Satcom Direct CTO Talks True North Acquisition

By Woodrow Bellamy III | November 4, 2016


[Avionics Magazine 11-04-2016] Global aeronautical communications provider Satcom Direct (SD) has been rapidly expanding its services and products in recent years, and on the first day of NBAA 2016, the company made its biggest expansion yet, announcing an agreement to acquire TrueNorth Avionics. Avionics Magazine caught up with Satcom Direct Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Ken Bantoft and TrueNorth CEO Mark Van Berkel to discuss the acquisition as well as SD’s new in-flight live television platform, SD Live.

Satcom Direct's booth at NBAA. Photo: Satcom Direct

The building blocks for SD’s acquisition began three years ago, when TrueNorth Avionics first partnered with SatcomDirect to build and manufacture the Satcom Direct Router (SDR). Bantoft said the acquisition is aimed at addressing the three areas of business aviation aircraft activities that both companies see in highest demand from operators: communication, information and entertainment.

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“Providing a level of transparency as to what the aircraft is, where it is and what’s happening onboard: those are the the capabilities we’ve provided in the past. With TrueNorth’s Optelity hardware, wireless access points, and OEM agreements that they have in place, [that] gives us the ability to offer a more integrated approach to managing their aircraft communications systems,” said Bantoft.

At the 2016 European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE) in May, TrueNorth introduced its new Optelity Mobile bundle, comprised of its Optelity Pro Cabin Gateway and the Simphone Mobile GSM systems. The bundle offers Wi-Fi connectivity and built-in cabin telephony, while also giving passengers and crew the ability to use their own mobile phones to make calls and send texts, without having to install an app. Later in the year, at the 2016 Global Connected Aircraft Summit (GCA Summit), the company introduced its conneted.aero service, positioned as a hybrid cloud solution designed to amplify bandwidth and create an airborne internet experience that rivals what passengers are accustomed to on the ground.

Now, with the agreement in place for Satcom Direct to acquire TrueNorth, the two companies are able to provide cabin and cockpit connectivity capabilities that are unique within the industry. During NBAA, Satcom Direct introduced a new live in-flight television streaming service that is enabled by aircraft equipped with JetConnex, SmartSky, ViaSat and Panasonic connectivity hardware. SD Live uses data-compression technology to enable live television streaming, although SD has not yet defined an available list of channels.

“Business aviation operators can now get all of their communication, information and entertainment needs from SD and TrueNorth,” said Van Berkel.

While the TrueNorth acquisition enhances its cabin experience capabilities, the Florida-based company has also been expanding its flight operational services. In September, Satcom Direct purchased AircraftLogs, a web-based aviation data management company that provides corporate and private flight departments with flight scheduling software and tax reporting tools. The AircraftLogs technology is being integrated into SD Pro, which Satcom Direct launched in March 2016 to provide aircraft communications systems status, flight tracking, flight logs, aircraft status, maintenance data, and scheduling data through a secured web portal.

Considering all of the data streams and links coming on and off aircraft through all of the different connectivity tools that Satcom Direct will manage, securing those data streams is a major necessity, especially considering the types of clients both companies already have in place.

“We service a large number of fortune 500s as well as high-net-worth individuals, and there’s been a huge push over the past couple of years on security, especially with our clients. And really anyone using connectivity in any industry seeing major companies like Target and Yahoo being vulnerable to hackers looking to steal the data that they store,” said Bantoft.

To directly address cybersecurity concerns associated both with aircraft data streams, and sensitive information stored by private flight departments such as the passport and credit card information used by their clients, Satcom Direct in 2014 launched a data center solutions provider, TerraCom Direct. The facility not only hosts and protects clients’ critical business technology systems and information, it secures Satcom Direct aviation, maritime and terrestrial-based services. Whether data traffic is generated in the air, on the ground, or on the water, TerraCom Direct is constantly monitoring it in an effort to detect and report potentially malicious activity to customers.

“We love the cloud, we love this Internet of Things concept that has become popular and its being conceptualized in aviation right now. But there’s also a concern that you don’t know where anything is anymore. That’s why we try to extensively consult with flight departments and aviation IT departments to ensure they know where their data is, they know where the sensitive information they store for their clients is, and we will continue to as we look to integrate all of TrueNorth’s connected offerings into the future,” said Bantoft.
 
Satcom Direct’s acquisition of TrueNorth is on track for completion prior to the end of 2016.

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