2013 IFEC Predictions!

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Happy New Year to all our readers and we hope that 2013 will be a little bit better than 2012, actually a lot better.

As you might guess, this year will undoubtedly bring a lot of changes to this mad world if IFEC. Outside influences will be a big driver and economic conditions will still dictate the rate of change. Personal technology has never had so much influence on our business but this year, we are comfortable in predicting that we will see two major influences – Mobile and Other. Mobile is the eight-hundred-pound-gorilla and Other is just that, other influences like FAA rulings, economic conditions and who knows what else. For our efforts, we requested the thoughts of others in the IFE space and we hope this article gets you thinking.

Mobile

As the trend of mobile connectivity affects all of us, the only place travelers won’t be connected is on the plane!? Proof of this trend is evident in the smartphone world. Shipment revenues for smartphones are expected to reach $37 billion in 2013, with more than 125.8 million units shipping to retailers. This is up 16 percent from 2012. Tablet computers also are expected to see phenomenal growth.This year, unit sales of tablets are projected to surpass 105 million (up 54%), resulting in $35.6 billion in shipment revenue, up 22% year-over-year. And speaking of apps, Apple announced announced that customers have downloaded over 40 billion apps from the iTunes App Store, with nearly 20 billion in 2012 alone. Recently it was announced that a record-breaking 17.4 million iOS and Android devices were activated on Christmas Day, leading to equally impressive downloads over the holidays. The week of December 25 through December 31 recorded the highest number of device activations and app downloads of any week in history. Some 50 million iOS and Android devices were activated during the holiday week and 1.76 billion applications were downloaded. The iOS app count is now over 775,000! By the end of next year, mobile internet traffic will surpass fixed and a lot of those users will be using them on planes. And we mean a lot! From a trend perspective, one Astronics sage told IFExpress, “More connectivity and more power!” We assume he means inseat power and he would know.

We also see the coming connectivity revolution with increased bandwidth, increased aircraft retrofits and increased interest by airlines. Gogo, Panasonic, Row 44 and others are rushing to get passengers connected. Liz Young told IFExpress, “I think we will see a gradual shift on many international airlines toward ‘tiered’ services, which means that passengers will have options, e.g., using their own electronic devices at no charge, having access to wireless devices that the airline provides at a modest charge, and having access to ‘fixed’ devices (seat-back, tray table) that are free to use for basic services but require a credit card swipe for premium services.  Virtually all wide body planes will provide satellite linkage for these services, but the Ku-band/Ka-band battle will not be clearly resolved for many years to come.”

Along the same general direction, AirCloud’s Peter Lemme told IFExpress, “Inflight entertainment providers have been dabbling with connected applications for many years: live TV, messaging, browsing. Inmarsat remains a mainstay with L-band services and hopes to hold off market penetration from ViaSat, Panasonic, Row 44, and Gogo. Both Iridium and Inmarsat are held back with new developments more than one year away. With so many service providers in the mix, suppliers of equipment, airframes, and airline operators will need to embrace standardization wherever possible. Broadband technology has fully matured for 2013. The battle at the seat, whether seat-back or BYOD, is much more about monetization. Seat-back deployments have long benefitted from subsidy, whereas BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) seems also BYOB (Build Your Own Business). There really is no reason for differentiating the monetization opportunities. Long-standing desires for targeted marketing and for premium advertising, which have been evident for decades, finally are powered by technology that can shower the cabin with individualized experiences. BYOD and a stand-alone Wi-Fi offers the bare-minimum IFE.  In 2013, not one commercial operator should even question the immediate need to deploy Wi-Fi no matter how small the airplane. Connectivity at the gate is the area that may be the most surprising.  Cellular can now equal WLAN technologies, freeing IFE from the airport wireless tangled-web. I don’t foresee dedicated WiMax satisfying IFE appetite, but I would not ignore it either. The greatest development to come is the most boring – wired Ethernet at the gate.”

From a future point of view, the FAA and FCC are rethinking connectivity, as innumerable news releases have noted, but we wondered if airplane text messaging was possible today as we had tried it earlier on a domestic flight so we contacted Robbie Hyman, Row 44 PR Guru and asked if that feature was to be found on the sat-based connectivity today and he told us; “Interestingly, with iMessage on the iPhone you can send a text message to another iPhone, using a Wi-Fi signal and not your phone’s cell signal. I just learned that the other day and am now even more impressed with Apple! But as for true text messaging from one of our partner airlines’ planes, no, passengers don’t have that option now. Row 44’s system does have GSM capability, but our airlines have not asked for it. So for now passengers cannot use their cell phone’s cell signal to send texts from our airlines’ planes (either in the US or anywhere else). They’ll have to find web-based alternatives and use the Wi-Fi service.”

OTHER

We also asked some IFEC’ers about the future industry changes and we got a variable buffet of answers. Rich Salter, Lumexis CTO had this to say, ” I want to predict that advances in network technology will be a lot more dramatic than many may think – not to mention the fact that 802.11ac is almost here and will force the WAP suppliers to start building it into their airborne WAPs sooner rather than later – (note that Apple iDevices will likely have “ac” capability in their next generation versions due out in 2013). Next year we will see dramatic advances in the enabling technologies for onboard networks (and this bodes well for higher definition video): For fiber optic networks, a 10 Gbit standard will be considered by aviation standards committees. For wireless systems, a new generation of PEDs will drive IFEC suppliers to consider adding 802.11“ac” capability (for 450Mbps-1.3Gbps) into their airborne WAPs sooner rather than later.”  And lastly, Beth DeYoung, GM Zodiac Lighting Solutions, told IFExpress “The airlines are realizing the benefits of LED interior lighting and we expect the demand for this technology to take-off in 2013.”


The next inputs come from sources who want to remain anonymous… see if you agree, they vary from the sublime to the ridiculous!
• Travel costs will jump … and when first class drinks are not free, a revolt will spread!
• Major switches in IFE suppliers at some of the top airlines in the world but are they making changes for better equipment or service, or are they making changes because they are tired of the games?  What ever happened to the saying ‘…with the devil you know?’
• More Wireless Installations over embedded IFE networks
• Samsung and Boeing part company within 18 months
• Major inroads by the Chinese into OEM aircraft production; announcements of major airline buys from the Chinese vendor this year.
• Could a midwest IFE vendor be sold to a competitor?
• IFE – Network contract assigned to the first tourist space shuttle in private ownership
• Expect the first IFEC Cloud integration.
• New low cost defibrillators will generate more airline interest after an incident!!
• There will soon be more tablets in use on the plane than laptops – watch out IFE!
• IF the FAA permits voice calls on planes, the airlines will divide the plane in half…phone calls and no phone call sections and the only fair way is right-side-left side.
• Panasonic will introduce the first Ultra HD display for planes (biz jets probably).
• The only 3D display to make it on a plane will be the non-glasses type (similar to the ones in past Thales booths).
• Watch for flat fee increases from the airlines… more money to be made than percentage increases, and passengers think they are all being treated equal!
• A new IFE developer will enter the fray in 2013!

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