APEX 2016: Part 2 – Trends, Vendors and More
While we did not necessarily expect large changes in IFEC at a show the size of APEX Singapore, we were wrong – there is a lot going on in the way of change pertaining to the world of cabin experiences. The big driver of course is what passengers bring on the airplane and their expectations of how air travel will be a continuation of their ground experiences and lifestyle. This would explain the need for better connectivity on the aircraft and the increase in demand for connectivity based solutions. Another area that appears to be growing is demand for engaging the passenger throughout the travel experience – from the initial ticket purchase all the way to arrival at their destination. The goal is to engage the passenger in an end-to-end experience. This is being facilitated by the airline apps now available, as well as, the various connectivity solutions that are permeating both the airport and the aircraft. With the availability of real-time data analytics the airlines can finally interact with their travelers seamlessly throughout the entire journey. The message here is data, and a lot of it. This expansion is creating new products, services, new jobs, and a new way to capture the aviation business. Consequently, the passenger, the airplane, and the airline are all operating as if the aircraft were ‘tethered to a gatelink on the ground’ – the next industry growth phase will include more data about the passenger, more data about their travel experience, more data about the aircraft, and we can thank connectivity for bring about these changes.
1) Airlines are looking more and more to connectivity and Wi-Fi for their single-aisle solutions, as well as, their twin-aisle aircraft. Wi-Fi and connectivity are critical for both the connected aircraft and engaging the passenger throughout all aspects of the trip.
2) With the proliferation of handheld, semi-embedded and Pax PED devices we saw an increase in agile, brandable software/GUI.
3) With the advent of true broadband coming into service we saw IFE vendors embracing the availability of a large pipe by offering aircraft operations evaluation real-time, as well as, passenger services.
4) New methods of power delivery as well as capability with the latest upgrade in USB based power. In fact, Inseat USB power is now the expectation – and USB C is here now too! Obviously, this demand is to support the connectivity/PEDs brought onboard the aircraft by the passengers, among others.
5) There is a growing market for a lower cost connectivity solution for smaller amounts of data or chat style connectivity. At the show we saw 2 new ground based connectivity solutions being developed and another that was based on Bluetooth.
Gogo celebrated 25 years in business (1991 – 2016)! Congratulations may the next 25 be even more momentous. One of the technology surprises was the newly announced network that will use unlicensed spectrum, a proprietary modem and a new beam-forming antenna to produce peak network speeds of more than 100 Mbps. This next generation ground-based network for the aero market will utilize LTE technology and leverage Gogo’s existing first generation North American network and infrastructure of more than 250 towers. “Gogo’s next generation network will also be backward-compatible with Gogo’s first generation network, which means an aircraft will be able to seamlessly switch between Gogo’s two networks similar to how a cell phone on the ground connects to the fastest available network,” said Anand Chari, CTO of Gogo. The benefits of the network for commercial aircraft operating within the United States and Canada include: low equipment cost and weight, overnight installation, and low drag on the aircraft due to the small size of the antennas. It also has big advantages in terms of latency compared to satellite solutions. It should be noted, that this system is using the same frequency as 802.11 – the 2.4 GHz band but the solution is not Wi-Fi as such. Gogo did not go into any description of the modulation technique used. We point out that the press release that was distributed in late September on this subject came out on the same day as SmartSky released theirs – interesting!
FTS is probably the newest full system IFEC provider in the industry today. At the show they announced that their Wi-Fi IFE system is already flying on China Southern’s 737 for a trial, and will be flying on another airline in Asia and a North America-based carrier in the near term. While the company is in the midst of a market re-branding and product renaming, their young engineering team impressed us with their understanding of an inflight connectivity solution and some potential new products that we have yet to see on an aircraft. The company is focusing on the B737 family and A320 family aircraft and are targeting small airlines and LCC’s to get their product off the ground. Basically, the company is in the start-up phase and moving very rapidly into the IFEC realm. They have brought on some industry notables to help facilitate this goal: Darrel Chua (GM, Singapore FTS); Rich Salter, CTO; Ben Fuller, Director of Marketing for the Americas; and Jack Sunabe, Director of Program Management. Here is an image of the team in their booth at APEX.
Their next generation Wi-Fi entertainment and information system is fully FAA/EASA compliant and supports 802.11 ac standards. The system is ultra-light weight, which greatly reduces fuel burn when compared to legacy IFE systems. The system requires one or two Cabin Wireless Access Points (CWAPs) to cover the entire cabin. This interacts with their General Network Server which uses high-capacity SSD drives to support HD media streaming, as well as the latest applications. Their Terminal Wireless Cellular Unit (TWCU) is for multi-band 3G/4G cellular data communication, activated when the aircraft is on the ground, and can be used for content update and usage data offload. Also, we should mention they exhibited a nifty smartwatch for flight attendants that served as the CMT.
Wi-Fi, while not sexy unto itself, controls the cost and manufacturing requirements and quality of the system that a new entrant can handle. More importantly, since all their LRUs are manufactured by FTS’ parent company (FeiTian), they do not have to integrate with anyone else. Also, they don’t have to outsource their software – it is all controlled in house. By operating in this mode they do not have to rely on suppliers; however, we do note that they want to create partnerships from a marketing perspective in order to enhance ancillary revenue generation. Furthermore, products like customized games can be easily added.
In closing, we note that the parent company (FeiTian) has been around for 11 years with a backbone built on bullet trains in China. Additionally, it should be mentioned that by year’s end their will be four FTS company (aviation-focused) offices: China, Singapore, Newport Beach, and a location in Europe – so the company is very interested in aggressive expansion. In our interview they mentioned that they will have four airlines in their first full year of operation – WOW!
SITA OnAir demonstrated how the passenger experience is being transformed by their e-Aircraft concept. The e-Aircraft presents significant opportunities for airlines to streamline operations and improve efficiencies. It also presents the major challenge of what to do when confronted by terabytes of data produced during each flight. Some of it will be stored for downloading on the ground. But increasingly, the demand is for real-time interaction, for the aircraft to be connected nose-to-tail throughout the flight for both passengers and the airline. They discussed the key developments based on the advent of the global high through-put satellite link, GX Aviation from Inmarsat. In fact, they showed how the increased connectivity affected 6 key ‘audiences’ (aircraft included) for the improved data rates: 1) Passengers benefit from a richer, more interactive infotainment experience. At the Expo they launched their latest inflight portal for passengers, 2) Cabin Crew can now personalize passenger interaction with real-time information available at their fingertips. Also, they demonstrated their latest CrewTablet developments, 3) Cockpit Crew can also deliver a safer, more comfortable journey to passengers thanks to live weather updates sent directly to EFBs, 4) Flight Operations can enhance passenger safety by tracking aircraft wherever they are in the world using AIRCOM FlightTracker – and a number of airlines have already signed up, 5) Aircraft transmits maintenance requirement data, ensuring teams are waiting at the gate to keep turnaround time to a minimum, 6) And finally, Air Traffic Control enhances both safety and efficiency by streamlining communications between pilots and air traffic managers. SITA likes to call these ‘nose-to-tail’ solutions.
2016 APEX Awards:
This year’s APEX Awards were expanded from previous years. In fact, there were eight categories in the new format. Competition was particularly high especially in the areas of “Best Inflight Entertainment Innovation” and “Best Original Video” – I think many of the judges wished they could handout co-winner awards!
Award winners are as follows:
- Best Video Curation – Air Canada enRoute Programming
- Best Original Video – Etihad Airways Virtual Reality Film
- Best Original Audio – American Airlines Exclusive Content
- Best Inflight Connectivity Innovation – Finnair Nordic Sky Wi-Fi
- Best Passenger Comfort Innovation – Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class
- Best Personalization Innovation – Air New Zealand Airpoints
- Best Cabin Innovation – STG Aerospace Green Floor Path Lighting
- Best Inflight Entertainment Innovation – Air New Zealand Innovations
- Newcomer Award – SkyLights and ImmFly
- CEO Lifetime Achievement – Goh Choon Phong, Singapore
Did you get to the APEX sponsored networking event in Singapore on Wednesday evening? If not you missed a fantastic band called Full Circle that played class rock’n roll. We were so impressed we want to extend a ‘thank you’ to Ande Rowe | Manager, Meetings & Expositions for APEX who booked them. Full Circle really made the event one to remember!! Their facebook page can be found here.