Wow! What More Can We say? Well, Actually a Lot!

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APEX 2017 is over, and as usual, there was a lot to see and talk about. This first post-show issue of IFExpress is not the place to cover all we saw, so over the next few weeks we will get into the details. However, this week we will give our readers a Summary, talk a bit about a few of the Big Deals we saw, give our readers some Trend/Forecast data based on the show, and provide a People Update on some of the “interesting” folks we saw cruising the aisles or working in different booths. Lastly, please understand this summary may not include “your” booth as we have limited space, but never fear, if your story has depth, we will cover it – at least for those booths we had time to visit.

First, we need to be sure we are in a business that will support the forthcoming technology – and we are certain we are. With well over 26,000 commercial aircraft in service today served by over 1,400 airlines, this industry will be around for a while. Further, with passenger traffic predictions indicating that volumes will double in the next fifteen years, growth is assuredly on the horizon. But here is the catch – what passengers want/need in the way of IFEC is changing and vendors (and airlines) need to be aware of these changes if the businesses are to succeed. In fact, we think you might want to be thinking in terms of C+IFE instead of IFEC.

Also, let us say that the IFEC world is changing, and in many cases, it is because many of the people influencing and using it, have changed, at least their technology has changed. Also, readers should note that because many companies and products are evolving, the communication of changes will occur later than this show. In other words, never fear, more will come in the future, and if what we saw is an indication, there will be a lot to write about then. Also, please note, industry competition success will be determined by passenger approval in most cases, and based on it, don’t bet on the obvious – keep an open mind till you try it out. A perfect example for us was Uber. When we got more information about the driver, their car and their present location – all with better service and lower cost, we changed from taxi’s!

IFEC is the area of driving change we mentioned earlier and the ability to use one’s own devices are a plus in many cases. Inflight Wi-Fi is the technology changing the experience, but you knew that. The ability of an airline (or content service provider) to “use” a preloaded app is a good idea for a couple reasons – it provides a link to the passengers’ phone or tablet and it allows more “involvement” with the user and their devices. Airlines like this solution as well as others and many have an app that allows inflight content personalization, in the air and on the ground. After all, a companion app is an airline sales pitch in the long run – and if you don’t see the value in this solution, perhaps you should try maintenance!?

Having said all that, here are some of the product capabilities we saw and feel will be a “big deal” downstream, and since this issue of IFExpress is a quick summary, we wanted to be sure that you have a good list to follow-up on. So here it goes!

Some Big Deals

FlightPath 3D – When IFExpress sat down with the FlightPath 3D team during last week’s APEX, we were blown away! The company is trying to evolve the inflight experience to be more ‘passenger centric’. The journey should not be just about when the passenger arrives at their destination but a more immersive experience. FlightPath 3D is achieving this target through brilliantly crafted 3D content with full street maps with places to visit and things to do as well as gameification. The company has a 3-pillar model: 1) explore the passenger destination & plan your travel 2) provide an immersive experience and pre-experience the destination 3) drive ancillary revenue for the airline. As we mentioned, IFExpress was really impressed with the quality of the maps, the ease of use, and the scope of FlightPath 3D’s vision. Expect more on this product in a future issue of IFExpress.


Netflix– One of the exciting “show stoppers” was presented by Netflix who propose free or low price inflight movie watching. In 2018, Netflix plans on deploying new, more efficient mobile encodes for use in flight. By providing the airplane available IP ranges, an airline will be able to provide video streaming inflight – content for users! The new solution on board will provide up to 75% bandwidth savings. Video streaming will be the answer for airlines that work with Netflix. For passengers with an existing Netflix account, the Netflix content will be free. If you are not a Netflix customer, you will be able to sign-up for a 30-day free trial – passengers win, the airlines win (if they have satcom hardware), and Netflix wins by giving free content to potential future customers. Overall, one could say it is a win-win-win!


Gogo Vision Touch – During the show, Gogo announced a new seatback product that facilitates wireless streaming of IFE content. The product will be launched on Delta’s Bombardier CS100 aircraft. The aircraft will utilize 2Ku connectivity technology as well as Gogo Vision Touch. The system will leverage the 2Ku in cabin network technology (server, modem and WAPS). Gogo stated during our interview that the system has Early Windows Content approval. And the seatback unit is manufactured by another company and will be installed by the seat provider. Expect more on this in the future.


Rockwell Collins Ku/Ka Band Antenna- The new flat plane antenna from Rockwell Collins features a transmit and receive flat surface approximately 3/4 of a meter each. One dual dish will do Ku and another will do Ka band. Interestingly, Rockwell Collins notes that only 3 electronics boxes are used in providing interface to the aircraft. We understand the technology for this antenna comes from the RC antenna experts on the military side of the house. Furthermore, each system can talk to two satellites. Amazingly, the MTBF is purported to be around 50K hours, which means no moving parts. The company is in the process of testing and certifying this unit, so stay tuned!


Inmarsat (EAN)- “EAN is the world’s first dedicated aviation connectivity solution to integrate space-based and ground-based networks to deliver a seamless W-iFi experience for airline passengers throughout Europe. Inmarsat’s strategic partner, Deutsche Telekom, is well advanced in the construction of the complementary ground network, which will be fully integrated with the S-band satellite to deliver a truly seamless service for Europe’s airlines and their passengers. Deutsche Telekom uses 300 cell phone towers that cover the entire footprint of the EAN (pointing up of course). The Inmarsat S-band satellite, a state-of the-art platform, will provide multi-beam pan-European coverage. The satellite is custom-designed to offer innovative MSS services to commercial and business airlines flying over the dense European routes, exploiting Inmarsat’s 30MHz (2 x 15MHz) S-band spectrum allocation in all 28 EU member states. More importantly, the service operates over one S-band satellite whose footprint is tailored around the countries involved in the service.”


VT Miltope –  VT Miltope brought on RazorSecure to help improve inflight Wi-Fi security while preventing hacker attacks on the IFEC system. Their approach is completely different as they focus on the attack analysis and then relate to the hardware/software that is being protected. We will not cover too much in this issue of IFExpress, but understand, that their approach to secure inflight connectivity is going to change the way that the IFEC industry looks at wireless security. IFExpress will have a more in-depth story in coming issues.


Trends/Forecasts

  • The passenger expectations and the PEDs they carry onboard the aircraft are changing: devices are smaller, have more memory, are longer playing; thus they are having a significant impact on cabin entertainment, especially on single-aisle aircraft.
  • Hardware is changing – The platforms are becoming expandable/modular and the software is more ‘App-like’. The result: flexibility – it is easier to modify hardware and software for different aircraft and airline requirements. Thus, it will be cheaper and easier to, design, build, certify, and install.
  • Connectivity is changing – Firstly, satellite availability and bandwidth are increasing, and thus, there is more available connectivity to the aircraft. Secondly, there are more satellites and coverage available globally. The result: connectivity is becoming the driver for seat solutions. Having said this, we must also note that IFE is anything but dead. It is our opinion that embedded IFE will always be installed on long-haul twin-aisle aircraft, as well as, some of the new, longer-range single-aisle aircraft coming down the pike.
  • Keep your eye on China! Future aircraft sales look to be strong in this Asian country and no doubt, they will prefer IFEC selections from companies that have Chinese manufacturing/distribution.
  • CyberSecurity is in its infancy in IFEC. This is a growing market and when the next hacking incident occurs in the back of the plane, it will get more exposure than any of us can image. On the ground, a recent hacker situation placed a Wi-Fi related virus that was spread by users moving to new ground-based networks. If this were to get on an IFEC system, passenger concern would be extreme since they might not be aware of the separation between the IFEC systems and the aircraft.
  • Consolidation is a big deal – We don’t know how long many of you have been in the IFE game, but if you harken back to the 1994 & 1995 timeframe, there were 7 large IFE vendors in the arena. The industry size did not bear that many players – simply put, there were far too many and the market scaled the number back to 3 or 4 big suppliers. Today, we are facing a similar issue with connectivity and satcom service providers. Yes, our industry has grown, and yes, there are large number of future aircraft deliveries forecast, as well as, a high number of potential retrofits, but the simple fact is there maybe too many players in the satcom/connectivity marketplace to make a successful business model for all. Therefore, we see mergers, buyouts, consolidation, and some departures, as well as, new technology changing the future for all of us.

People Update:

Here are a few people that IFExpress saw during last week’s exhibition that had either retired, changed companies, are consulting, or had left and then returned to the industry. Either way, it was great to see you all!

Brinder Bhatia – Retired

Lori Salazar – Independent business consultant

Paul Margis – Independent business consultant

Greg Fialcowitz – Independent business

John Guidon – Unknown

Lou Sharkey – Independent business consultant

Glen Latta – Now with GEE

Mike Moeller – Now with GEE

Earle Olson – Now with Airborne Wireless Network


Summary

We wanted to say a few words of thanks to our readers, advertising clients and the folks who make this business what it is – Thank you for taking the time to talk to IFExpress and share your stories. We would not be where we are without you. And a special thanks to the APEX team as organizing this kind of show is really work intensive – we feel your pain! Also, last week saw a deluge of press releases – far too many for a single issue of IFExpress; therefore, we will be releasing them over the next three editions. However, if you just can’t wait they are available on our website: www.airfax.com/blog. And lastly, we look forward to the next 25 years – Patricia Wiseman | Editor & Co-Founder, IFExpress & AIRFAX.com/blog

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