Editor’s Note: We usually put these notices at the end of our Hot Topic but this week we wanted to let our readers know that while our “Readers Predictions” are in the forefront we have a really interesting paper from Dr. Junkang Ma of CETCA fame. Dr. Ma put together an interesting piece on the inflight connectivity market in China… with an even more interesting solution to the problem of airline-ground interoperability  – think SIP! Be sure to check it out.

The IFExpress team usually solicits yearly IFE predictions from our readership for our first issues and 2014 is no different. As you can imagine, they vary from the sublime to the incredibly interesting. You be the judge. Lets look at what some of our advertisers said first:

  • The FAA’s and the EASA’s decision on gate to gate operation of PEDs in flight mode will further accelerate the trend towards wireless inflight entertainment. More than 50% of all European legacy airlines will adopt the new guidance in 2014.  Norbert Muller, LHSystems
  • “There will be a big shift away from brand name portables to portables specifically designed for inflight use.” Attribute prediction to Josh Rasmussen, digEcor.
  • “Airlines across the world will continue to increase the provision of both Wi-Fi and cell phone connectivity: the technology is reliable, affordable and very easy to install and operate. The US will remain the exception, until the debate about voice services is resolved.” Axel Jahn, TriaGnoSys

Readers also sent in their predictions and we really like the following:

  • “With increased gate-to-gate PED use, the demand for seat power will increase tremendously on regional aircraft.” – Mr. Mark Milauskas, Armstrong Aerospace Inc.
  • “The inflight use of cell phones in US won’t cause any more problems than it has in the rest of the world. And there have been no problems in six years, over five continents”, Ian Dawkins, OnAir
  • “ The demand for streaming IFE over Wi-Fi will see the highest increase in customer demand and force the movie studios to implement an encryption process to allow for early window viewing.” – Mr. Todd Hamblin, Global Aerospace Design Corp.
  • “By the end of 2014, a bird strike compliance path will be forged and system providers will begin installing IFE satellite antennas again.” – Mr. Mark Milauskas, Armstrong Aerospace Inc.
  • “US airlines will not allow inflight mobile calling because of the feedback from their frequent fliers and flight attendant unions.” – Mr. Todd Hamblin, Global Aerospace Design Corp.
  • “4k Ultra High Definition (4k UHD) Networked monitors designed specifically for Business and Commercial aircraft use will be in service by midyear 2014.” Bill Baltra, Retired
  • “By the end of 2014, the US government (FCC) will lift the ban on the use of cellular technology while in-flight.” –Joe Kupfer, Armstrong Aerospace

Lastly, as can be seen from the above, inflight cell phone connectivity has a lot of interest, and a lot of different opinions so we asked John Courtright to opine on the subject and he sent us the following:

Here is my prediction and a follow up clarification to the question,

  • In the US, at least one airline will “test” the applicability of inflight cellphone calling.

Prediction:  Yes, I expect a small number of U.S. airlines to permit inflight cell phone calling.  Furthermore, I expect the first airlines to allow inflight cell phone calls on short-haul flight, flights of two hours or less.  The first to test the cell usage issue will either be a.) an independent Regional Operators, such as Mesa, Republic, and Nantucket, or b.) Regionals affiliated with a Major Carrier, such as American Eagle or Jet Blue.

The first set of carriers found in a.) above will figure that their flight operations are short haul and the “obnoxious factor” is mitigated by the short duration of the flights as well as being affected by the higher ambient noise on RJs.  The second set of carriers, those associated with a Major Airline( (b.) above), will see a competitive advantage in and out of the Major’s hubs as well as being a guinea pig for the major carrier to assess passenger acceptance.

Longer range prediction:  Carriers will NOT create a cell-phone usage section, like the old smoking section.  Too much policing by the flight attendants.  Carriers will initially allow cell phone usage on short-haul, high density routes.  Think SFO-LAX or LGA – DCA where the clientele is largely business based.  I see cell phone usage to expand to a flight duration-based judgment and  to have a cut-off point at two hours.

The above predictions, of course, are moot if the DeFazio Amendment is extended and thus inflight cell phone calls are prohibited by statute.  But absent a specific law, I see the usage to be flight time based. (Editor’s Note: We called Senator DeFazio’s office and he has yet to get back to us on the status of his Bill.)

While predictions seem to have taken center stage in this IFExpress, we have been working with Dr. Junkang Ma, a brilliant Program Manager at the Chinese avionics manufacturer CETCA, and he has put together a very good vision of the developing Chinese inflight connectivity market for us. Here is a bit of the story: “In December 2013, the MIIT of China (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) released the 4G frequency license to the three government-owned telecom operators (China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom), establishing that the Telecom industry of China has officially entered into the 4G generation, beginning from TD-LTE, although 3G has only been used for around 4 years in China. While the ground-based Telecom industry is rapidly developing, one large area in China appears to be forgotten – the area in the air. The cabin of the civil aircraft has become the last “isolated island” of the information age, which makes the passengers on board feel like being back in the early years of the 20th century. The Chinese civil aviation market is experiencing accelerated growth and as more travelers are flying, passengers require a similar communication experience like they enjoy on the ground, which will result in an accelerated and diversified growth phase for China’s connectivity market…” You can read the whole story here .

And lastly, A large French IFEC company is looking for engineers in the Irvine area we have heard and if you are so inclined you might send your resume to them! Systems, Software, Platform, Project, Logistics, Field Service Engineers and even Financial Analysts… so we understand. Good Luck!

This weekly issue of IFExpress will be the last for 2012. We hope you have had a good year and we are signing out of 2012 with our newest IFExpress Feature dubbed “TekTopic”. The idea here is to present an IFE solution or service with slightly more emphasis on the technology. Don’t worry, we won’t over-tech your synapses, but rather, try to explain the underlying technology that drives the newsy product. This is exactly what Bill Baltra did with today’s feature and if you have an IFE product or service that could stand some exposure, let us know… we like technology! – Patricia Wiseman | Editor

TekTopic: Sky Definition

Behind the door in our cover shot may be one of the most exciting developments in aircraft IFE video technology to come along in the last few years – and IFExpress has the story for you first.

To set the stage, we were contacted by a guy named Bill Baltra who is a savvy electrical engineer with a passion for watching high quality video. Bill told me, “Home entertainment systems have been changing. No longer are we limited to watching movies via DVD or Blu Ray players with their troublesome HDMI interfaces. We now have “smart” displays that are connected to our home network. The network connection allows us to stream on-demand movies or share video, music and photos with other devices connected to the network. At Sky Definition we have designed high definition network displays that deliver the same benefits of the network architecture to the business jet or VIP aircraft.”

The solution includes a small PC card with a network interface and powerful graphics processing that decodes the various HD video compression formats such as MPEG-4, H.264 and VC-1. “Our single board computer handles video content encoded at the highest bit rates ensuring the highest quality HD viewing experience”, says Bill. Media content can be stored locally in the network display or accessed from Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices, thus providing many hours of HD entertainment. These network displays also provide both analog and digital audio outputs enhancing the passenger experience by providing 5.1 surround sound audio.

Installation options are simplified as network displays interface directly with an aircraft’s network backbone. See: Basic Network Display System Configuration On the plus side you get nice long connections (150 meters) to the network router. There are no headaches of installing an external box with an HDMI output with cable length restrictions to a non-network display.

Rewind to the video technology backgrounder: there is little argument that as the pixel density of rich HD images appeared on the scene the difficulty of sending the images to displays that can exploit this video data has been limited by distance. In fact, sending HDMI video over standard HDMI cabling, especially on aircraft where noise can affect bits in a stream, is limited by the capability of the cable.

In real terms, 15 meters is for all practical purposes a limit of today’s HDMI transmitting sources without powered amplification. As newer, higher quality resolutions like Ultra HD with increased bit rates come along the airplane challenge becomes even tougher. The problem is not solved by cable alone, in fact, it gets even worse.

It is much like a highway that hits its’ congestion limit. For any given number of lanes, one can only make the cars so small. But if the goal is to carry passengers (bits of information) to a destination, why not pack the passengers in buses (compressed data) and arrive at the destination at the same time? That is just what Sky Definition saw as the company began researching the problem a few years back. Realizing that down a few data levels a PC card could easily handle decompressing the packets of information and protocols required for real time HD video playback. Adding the PC card means aircraft video monitors that eventually adapt this type system will cost more, but, and this is important, they will be able to do a lot more.

And speaking of more, in the Sky Definition demonstration, we saw playback of HD content (with 5.1 surround sound) via a wireless connection between a network display and remote media server that we could not believe! Bill controlled the HD playback from an app on his iPhone.

No doubt as the demand for quality outstrips cost applications like large, expensive business jets like the B787 and A380 will demand the best by their owners and this is where Sky Definition’s solution will find its first home. Readers should also note that Bill has held back a lot of tech tricks and experience-based knowledge but IFExpress saw the system in action on 24″ and 46″ monitors and we were knocked out. The network-based video display system is one of the best and most exciting developments in aircraft audio visual entertainment we have seen and if you are in the IFE business, you had better check this one out by contacting Bill and tell him IFExpress sent you.

Contact Bill Baltra at: 425 760 5985 or info@skydefinition.com