Pedro Mouta,
Manager – PMO

When new potential connectivity streams are discussed, the evolution of the In-Flight business case is generally seen as an excellent opportunity.

As you might be aware of, this isn’t a new thing; Wi-Fi has been available on selected airplanes for more than a decade now, but truth is the quality of the overall experience for passengers has been yet far from ideal, and most people have gotten used to never expecting any sort of consistent Wi-Fi on an airplane.

But times are changing now. The technical backbone for in-flight connectivity has evolved; new types of satellite bands have been enabled, which now allow for a whole new level of transmission capabilities to the airplane that previously weren’t available.

Source: WBA In-flight Connectivity whitepaper

Younger generations have gotten used to growing up with easy Wi-Fi access and ubiquitous social media, and it has become an extension of their lifestyles. Truly, being connected anytime, anywhere has become a way of life, and high-quality in-flight connectivity is becoming more and more demanded.

Business issue

The fact is that even with new and evolved technologies, outfitting airplanes with Wi-Fi is still an expensive investment for airlines. In recent years, dozens of different approaches have been considered for providing and monetizing Wi-Fi connectivity in airplanes, and while several of these options are in fact enabling connectivity, the fact is that the dispersion and fragmentation in terms of architecture deployment and monetization models are causing many doubts for the airlines, which doesn’t facilitate the decision-making process. And when it comes to passengers – probably the most important stakeholder; – only a small fraction is yet connecting to the internet on airplanes as the user experience still presents a lot of barriers for the adoption.

In summary, the existence of such disparity in terms of user experience, deployment and monetization options seems to be creating resistance in terms of global and immediate adoption.

The WBA In-Flight Connectivity workstream

Therefore, the industry, and particularly the airlines, will require the support of the industry stakeholders over the next decade to be prepared for the eventual shift in the way connectivity influences air travel business models.

WBA Members have initiated the In-Flight Connectivity project, which aimed initially to educate the industry on what is possible in terms of in-flight technological enablement and user experience. The initiative was started in 2018 and led by Deutsche Telekom AG, Panasonic Avionics, BSG Wireless, and iBwave, with an editorial team comprising more than 20 companies including Viasat, iPass, Accuris Networks, and GlobalReach among others. These WBA Members have decided to pursue the goal of helping the industry stakeholders to come together and discuss:

  • What are the backhaul options for in-flight connectivity?
  • What are the user experience options and how they differ?
  • What are some monetization options used by airlines, including new roaming scenarios?

The WBA is committed to building an appropriate agreement within the industry so that all the stakeholders – primarily the passengers and airlines – benefit from the huge potential of in-flight connectivity.

Conclusions and future work

In this first attempt to summarize the current industry landscape, the team has decided to keep the document open to the most common possibilities, even though there’s a relative inclination towards a solution that will eventually help to overcome the present challenges.
One of the important findings for this work is naturally related to the potential impact that the Hotspot 2.0 technology can bring onboard the airplanes.

The team has proposed that the existing friction in terms of using the connectivity, paying for it, and the concern that some of the airlines have in using a captive portal to promote their brand and capture the passenger information, is only leading to a slow adoption curve.

As mentioned by AT&T in the WBA 2018 Industry Survey, the impact of providing a technology that enables end-users to automatically connect to Wi-Fi, without any effort, has led to an exponential growth of usage. This happens not only because everyone who has a compatible device connects, but also because the easiness and comfort have led to having users consuming more data.

With this in mind, the project team believes that if no friction is caused in the user experience, Wi-Fi connectivity onboard aircrafts will become rapidly adopted, and such can be achieved through Hotspot 2.0. This will also facilitate the scale-up of business models associated with in-flight connectivity and is likely to change the way many airlines charge nowadays for the Wi-Fi.

That is why the Project Team has now set up a plan for 2020 to address the business and technical dimension of how to incorporate Hotspot 2.0 and best in class Wi-Fi Roaming capabilities onboard the aircrafts. If you’d like to influence, lead or be involved in the definition of such guidelines, you’re welcome to join us.

Get the In-Flight Connectivity Whitepaper now!

To participate in future projects, contact WBA PMO