Trends, Friends, and Amends!

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The APEX Conference never changes. The APEX Conference always changes, and that’s great!
Let us explain:

Each year, the world of IFEC has a couple conferences that are one of the best thing that happens in our industry. Seeing friends, meeting new ones, learning about the results of millions of dollars of R&D… that’s what never changes and we appreciate being part of this industry. Thanx APEX.

If you are in love with the technology as we are, conferences are the showrooms of new tech and every year we are stunned by what technology gives and takes from this industry. In a word – change. As an example, ground-based technology like communication is in the process of revamping at least part of our industry. We cite satellites and mobile devices as perfect examples of this cross fertilization.

In covering the show we note that we have compiled at least 50 stories that we hope to present to our readers over the coming months. We want to get out information to those who work in the labs and flight lines that do not get a chance to participate in shows and conferences and that is why you can find some of our many floor images uploaded on flckr. Just click the image in the righthand corner of this newsletter to take you there. We exist for everyone in this industry and we thought we would set the stage with a few broad observations in this issue… you might call them trends but they are certainly changes, and after reading between the lines, we think you will get an idea of what this industry is coming to. By the way, there is no order or ranking these are our observations over 4 days of show floor discussion and interviews.

  • Wireless Everywhere: As you can imagine, wireless technology is invading your everyday life and is probably doing so in the cabins and airports of the world as well. We saw wireless IFE, wireless connectivity, wireless crew solutions, wireless crew service tablet solutions… keep your eye on KID’s Skyfi and the ongoing Airbus IFEC inroads with Alna. We expected a Boeing/ Samsung announcement along the same lines but saw none?!
  • Second Screens Coupled with Overhead Video Monitors: This solution tells us a lot. Firstly, many future single aisle planes will become hybrid solutions especially on longer routes. That is, they get the full Monty up front with seatback or in-seat screens, while coach entertainment, information and gaming solutions are delivered via overhead video and on your own, Wi-Fi enabled device. And yes, up front probably get’s Wi-Fi too. This prediction says the overhead monitor is going to make a comeback in limited applications, but one IFE executive told IFExpress that there are somewhere between 4000 and 6000 single aisle planes out there with little or no IFE. Panasonic and Lumexis are going to be in this race.
  • Inflight User Data: What you like, what you click, and what you buy is being tallied by folks at Panasonic and Thompson just to name two. Data sells advertising, systems and is another source of airline revenue. Bob Thompson (Thompson Aerospace) told us that with a proper content, advertising and data deal, he would give his systems away. Thales is also partnering with Survey Analytics to bring online tools to connect airline and passenger preferences.
  • Cashless Onboard Payments: NFC is still out there but a lot of airlines are trying to figure out how to integrate it with their onboard systems. The latest variant from IFPL showed at their booth puts the capability at each seat as a Contactless Retail System with a wireless data solution, 5-year battery power, and an Ink Technology screen that has a lot of additional future uses. While not a trend, we keep waiting for the “next big thing” in payments and this may be it.
  • Connectivity and TV Rise —  Slow but Sure: Ka Band is coming this year and LiveTV and ViaSat plan a big offering to JetBlue travelers. Ku Band continues to populate with Panasonic and Intelsat EpicNG offering up to seven live TV channels, Gogo set to launch Ground To Orbit (GTO) 60mbps Internet in 2014, and SITA and Thales’s GateSync delivery of connectivity services eventually destined for passenger devices.
  • Marriage and Dating: Yes, we are talking about vendor consolidation like the Airline Alliance and Zodiac have demonstrated. It may start to be a trend as vendors try the mega-IFE store look. We also suspect that the big OEM’s (Airbus & Boeing) are getting a bit nervous about the increased off-plant aircraft cabin integration and installation business performed by companies and teams that know more about cabin equipage than they do. This may also explain the Airbus fiber core IFE (ALNA) development and the Boeing/Samsung activity.
  • Solid State Memory (SSD): Prices are dropping fast for reliable solid state memory. One vendor plans 1 TB and 1 /2 TB server solutions while the Lumexis twin server solution has had a reported 1.5 TB of the stuff. We found SSD’s online for $.71 per GB but have seen lower. HDD’s on the other hand are around $.04 per GB. Also watch the wireless server folks because they love the stuff!
  • Mobile Device Pandering: In a way, airlines have no choice, passengers are going to bring their mobile devices aboard and unless the FAA & FCC outlaw them onboard they are here to stay. If the airline wants to be an IFE participant with the passenger onboard experience, they need to play ball with what brought aboard.
  • OS Winner (Not): IFE systems are pretty much Android, Linux and some Windows based architectures. It is interesting to note that the big dogs in passenger devices are Windows and Mac OS for laptops while mobile devices sprout iOS and Android. It is a good thing we have HTML and Wi-Fi standards so they all can communicate. Interestingly, at the end of this year it is predicted that iOS device deliveries will exceed Windows-based product deliveries.
  • New Directions: There is a lot of new technology out there and products like iPads and Nexus tablets are providing increased new business opportunities for vendors. One of the growth markets is onboard service software and we saw a few new products that offer airlines better control of onboard purchasing, customer service, performance evaluation, passenger service and preference data control, and crew data handling.
  • Maps & Gaming: Moving maps have had a real facelift in the past few years. There were a lot of 3D solutions out there and one that caught our eye was the map products developed by Betria System. Many of the solutions feature glorious, interactive graphics. Rockwell has a beauty and it grew out of the Airshow products from the early 90’s. Gaming on the other hand seems to have a steady batch of new entrants but the growth seems to be in the old-timers and their preference for games past like the products from G.U.E. Tech. The Miami team had delivered past successful games with updated sound and graphics. They offer some 45 yesterday games in today’s rendering.
  • Streaming and Power: It seems that everyone that has WI-Fi is offering some solution that streams video content. Two things to remember: First – A single WAP can handle around 50 users assuming the device performs some dynamic bandwidth allocation (adjusts signal quality for the device). Second – The words of Michael Childers ring true, “If you are going to stream Early Window content then you are gong to need an App.” DRM approval does not necessarily mean Early Window approval. Next on the power front, we saw more in-seat power vendors than ever. There were at least
  • 6 companies selling in-seat power at the show and as portable devices get more popular, there will be a greater demand for them. Watch out for BAE Systems & EMTEQ – they have a new system that changes the way power is supplied and it is based on balancing the supplied power to the seats.
  • Radomes: This is a later story but we found one radome vendor who could deliver a single radome that could be used for Ku Band and Ka Band. This is an incredible feat and we will have more on them later. Nice job General Dynamics!

Editor’s Note: Wireless Week and The Associated Press reports the following: “The airport in the suburb Romulus announced Monday that unlimited wireless Internet access is available to people after viewing a 30-second advertisement no more than once every 45 minutes. The network provider is Advanced Wireless Group LLC. The airport says the ad-supported model being used for Wi-Fi access enables it to offer unlimited access at higher speeds. Several premium access options for those who want higher speeds or ad-free online browsing also are available at the airport.” Perhaps we are seeing the next model variant for free inflight Wi-Fi Internet, if that day ever comes.

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