With all this attention to aircraft connectivity and Wi-Fi, the IFExpress team kicked around how the subject of user universal cell data and free Wi-Fi might affect the airborne application. Airline passengers seeking Internet access progressively upon their journey (at the airport, on the airplane, and in their hotel room) are confronted with different value propositions and with even more varied actual performance levels. Naturally, the subject of airport Wi-Fi came front and center because it represents a situation where a traveler may have a bit of free time, flying anxiety may be somewhat present, and travelers usually have a bit more cash on-hand. In the past, we interviewed the Sea-Tac (Seattle) Airport Authority and they were quick to point out that they were one of the earliest providers of free passenger Wi-Fi. We wanted to be sure they got their kudo’s for their belief that connectivity is most important for travelers, and this was some four years ago! Since the airport is the jumping-off place for plane connections, we wondered if there were any industry opinions on the subject so we called the AirCloud folks (Gary Schmidt & Peter Lemme to be exact) and our interview with them went like this:

IFExpress: How important is accessing the Internet to a passenger waiting at an airport?

AirCloud: It’s their second most important connection! Today, airports can effectively serve their transient clientele. Check-in, security, and gates are conquered with speed and ease, trapping passengers to their respective gates. Having first served the needs of the airplane, attention now has been lathered upon the passenger left
wandering, gushing with merchants, drinking, and eating. A snack or light meal, a beverage, a new magazine or a local souvenir; sooner or later, we all end up sitting around waiting for our flight to depart. At this point, ‘I wonder if I will make my connection?’, has a whole new imperative. Look around anywhere people are waiting and take note of what is drawing their attention. Print media is evident, but more likely it will be a phone or a tablet. Calls, games, social applications, messaging, browsing, and media are all attractive distractions. Our minds thirst for stimulation: we want to connect and we want to be entertained.

IFExpress: So you agree that airport Wi-Fi is a growth market, but doesn’t that get expensive given the Wi-Fi data throughput involved?

AirCloud: There are two practical strategies for Internet access at an airport for passengers using their own device (BYOD): passengers can connect through their own cellular connection or use a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP). Both can suffer from collective demand exceeding capacity within portions of their network and their backhaul capacity to the Internet. The greatest bandwidth demand comes from “over the top” (OTT) streaming, limiting the available tools the WISP or cellular provider have to manage the experience and to temper the consumption.

IFExpress: But who pays for Internet access?

AirCloud: If cellular, the customer pays; if WiFi, the ISP (or airport) pays. Cellular plans frequently have usage limits with substantial overage charges if exceeded. WISPs are free to provision whatever peak bandwidth capacity they can afford. While modest screen sizes on early smartphones matched similarly modest streaming bandwidth, contemporary smartphones and tablets are capable of rendering 1080p video at 8 Mbps or higher. It’s an arms race between the service providers and consumers seeking the best video experience. Every time the service providers improve their data rates, the consumers step up their demand. OTT providers use adaptive streaming, rather than a fixed download encoding. Adaptive streaming automatically shifts streaming rates to match the available network and client capacity, designed to stress the Internet connection at the highest levels. If every passenger streaming experience was, for example, 720p at 2.5 Mbps, then 10 passengers would utilize about 25 Mbps. One hundred passengers would consume 250 Mbps. One thousand passengers would consume 2.5 Gbps. 1080p doubles or triples streaming data rates from 720p. At CES 2013, the latest 4k video displays were promoted which would utilize streaming rates 10 times higher than 720p, even with emerging H.265 encoding. Wireless capacity shrivels with an onslaught of people streaming, while Internet access charges skyrocket. The result can be an expensive, unsatisfactory experience.

IFExpress: Can’t airports simply restrict the data rates to keep the data throughput down or are their better options?

AirCloud: Solutions that levy restrictions and limitations are necessary for fair access. Factor in unpredictable experiences and the situation cries out for salvation. With modest capital investment and through clever and innovative programming, there is a savior. Local content delivery relieves Internet connections from their greatest burden, streaming content. This alone can dramatically improve the overall experience, as now the browsers get the bandwidth and the streamers have no impediments. Managing the streaming experience permits controlling data rates to adapt to collective demands, offering each viewer the best experience within the capacity of their local subnetwork.

IFExpress: So we gather that controlling the service (Wi-Fi) locally is a good thing? Can it pay?

AirCloud: Being part of the infrastructure affords greater insight into proximate offerings. Promotions can direct the passenger to merchants nearby – a call to action! Real-time information can be relevant, compelling, and useful. Social postings can create a shared experience, engaging their temporal associations within each flight. Gaming can add another social channel with one-on-one and team play. Passengers cycle through their various applications, but familiarity spawns a hunger for something new. Media bites can offer access to new titles of which they were otherwise unaware. Specialized product offerings can satisfy demands earlier unknown. Passengers must find compelling local content to forgo OTT services. Keeping the most passengers engaged for the most time presents multiple challenges requiring many different offerings. Tying these offering into a cohesive, intuitive, and fun experience opens incremental revenue opportunities through commercials, impressions, commissions, and the direct sale of premium content. Monetary success is dependent on having compelling content, relevant promotions, and a simple user interface.

IFExpress: Do you see a future where all airports offer a managed free Wi-Fi service?

AirCloud: Every passenger at an airport has a boarding pass with a destination clearly printed. When logging on there may be no destination; it’s all about discovering something new. Maybe specific destinations can be reached in surprising ways. Connecting can satisfy curiosity, a desire to explore and discover. Locality gives powerful insights unlocking cost saving, superior user experience, and new revenue. Managed Internet access coupled with local content delivery enhances the passenger’s experience.

Editor’s Note: More than just airplanes, we discovered, AirCloud offers localized services at airports, on airplanes, in hotels, virtually everywhere.

The APEX conference and exhibition in Long Beach this year really looked like the industry turnaround it was projected to be. More new technology, more new IFEC ideas, more players and yet if IFExpress was to use one word to describe it, it would be “Crossroads”. Why? The opposite pull of installed aircraft entertainment systems versus that of passenger carry-on devices like smartphones, iPads, tablets and electronic readers of all description – B.Y.O.D. (Bring You Own Device). The airlines are at a real decision point. Do we install seatback/overhead IFE or do we cater to the “always connected” generation? To point out the obvious trend, one study claims some 31% of US commercial aircraft are already Wi-Fi equipped while our own analysis put the worldwide market at approximately 10% of the commercial fleet outfitted. Whatever the actual trend is, there is no denying that more passengers are carrying devices that inform, entertain, update, and instruct than ever before. Thus the conundrum – do we serve full screen, first-run video to passengers, or do we change the business models and deliver content to their personal devices, or do we do both?

While you ponder the above question here are just a few of the first day session topics that might be of interest. IFExpress will report on show highlights in the next few issues but because the topics and speakers were spot on, we wanted to give an ‘atta-boy’ to APEX. While we did not attend all the sessions, what we heard was reason enough to join – and by the way, members can find all the presentations on the APEX website. To quote APEX from the show guide: “Join APEX on a learning journey where experts from Intel, Phillips, CISCO, Ericsson and Google will discuss Ecosystems and what they mean to your network.”

Intel – “On the Road Strategy” – Ulmont Smith, VP. Heading for 14 nm integrated circuit technology (22 nm today), Mr. Smith noted that over 100 million 22nm transistors can fit on the head of a pin and that today’s 22nm CPU’s can run 4000 times faster, consume 5000 times less energy and the cost has dropped 50,000 times. What this means is value to the technologies they support, one of which is connected automobiles. He noted their global GENIVI Alliance goal to establish a global LINUX-based OS platform for automotive vehicle infotainment. He also opened the door for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) as a driving force in our industry. Further, the Intel Insider architecture is coming online for end-to-end hardware protection for movie and TV content.

Phillips – “Overall Ecosystem Consumer Perception” – Michael Held, design Manager. Ecosystems like Apple and Nike provide a natural connection between “varieties of content to a variety of receivers” – in their words “One Platform to seamlessly manage, aggregate, create & edit, subscribe and publish.” Michael went on to define why Ecosystems work and how they can add value in businesses. Using a product example, he showed the success of Apple Ecosystem impacts on sales. More importantly, his lessons learned could benefit almost any endeavor – focus on the passenger, in a networked world distributed decision making rarely works, platform evolution and continuous improvements are expected today (change), collaboration has never been more important, there are no standalone products anymore – only experiences, people don’t buy systems!

CISCO – “B.Y.O.D. – Potential in Aviation” – Ted Nugent & Leszek Izdebski – Cisco Systems. Focusing on the open Cabin Network and closed Cabin Staff Network CISCO focused on the passenger access requirements including authentication, auditing, disclaimers, and monitoring. Importantly the speakers noted the requirement for no reconfiguration, plug & play, easy administration… and free (or cost effective). The architecture was identified along with security (keeping good guys in and the bad guys out). From a data perspective, the shift to streaming video is driven by consumer behavior with the new tablets and phones being part of the incentive. A very interesting connection to loyalty programs was introduced and this is perhaps the first time we see that frequent flier miles used as payment for entertainment. Another new word heard is UltraViolet usage model. Described as a new way to collect and enjoy movies and TV show in the cloud. It is the next-gen of a standardized media product… an Ecosystem to watch. Further, to meet passenger future expectations, there will be a change in the technical solution for delivery of IFE, and a concurrent change in the business model.

Ericsson – Geoff Hollingworth – Business Innovation. One of the best quotes found at the show was discovered on Mr. Hollingworth’s slides; “When one person is connected their life changes. When everything is connected our world changes.” He describes the new telecom cycle (their Ecosystem of the connected world) and described the interplay between a 10X increase in devices and the resultant 10X growth in supporting industries. The key concept is managing the change. He noted Maersk Shipping uses connected technology to save millions of dollars in fuel. If you are a competitor to Maersk, your company has to find a way to save that kind of money and thus your company will change as well. The message – change begets change. The message? One airline that uses connectivity to change for the better will assuredly drive change for another(s).

Editor’s Note: Peter Lemme’s (AirCloud CTO) presentation on “Wireless Streaming Video Technology to Your Own Device” is a tour de force for the subject and we strongly recommend reading it. We also note that there might be a technology or two we saw at the show that will add to his list of ‘usual suspects’.

We have a new feature for you – we call it IFEC Buzz. During APEX, we took pictures of a few industry notables and will give them a chance in future issues for their 5 minutes (or less) of fame. Our editor requested one succinct sentence about the industry from many show goers and will publish it under their photo and Trish – Editor of IFExpress – launches the feature this week. Stay Tuned on this one!

Additionally, you can view our show photo coverage on Flickr.

And last but not least, don’t forget AIX North America in Seattle this week! It runs through Thursday 9/27 at the Seattle Convention Center!!

Bellevue, Washington | September 17, 2012 -– StoreBox Inflight and AirCloud, Inc. today announced that they will be collaborating as a team to offer a turnkey hardware and content entertainment system for commercial airlines. The Companies intend to introduce the new system at the upcoming annual, worldwide APEX Expo (Airline Passenger Experience Association) on September 17-20.

The total system utilizes the AirCloud™ Wi-Fi Entertainment System. According to Brad David, Co-founder and President, ”It can provide a very broad menu of items for free or purchase; movies, music, games, books as well as a wide variety of shopping items for passengers to purchase all providing incremental income to the airline.

The companion, FAA approved IFE server and WAPs weigh less than 20 pounds, uses a server the size of approximately 2 MCU and the appropriate number of WAPs for the size of the cabin.

The Companies are developing a financing program to minimize an airline’s initial capital outlay with a small fee on equipment installation, monthly payments and per flight fee for the frequently changing content and merchandising program. According to Web Barth, CEO, StoreBox InFlight, “We focused on developing a turnkey IFE system for a fraction of the cost of a conventional VOD seat back system.”

The entertainment system recognizes the fact that more and more passengers (70%) are already carrying wi-fi enabled personal entertainment devices; laptops, smart/cell phones and rapidly growing numbers of tablets. The Companies are introducing the program at APEX as a turnkey solution for airlines, especially those who have never had inflight entertainment due to initial and ongoing costs, installation down time, fuel, weight penalty, space, or for small regional jets where IFE has never been practical, or for supplementing or replacing older, obsolete systems on all aircraft including wide bodies.

BELLEVUE, WA | September 12, 2012 — AirCloud™ (www.getaircloud.com) today announced its intent to acquire Mobile Prime Time, a Seattle-based company specializing in streaming platforms for regions and locations with limited remote connectivity access. This acquisition expands AirCloud’s mobile content service area and opens doors to address emerging markets where content distribution is limited. Two local streaming platforms, a content distribution system and network, and streaming technology enhancements are included with the acquisition.

“We are ecstatic about AirCloud’s acquisition of Mobile Prime Time,” said Gary Schmidt, CEO of AirCloud™. “This positions the resources of both companies in the direction to quickly acquire market share, a critical move in a constantly transforming industry.”

Mobile Prime Time was formed to address the challenge of streaming content to the traveling public, including airplanes, ships, and anywhere connectivity is limited. “This acquisition is the perfect fit,” explains Peter Lemme, president of Mobile Prime Time, “because both companies share a common vision to make compelling content accessible on personal devices in any location and market. Together we can achieve the quickest time-to-market.”

BELLEVUE, WA | September 14, 2012 — AirCloud™ (www.getaircloud.com) today announced that Peter Lemme has been appointed Chief Technical Officer specializing in remote connectivity access. Lemme has been at the forefront of emerging technology for more than 30 years. His world-renowned expertise and experience in avionics and satellite communications technology provides an elevated foundation which serves to expand AirCloud’s content service availability. Lemme will be speaking at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) 2012 EXPO in Long Beach, California next week about wireless streaming video technology for your own device.

“We are pleased to have Peter join our team,” said Gary Schmidt, CEO of AirCloud™. “His wealth of experience and vision is the perfect complement to the AirCloud™ team and the services we provide.” AirCloud’s successful history in the mobile content space has currently reached over 40 million smart devices worldwide.

Most recently Lemme was President and COO of Mobile Prime Time, where he delivered solutions between content providers and local distribution partners with software and services for quick and simple integration. Mobile Prime Time’s specialized services include local content management, bring-your-own-device streaming, content normalization and distribution, and wireless data communications.

The addition of Lemme to the AirCloud™ team expands the accessibility of the vast AirCloud™ content library and content distribution system to remote and otherwise inaccessible areas with limited connectivity.

After the recent introduction of IFExpress’s new ‘Speakers’ Corner’ we were approached by Pal Bjordal, President & CEO of AeroMobile with a request to contribute to the feature. Pal wanted to give our readers a quick look at the growing inflight connectivity market with some data points that you might find interesting. So, this week we are providing our readers with AeroMobiles’ perspective of the future of 3G connectivity at 35,000 feet!

The Advent of 3G Connectivity Inflight
Pal Bjordal, President & CEO, AeroMobile

We’ve seen inflight connectivity grow in the past decade from fledgling roots to a point where most of the world’s major airlines are committed to it.

By 2020, we expect around 6,500 aircraft globally to be equipped with inflight connectivity services.

Passenger expectations have grown as inflight connectivity has become more readily available. We will soon be at a point where they expect to be connected in flight to the same degree that they can be on the ground.

Future planning is vital today to ensure our industry can meet the expectations of the passengers of tomorrow.

We’ll soon be seeing an important step change in that process when a number of major airlines launch Ku-band equipped inflight mobile connectivity.

With download speeds of up to 50 megabytes per second to the aircraft, the Ku service being offered by Panasonic Avionics Corporation and AeroMobile will give passengers enhanced inflight connectivity for the first time.

But we know that demand will continue to grow as we become a society that increasingly expects to download and stream large files from the internet on mobile devices as second nature.

That demand is being fuelled by ongoing developments in mobile devices, the rapidly expanding number of apps available, and the ever increasing amount of video content online which is being streamed.

In 2011, the average amount of data downloaded on a smartphone was 150MB per month. By 2016, this is expected to be 2.5GB per month – a 16 fold increase.

With Ku, we now have the satcom bandwidth in place to meet this demand – both now and with the capacity to grow in the future.

The next step forward is 3G connectivity inflight, which will enable us to use Ku’s bandwidth to its full potential. Ku is the only satcom solution in the marketplace that can handle 3G.

Upgrading the pico cells within an aircraft (which act as inflight mobile base stations) to 3G capability will herald a quantum leap forward in inflight connectivity. A 3G pico cell offers a download speed of 21 megabytes per second – which is around 60 times faster than the 2.5G cells currently in use. With multiple cells on an aircraft, the possibilities are extensive.

And the advent of 3G is coming faster than you might think. We begin testing early in 2013.

Together with Panasonic, we already have commitments from airline customers where 3G is part of the offering. We expect to be delivering 3G into full inflight operation in early 2014.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

One way or another, the Microsoft-Apple battle touches almost everyone of us and an exchange of email between yours truly and AirCloud CEO, Gary Schmidt hit a resounding note. After pointing out a very relevant article on the subject of a new thrust by Microsoft to be ‘the new Apple’ Gary responded with an email that I thought our readers might like to see: “… they (Microsoft) are followers but sometimes the follower gets to reap the preponderance of the rewards.  If they are cheaper and they can layer in the mobile side of computing… it will be big (which they have done but it requires investment in new hardware).  Here’s the secret sauce though… Microsoft has Xbox which gives them a very “cool” factor that neither Google or Apple has.  With Windows8, Microsoft (for the first time in Microsoft history) has done integration points for email, calendar, contacts, etc. with services like Gmail, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn – huge.  In addition, Microsoft has cannibalized product lines like Outlook which are now integrated into the operating system.  Its really bold what they’re doing but the true test will be the execution which is where Microsoft traditionally fails…and fails miserably.” Interested? Read more here!

We probably should have titled this piece, “What connected passenger experience do travelers want” but we will let the folks at AirCloud tell you in a minute. Without a doubt, as the world of technology changes, grows and accelerates, airline passengers will eventually reap the benefit of advances in hardware, connectivity, software, applications and content. So will the airlines. The iPad® and other smart devices comes to mind instantly when we contemplate the words ‘mobile’ and ‘IFE’ together, but these words mean so much more. For airlines it means less costly IFE systems, weight and fuel savings along with new product lines to monetize. For hardware manufactures it means less static systems and more dynamic hardware deployments. For software, app and content providers it means flexibility and development of more useful consumer applications. All these features make for a better IFE experience for travelers from all walks of life using their own devices, instead (or in conjunction with) airline-supplied devices. Enter AirCloud™, the team whose mobile background aims to make your in-flight mobile/hand-held device usage an experience that virtually replicates one on the ground, who has a focus on airline monetization of that experience, and a plan that updates in-flight content automatically from the “cloud”… AirCloud™ that is!

IFExpress met up with the energetic team in their Northwest offices in Bellevue, WA. We sought to clear up a few ‘clouds’ and cornered AirCloud’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brad David; CEO, Gary Schmidt; and Sr. Operations Manager, Jeremy Rankin (L-R: pictured above). We asked them about the crossover between ground-based and airborne mobile device connectivity:

GARY: “The key to delivering goods and services via digital media has always boiled down to bandwidth. Since the advent of the Internet the question has been how much throughput can you fit in the pipe? After all, the key to good decision making is data. Wi-Fi has certainly helped the acceleration of mobile technology flourishing throughout the world supplementing wireless operator pipes and allowing for meaningful consumer experiences. On the ground or in the air, meaningful customer experience is certainly helped by greater bandwidth, but it is also driven by the content and doing this is exactly what our company has been all about for the last eight years in the mobile space. We aim to do the same thing in the air! While we are a start-up in the eyes of the IFE world AirCloud is a company with a stellar reputation in the mobile content space having worked with every tier-one wireless operator in North America, not to mention hundreds of content companies. Approaching the world of IFE from a mobile content standpoint is what we do at AirCloud™.”

AirCloud’s first planned encounter with inflight connectivity is with business jets. We asked Gary about this project:

GARY: “I cannot tell you much at this point, but we will be working with a tier one business jet IFE provider, which is an ideal platform for demonstrating our ability to talk to virtually all types of carry-on mobile devices. As we understand it, this is prime stepping-stone to move in to the commercial air carrier space. To support this effort we can call on the 80+ content relationships we made while working in the mobile space – that translates to well over 300,000 content pieces and hundreds of household name brands.”

IFExpress went on to ask if the limitations of inflight connectivity (bandwidth/air-to-ground pipe) would force a change on their ground-based model?

BRAD: “Wireless operators and other third party destination sites like Apple’s App Store and Google’s Marketplace sell millions of pieces of content and applications each month. Others like Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Pandora use the subscription model to broker content to the masses. From a terrestrial standpoint Internet streaming of content is the new norm as opposed to downloading huge files that eat up bandwidth and valuable consumer time. In the air it is a much different story however as bandwidth is extremely limited and a terrestrial Internet streaming model for airline passengers is simply not viable today. Currently a limited offering of pre-loaded content is uploaded to the existing static IFE system or to the individual tablets or players. This limits the content selection for passengers using these systems. It also makes monetizing of other goods and services like duty free shopping and advertising revenues difficult to deploy and track.”

“It is essential to use Internet bandwidth while on airplanes wisely and to dissect the different types of information being passed through the pipe in real-time. Real-time e-mail, social networking, ad serving, reservations, transactions, and live web searching are the key applications that need to utilize the internet bandwidth coming and going from an airplane, not media content. Media files should be stored locally along with other third party services like shopping malls, destination guides and footage, and other relevant services containing large files.”

“This is where the ‘cloud’ comes in, and that brings us to the introduction of the AirCloud Entertainment™ service, which we will be deploying in the private jet space later in the year. AirCloud is a server-based Wi-Fi connected service that is easily accessed from consumers on any mobile device or PC they bring on board. Smartphones, tablets and PC’s simply connect to the AirCloud Network via the Wi-Fi system running on the plane and download the myAirCloud™ Application (available for any tablet or smartphone in the marketplace regardless of make, manufacturer or screen size) or simply enable the web portal. A myriad of complementary movies, music, games, apps and other services are instantly available.”

We wanted more so we asked Brad how passengers would access and utilize myAirCloud™.

BRAD: “The passenger has the opportunity to sign up for the myAirCloud™ service onboard and open up a world of premium content and services unprecedented in inflight before. Our movie selection will have thousands of movies to choose from. We will cover classics to DVD release movies, keeping pace with what consumers expect at home from their cable providers like Comcast or Cox. We serve thousands of songs, magazines, children’s, books, games and applications. Our stand-alone platform does not require Internet connectivity in order to bring a rich and meaningful experience to each passenger although integration with aircraft ISP’s is very simple and will further expand the overall IFE experience if the GA operator/airline so chooses. It is important to note that virtually all passengers’ devices require a different driver to present the information correctly and proportionally on each individual screen. It is this expertise that we also bring to the table along with our proprietary app carousel technology that makes it easier for the user to navigate through the portal.”

We understand that AirCloud’s technology allows ground-based control of the content offering by individual operators. We asked Brad for a bit more information on this subject.

BRAD: “The two key components of this answer are: 1) The ground-based AirCloud™ server, which hosts a voluminous amount of content via our robust content management system (CMS) known as AirCloud CONTROL™. 2) The Internet, which connects to each aircraft (network). The concept is ground-based control of the portion of the myAirCloud™ server that is accessible via the Internet to change/update as required by authorized personnel. The service offering is then presented to the aircraft (via the Internet) and it is the optimization of what is sent to the aircraft that makes the AirCloud™ a smart server. Let me be clear – we are talking software here, and smart software at that! AirCloud™ is not a hardware manufacturer, but our goal is to team with hardware manufacturers, and content providers as well… even airlines. Another message here is that AirCloud™ is platform agnostic! I cannot say much about this as it is a very proprietary tool; however, later this year we will have much more to say about AirCloud™ and we would be happy to discuss it further with interested parties.”

“To give you a better perspective of the market, one in five mobile users worldwide has a smart device and that number increases daily. In the US there are 92M Smartphones in use and tablets account for over 11% of the global pc market. It’s a natural evolution of IFE that airlines would deploy AirCloud-like services and simply let passengers bring their preferred equipment on-board. Airlines and content owners will share in the revenue model as a new ecosystem is developed around many services not just tablet/device rentals with a very small selection of content.“

Please check out the AirCloud service by e-mailing service@getaircloud.com or brad@getaircloud.com.