. Trying to concentrate that much wireless activity into one tiny area is just dumb anyway.
  • ...if you're not moving around much, use a light little ethernet cable and save yourself all the hassle of wireless. It trumps wireless in speed, reliability and cost.
  • I can see... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by otacon (445694) on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:55AM (#17768446)
    how this makes sense for laptops as it shouldn't matter laptops generally have both, and there is no need to be mobile on a plane, but what about WiFi PDA's and the upcoming cell phones with wifi capabilities, both of those could be pretty important to an exec who needs to remain connected.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by FireFlie (850716)
      I guess WiFi PDA's will be SOL, but I'm sure most execs that need to connect to the internet via their cell phones will probably use their cell phone network's internet connection.
      • I guess WiFi PDA's will be SOL, but I'm sure most execs that need to connect to the internet via their cell phones will probably use their cell phone network's internet connection.
        Except that they're not allowed to use their cell phone connection in flight.
  • Waaaait-a-minit... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sunrun (553558)
    "Amazingly, the LAN cables needed to connect every seat in the aircraft weigh 150 lbs less than all the wireless antennae, access points, and thickened ceiling panels required to accommodate a wireless network (the design called for an access point above each row)."

    So, obviously, they didn't spec this out with commodity hardware -- I'm guessing that and the extra shielding were to mitigate any radio interference that might mess with the avionics. But come on.. there has to be a wireless solution that us
    • It's actually pretty well known in architecture circles that to get good coverage / decent speed in an entire building, the wiring can be expected to be about the same (in qty/manhours) cost to the client. Some sparkies joke that it takes more wire to do wireless.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      how many pieces of commodity hardware will run with power running at 400Hz instead of 60(or50)Hz?

      Airlines are a little different then your home.

  • Warflying? (Score:4, Funny)

    by asiansteev (991271) on Friday January 26, 2007 @09:57AM (#17768480)
    You could probably just warfly some wireless connection from the ground if you really needed wireless in a plane, right?
  • by zyl0x (987342)
    ..is allow you to take your laptop on the flight.
    • Or put a secure web terminal on each seat back. Bring your own USB stick and you're ready to go..
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:15AM (#17768818) Homepage Journal
    There's... someone on the wing! Some... thing! And it's... trying to... leech wifi! </shatner>
  • by jpellino (202698) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:18AM (#17768874)
    ... it was going to be too hard to implement the system. Imagine this cockpit conversation:

    "Denver, AA325 - Requesting clearance to LAN - over"
    "Negative, AA325 - do not land - over."
    "No, not land, LAN - over"
    "Landover? No - this is Denver - over."
    "Roger, Denver..."
    "Sorry, Clarence, no clearance."
    etc...
  • On my last flight I noticed the in-flight entertainment system used Linux. How I noticed? It crashed in the middle of the flight and had to be rebooted. Tux in corner, kernel boot messages and everything.

    I just can't decide if it was a good or bad sign for Linux.
    • by jimicus (737525)
      Not Virgin Atlantic by any chance?

      Had the same thing happen when we were taking off from San Francisco. The power supply on an aircraft isn't always 100% reliable, and they probably couldn't justify the extra weight a UPS would add. They could have used a journalled filesystem, though - the system stuck part-way through booting and I had to go an 11 hour flight without any films or anything. Not exactly the end of the world, but nevertheless annoying.
  • by Nkwe (604125) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:21AM (#17768914)
    The challenge I see with wired Ethernet is the connectors. Is a standard cat 5 jack designed for multiple plug insertions and removals every day? How often would the jacks need to be replaced and can this be done easily?
    • by iphayd (170761)
      Back before Wireless Access Points, I would plug and unplug constantly without issue.

      As for repairability, It's easy - have a really short extender plugged in and flush with the armrest. Now, if some kid shoves a pencil in the port and mashes it up, all it takes is a removal and replacement of the extender.
    • by altoz (653655)
      They'll probably have a normal plug-in jack and distribute cat-5 cables for a fee (or possibly free), to those that want it, much like headphones. That way, if you have a bad wire, you can just request another one, no big deal.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Jaqenn (996058)
      I imagine that they'll expose a small (about 1/2 inch) extension to the general public, and put the permanent connection deeper in the console. When you've worn out your tiny extension box, you can replace the thing cheaply by digging in the console...probably about as difficult as replacing a burnt out bulb. I worked at a lab where we saw something similar for serial connections. With so many serial connections that get hooked / unhooked in the lifetime of the console, it's good to use a disposable fro
    • by mike260 (224212)
      They could wire in non-standard extra-durable jacks, and rent you the necessary cable (for a very reasonable fee of course).
  • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

    by vondo (303621) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:23AM (#17768950)
    The article is not about internet access at all but distribution of inflight movies and entertainment. And there is not an access point at every row, but an antenna at every row (in the old scheme). If you read it, that's a receiving antenna that would then distribute the content to the seats in that row, not a transmitting antenna (access point).

    Also, this plane is already several thousand pounds over the design weight, so I imagine that has something to do with this decision.
  • by LaughingCoder (914424) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:25AM (#17768988)
    With wired they can sell premium seats with LAN, or cheaper seats without LAN. That would be harder to control with wireless.
  • 1) I spend how much on HIGH speed access, then I'm going to throttle it? Not!
    2) I spend how much time on privacy and security, then I'm going to broadcast? Not!
    3) I spend how much time tuning and tweaking Linux, but no device driver? Not!

    Personally, I don't trust public access points for outgoing private information. Ever.

    Please, sign me off the fing airwaves, AFAIC, hardwired is the only way to fly.
    • by jimicus (737525)
      Please, sign me off the fing airwaves, AFAIC, hardwired is the only way to fly.

      You're going to need one hell of a long wire to get information off the airplane.
  • 150 lbs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Psychic Burrito (611532) on Friday January 26, 2007 @10:34AM (#17769114)
    Two weeks ago:

    Today:

    "Amazingly, the LAN cables needed to connect every seat in the aircraft weigh 150 lbs less (...)"
    How to convert the US to metric? Well...how about starting with yourself? ...
    • by Dan East (318230)
      "thesolo" Asked Slashdot about switching to metric.

      "K7DAN" submitted this story.

      How are the two related?

      Dan East
    • I thought it was only NASA that was going metric.

      The rest of the country is still stuck inches and milles
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Type-E (545257)
      I have lived in Canada and Hong Kong where both places use metric. While, temperature is in Cecilius, distance is in KM, on the other hand, when weight is referenced, people would still use pounds. I do not mean that they don't use kg, but lbs is more common than kg.
  • I find all this talk of internet access in economy hilarious. On most flights with the seat pitch what it is I can barely open a paperback book on the tray table. My laptop? Forget it!! It stays in the overhead bin.
  • I have found attempting to get any real work done on the plane to be futile at best. While I am not the most frequent flier around I fly enough for business (Permier Executive on United 4 years running now) to know that this is just ridiculous. No room, uncomfortable, power issues, no privacy... ...the best solution I have come up with is simply relaxing and "enjoying" the flight. While the 787 will be serving pretty long routes, I maintain that you will be fine not checking your email for 8 or so hours.
  • by speculatrix (678524) on Friday January 26, 2007 @12:48PM (#17771510)
    there are pros and cons of offering cables vs wireless. wireless would be fine for a bit of email and web-browsing especially if traffic shaping were used. cabling allows isolation of each switch port (and firewall off passengers from each other), and control of bandwidth would be relatively easy compared to wireless.

    if they use power over ethernet then they can make the in-seat entertainment system a thin client and use at least *some* off-the-shelf hardware (remember that aircraft electronics, even in entertainment, have to withstands many years of use, far longer than any consumer electronics have to).

    it also means they could use SIP phones for providing in-flight telephony and put them on their own vlans, likewise have vlans for security cameras and remote controlled devices.

  • The WiFi system they were proposing was for the in flight entertainment system, not for internet access.

    Figuring out how to wire a aircraft with multiple seating configurations is very, very hard. Go ask Airbus...

  • If it's available, I'll use it. This allows me to shut off my radio and save battery life!

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