APEX 2014: Trends & Observations


We have returned to Seattle from APEX 2014 which was one of the growing IFE venues this year and because of market conditions and passenger demand changes, there was a lot to see. Firstly, note that we can’t cover the almost-fifty booths we visited and three hundred or so conversations/interviews  we held in one IFExpress issue. We will try over the next month or so to cover them in summary, and later on, produce some in-depth stories of technologies and innovations that we feel our readers ought to know about. You know we can’t get everything, but we will try!

As you may know, the first day of the show features speakers and this year was no different. While the keynote was given by Ed Shapiro, PAR Capital Partner and VP (Global Eagle Entertainment, etc.), two of the following speakers, Howard Charney (Cisco VP) and Motivational Speaker, Lee Silber got the crowd involved and entertained. Howard whose stage persona is a cross between Woody Allen and Albert Einstein, talked about the coming industry trends from a macro view while Lee Silber used humor and chart speed to drive home the need to think fast and not worry about making mistakes, using informed decisions…  all at one chart per three seconds speed.

As usual, the afternoon breakout sessions specialized in Comfort & Ambiance, Entertainment & Connectivity (Content & Technology), and Catering & Services.

A particularly interesting Entertainment & Connectivity Technical Session was entitled The e-Aircraft – Concept & Fulfillment moderated by Michael Planey. We later talked with Michael and he told IFExpress: “The e-Aircraft panel took a brief look at the many improvements to operational efficiency that can be achieved with the proper allocation of bandwidth and the development of new applications. The seven panelists highlighted how both flight and cabin crews can use new tools such as tablets to receive updated weather forecasts, passenger preference information, and customs and immigration data. Perhaps the most important information, however, is that while progress is coming it will not happen at the same pace as new consumer electronics trends. Placing this new technology into the aircraft is a complex process touching almost every department in the airline and it’s more important to get it implemented correctly than to get it done quickly.”

Next, lets look at some of the show trends that we observed. Please note that there is a lot happening at APEX so if we missed your area of interest, we apologize. We noted the following:

1. From a vendor hardware point of view, IFE and connectivity equipment is being developed for the biggest uninstalled market out there – the single-aisle aircraft. The Panasonic new flat plane phased array satcom antenna is just one example of this trend. In the past, demand drove vendors to build over-water connectivity solutions for larger planes often flying from one country to another and since ground based antenna solutions were not feasible, satcom solutions were developed. With increased bandwidth satellite solutions on their way, a low profile antenna for the smaller planes was a natural.

2. While many vendors noted lighter sales in the last nine months, we believe airlines are waiting to better understand their changing markets (i.e. personal devices). They are watching both cabin hardware and the connectivity solutions. And as you might suspect, they are a bit overloaded by options and trying to couple them with the changing requirements of their customers.

3. Airline alliances are co-purchasing IFE hardware and GUI software to update fleets at demanded lower prices. In many cases, GUI layouts are identical but tailored to each airlines’ corporate identity, giving each a unique feel and look. One example of this is Air France & KLM.

4. Hardware developments were everywhere at the show, particularly focusing on technology to facilitate cabin Wi-Fi – both as a standalone IFE solution and as a second screen solution.

5. And speaking of Wi-Fi, one vendor, VT Miltope, brought out a product they have been working on with a brilliant technology solution developer. We’ve only seen one provider, VT Miltope, research and create a solution to improve in-cabin Wi-Fi by developing onboard firmware in the router that analyze the signals and allows them to talk to one another. The goal here with the nMap2 product with the Cognitive Hotspot Technology is to optimize the signal solution while in operation on the plane. Be prepared, this device will change the industry!

6. Hardware and software are being developed to facilitate secure financial transactions – both at the card/passenger interface and possibly more importantly, in the communication of such data. In the second case, we are talking at the server level and one, by Mark Thompson is actually secure at FIPS Level 3, the same as required by the US Treasury. Credit card sales and services like FlightPath 3D are now protected to a new security level – the highest we have ever seen.

7. IFExpress noted an ever increasing demand for greater future data rates/bandwidth onboard, ostensibly for cabin and crew connectivity.

8. We also found a proliferation of semi-imbedded IFE. For example, Lufthansa Systems is using head-strike protected, off the shelf tablets in a secured embedded manner.

9. InSeat and USB power are now an expectation and no longer an exception.

10. As a proliferation of handheld, semi-embedded and Pax Ped devices become more prevalent, there is an increasing demand for agile, brandable software/GUI’s.

11. Airlines are looking more and more to connectivity and Wi-Fi for their single-aisle solutions.

We further note that because it is somewhat difficult to to get trend information from talking to each connectivity service provider, we contacted Tim Farrar who is a telecom and media consultant in Menlo Park, California. We contacted Tim since we had a future focused presentation he made at the Global Connected Aircraft this year and asked about his view of the connectivity solution. He told IFExpress: “I think the biggest issue right now is the renewed focus on ATG solutions as the lowest cost option for connectivity in high traffic regions. There are proposed network deployments in the US with AT&T, Europe with Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, China, Japan and Australia. So an all-satellite solution becomes less viable outside long-haul routes (and even there, integration with ATG, at least in your home region, is a good idea). Secondly, the sustainability of standalone providers such as Gogo and Row44 becomes more questionable when we have both well funded cellular operators moving into the space and large equipment vendors, who can subsidize the connectivity business from IFE equipment sales. For example, adding satellite connectivity is less than 10% of the cost of installing seat back IFE on a new wide bodied jet. All that means that we’ll see more consolidation. Finally, the biggest unanswered question is how cellular operators see the inflight connectivity opportunity. Is it a new revenue source, like the connected car, or mainly a marketing opportunity, to display their brand and reduce churn by offering more places for their own customers to connect? If it’s the former, then they may be disappointed. If it’s the latter then that will put even more pressure on the standalone connectivity providers who are trying to make money out of this business.


Bits & Pieces

Paul Burke told IFExpress that his company, Telefonix, is celebrating their 25th year in the aviation business – the quiet ones always win!

Glad you are back, Joe Winston, you were missed.

Geoff Underwood of IFPL fame just won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade… again, and you can watch the proceedings here. Congratulations to Geoff and the whole IFPL team!

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