Aircraft Cabin Management Magazine interview: Inflight Connectivity
Floris Reimbold, Senior manager business development, inflight, AERQ
How do you see the IFC market dynamics changing in a multi-orbit environment?
The inflight connectivity (IFC) value chain of the past is about to change significantly. The reason is not the multi-orbit environment directly, but several causes: the market entry of new players; the transition to new business models; the revolution through new technologies; the decreasing value of middlemen; the increasing market consolidation; and on top of all, the implementation of industry standards and interoperability between different ecosystems.
So, we’ll see more flexibility and choice for the airlines through the availability of standard platforms: future IFC products will not lock-in an airline to a specific provider anymore, but enable the airline to switch from one network service provider to another using the same compatible hardware platform – like you would exchange the SIM card in your phone at the end of your contract term. This will empower airlines to create competition on the service side on the long run.Airlines will not accept proprietary systems in the future anymore that force them to scrap their existing hardware installations on the aircraft before being able to switch to a new satcom provider.
One key piece of technology of course is the antenna terminal. Electronically steerable antennas (ESA) are crucial to unlock the full potential of LEO satellites. As handovers from one satellite to the next will happen every few minutes in LEO networks, a quick hand-over in all circumstances is critical for an uninterrupted service and good passenger experience. Only multi-beam capableESAs can ensure make-before-break connections.
Despite announcements that a switch to the next satellite would only be a matter of milliseconds and re-positioning and pointing of legacy antennas would be fast, we will see how the whole handshake process will turn out in practice – on flying aircraft with non-ESA terminals in break-before-make setups on LEO satellites. At the end of the day, we’ll see a different provider landscape and new ways of cooperation between existing and new players, and this will affect all market participants – satellite operators, antenna terminal manufacturers, value added resellers and solution providers, Internet Service Providers, MROs and airframeOEMs as well as the airlines themselves.
The increasing number of members of the Seamless Air Alliance, covering the complete IFC value chain and most of the big brand names, is a good indicator for this trend.
How do you think those solutions will guarantee a passenger experience which is both low cost for the airline and seamless for the passenger?
Up to now, the industry failed to fulfil passenger expectations and has not provided a seamless experience at all. Passengers not only expect a reliable and stable connection with good performance, but also expect it to be cheap (or free) and easy to use, without any hassle or a lengthy log-in and payment process.
The LEO andMEO constellations, as well as electronically steerable antennas, will bring several advantages: higher bandwidths, lower latency, more redundancy and reliability, better polar coverage and, last but not least, less data costs. However, all those advantages will not automatically lead to a seamless passenger experience; the multi-orbit solutions alone don’t guarantee seamlessness at all– quite the contrary, as complexity increases. It requires a joint effort of the IFC industry to hide its complexity from the users.
It is an important task of the industry to ensure ease-of-use of an IFC product, and it’s a fine line for airlines between offering hassle-free access and not losing the IFC touchpoint by completely removing the IFC portal. Standards likeHotspot 2.0 are going in the right direction, but require careful balancing with the need to keep passengers in an airline’s ecosystem and not giving up this important touchpoint. In the end, the next generation IFC solutions will increase passenger satisfaction, not only because of better IFC products but also by enabling connected inflight entertainment systems.
Those and IFC will increasingly merge into fully integrated IFEC ecosystems: AERQ’s open digital platform AERENA shows how both airlines and passengers benefit from connected IFE platforms, which enable new digital services and make best use of the latest connectivity solutions.
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