In 2007, SITA developed the results of a traveler survey performed a couple years earlier and drew some interesting results about the forthcoming digital traveler. At the very least, their efforts were interesting, and in some circles, a little off target. Don’t get us wrong, this is not a critique of their work…we have other fish to fry here. No, in many ways, today’s digital nomad has great ground-based wireless services (albeit expensive) but the airborne side is developing slowly but surely. Here is the rub – it aint happening quick enough and at low enough price point to please many. While the study refers pretty much to ground based services, the issue here is in the air.

To the traveler, besides the taxi ride to the airport and time in a hotel room, the digital action is at the airport and on the plane. At the airport, the “surfing” time is confined to waiting…which may, or may not, be a minor window in trip time. And speaking of airport Wi-Fi, as far as we know, there are around 100 or so airports in the US and another 100 or so worldwide that offer the service free. Please note, various websites covering free Wi-Fi differ. We should also mention that during last Christmas, Google provided some 54 US airports with free connectivity. Although we don’t know the uptake, the IFExpress crowd loved it. Unfortunately, in the air is another story. As we all know, sometimes the airborne portion of a trip nears or exceeds 12 hours, but let us not get ahead of ourselves.

Back to digital demand. This past June, Cisco laid out their view of the future digital data market: Global IP traffic up 4.3 times by 2014 to 63.exabytes per month. Our interest is on the mobile portion of that market. By the way, one exabyte is a billion gigabytes. The graphic accompanying this article puts the mobile IP estimate somewhere in the vicinity of .25 EB/ mo. today. The airborne side market is barely .04% of that estimate, if our math is correct (probably not, but the real estimate is south of that number).
The point here is that the growth of mobile IP data is 10 fold what the rest of the global IP market will be in 2014 and this surely will put pressure on airlines to feed the flying digital denizens. Next assumption – to feed this monster, the price per bit must drop. With airlines nickel-and-dimeing fliers, inflight connectivity now has more competition for your extra bucks, florins, pesos, or whatever. While the user base might be growing it is just too expensive, which might somewhat explain low take-up rates (less that 5% by our estimates). No one blames AirCell on this one, costs are costs and we don’t see how they can do it for the price they do, but our guess is that subsidy is needed here in the form of a sugar daddy. Surely, lower price (free) would encourage more users. We don’t know about you, but our tolerance for advert supported Wi-Fi is greater the lower the price point. Airline, search engine, toothpaste…who cares, if we can get our email, they can advertise Preparation H for all we care.

Which brings us to our next point – AirCell IPO. A new CFO has joined AirCell’s executive team with emphasis on his experience in the IPO arena. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to make the next assumption – What about a buyer, and would this make sense for GOOGLE or Microsoft’s BING? Right market, right demographic, right digital mindset, bring on a sugar daddy! We also asked some knowledgeable readers to chime in on the subject and they said: “I agree completely. It could even be a two-step process—if there is any potential in an IPO, that could raise the overall value so that a purchase by Google or Bing would come at a higher price.” Another wrote: “Google or Bing. Or Apple. Integrate iPhone, iPod and iPad inflight. Pure content command of 1000 aircraft worth of passengers every day.” Watch this one!

Related links that might interest you:
SITA White Paper Digital Traveler

Aircell Hits 1,000 Aircraft Mark, But Who’s Paying?

Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2009-2014  [Visual Networking Index] – Cisco Systems

Aircell puts Wi-Fi in 1000 jets, Row 44 waits for Southwest | Tnooz

Airport-WiFi-Map || Jaunted

free wi-fi Airports

REDUX: Remember our rant about forthcoming iPad competition? Here is a link to what else you might see on your next plane, train, or mass transit ride ride!

Here is a link to an unrelated story, but one really worth reading: ‘How I Saved A 747 From Crashing’

Yep, and it’s from AP Avionix. Can you guess what it is? Here is a hint – it is called Cab-N-Connect.

Give up? Try 802.11n airborne wireless router. When we saw the creature we had to get the story for our readers. So here is what they told IFExpress:

“AP Avionix’s new Cab-N-ConnectM wireless access point takes advantage of the recently adopted IEEE 802.11n specification, which increases maximum throughput to wireless clients from 54mbps to over 300mbps. Engineers from AP Avionx and Motorola have collaborated closely together in ruggedizing and adapting Motorola’s industry-leading 802.11n wireless solutions into an efficient, high-performance, scalable and highly-maintainable platform for wireless-in-the-sky.

The Wireless Access Point (CWAP) supports flexible deployment of multiple Wi-Fi access points virtually anywhere within the commercial aircraft. Depending on the size and configuration of the particular airframe, and the specific types of applications being supported, there could be from two to eight CWAP modules distributed at various locations throughout the plane.
Using a robust 3×3 MIMO radio configuration, the CWAP supports dual-band (TX/RX) communications with any type of Wi-Fi device in the on-board network mesh, using either 2.4GHz (11b/g/n) or 5.0GHZ (11a/n). A third radio connection can be dedicated to network management and communications with the on-board wireless server.

The individual CWAP units throughout the passenger cabin communicate with the centralized airborne server units via Gigabit Ethernet. Depending on the specific requirements, one or more server units provide network management, load-balancing, media server functions and handling of the backhaul communications (via satellite or air-to-ground). Robust security layers ensure integrity and privacy of all communications over the local wireless network and the backhaul communication links.”

Next, we asked how many passengers can be served by the CWAP?

“Empirical testing has already shown the Cab-N-Connect CWAP to be the clear performance leader for implementing Wi-Fi for ‘wireless-in-the-sky’ services aboard commercial airliners. Controlled tests using a single CWAP access point mounted within a wide-body commercial aircraft showed the capability to simultaneously stream real-time video content at 1Mbs to over 100 wireless client systems. This constitutes a more than 5x performance advantage over competing systems that show measureable degradation of performance at 20+ wireless clients.”

Finally, we queried the company about availability, qualification testing status and FCC & CE testing status…and availability.

“The latest version of Cab-N-Connect cabin wireless access point (CWAP) is currently undergoing final stages of FAA qualification testing and certification is imminent. To assist our customers with their deployment schedules, evaluation units are available now. FAA certified units will be shipping in full production starting in the second quarter of 2010.

The CWAP design undergoing qualification testing includes our new integrated antenna technology that further improves the CWAP’s performance edge, while also offering enhanced flexibility for mounting and locating the CWAP units virtually anywhere within the aircraft. The integrated antenna feature eliminates the need for separate antenna mounting provisions, thereby providing better space utilization, streamlined integration with any aircraft and lower deployment costs.”
For more information, contact Eric Tarter (erict@aplabs.com) and/or check out their data sheet…and no, they will not be at AIX.