In the past 25 years there has only been 2 methods of connecting via satellite in an aircraft. The first for crew via Data3, initially Windows terminal interfaces or embedded aircraft terminals like CMU’s or inseat screens. The second is browsers using Internet protocols and Wi-Fi.
In today’s App world on the ground we are always connected and that’s where a quantum leap in aircraft technology is about to happen.
This article is about a new way to connect called fflya, and what you may not know is, its already flying on business jets and an A340, plus the military are about to fly it!
Why the Internet of Things (IoT) takes the risk out of installing Wi-Fi
The general definition of The internet of things (IoT) is “The internetworking of physical devices, vehicles (also referred to as “connected devices” and “smart devices”), buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data”(source Wikipedia 2016).
However, in 2013 the Global Standards Initiative on the Internet of Things (IoT-GSI) defined IoT as “the infrastructure of the information society. IoT allows objects to be sensed and/or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit” (Wikipedia 2016).
When you consider that Boeing launched commercial inflight Wi-Fi on Lufthansa in 2004. Why is it so many airlines are still reluctant to get involved in Wi-Fi twelve years later? The answer is user price!
When it comes to price, the hardware cost of inflight Wi-Fi pales in significance to the cost of an aircraft. With technology moving so fast on the ground, there is that underlying concern that installing connectivity now will lead to it becoming quickly outdated or that financial expectations and passenger needs won’t be met.
Now more than ever people rely on connectivity when they move which means it’s no longer a question of whether airlines should install connectivity, but when and how they will do it. Many airlines have spent years looking and when comparing what Boeing had in 2004 with today’s technology, it’s hard to see a quantum leap!
What’s more disconcerting is that current Wi-Fi utilization levels, even on the most affordable US domestic network, show only 6% of passengers are prepared to pay for the service; the same as what Boeing experienced. It appears that justifying the cost of Wi-Fi as viable for the general public is a real challenge. We hope technology will provide the answers but satellite speeds and cost limitations continue to soften expectations in the air.
For decades people have relied on Wi-Fi for home and the office, and 3G or 4G when on the move. The industry persist with 3G in aircraft, however, the high roaming charges and slow speeds means it is not practical or commercially viable. This leaves the airline world with only one method to connect – Wi-Fi. This is where IoT is of great importance.
Wi-Fi vendors are reluctant talk about IoT because their business models rely on big data, yet it’s small data that’s enveloping the world. Small data is utilized on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, SMS and most emails. Small data costs are so miniscule that it seems free of charge to people using it. A societal mindset that believes small data is virtually free to use which is why 94% of passengers are reluctant to pay for connectivity inflight.
There is a Wi-Fi war in aviation pitting company KA band speeds against KU band speeds, and satellite against satellite. The intensity of this industry war makes it easy to get caught up in big data. We are lured into thinking there is no alternative given the significant size and cost of Wi-Fi platforms and the fact they all appear the same.
IoT is a paradigm shift and will change the way you think about connectivity. It creates an alternative platform that changes the way we connect, more inline with what we already do on the ground, that is, communicate with small data.
Why is it possible now?
Change is possible right now because of Bluetooth Smart, which is driving IoT faster than any other communication technology. While Wi-Fi vendors were busy launching billion dollar networks a new connectivity phenomenon was evolving. In simple terms, Bluetooth Smart capability opened up a portal for connecting devices and efficiently transmitting small data. Importantly, Apple is at the front Bluetooth advancements so it comes standard on all mobile devices.
For the first time you can now segregate aircraft bandwidth into narrowband and broadband applications by adding Bluetooth capability. This concept is similar to how airlines segregate business and economy: a standard service is delivered via Bluetooth and the premium service is supplemented with Wi-Fi.
Airlines can implement any satellite system in a staged approach by controlling the connection path with technology. This is because IoT lets you ‘shift gears’ as the demand increases. It begins as a simple no-frills messaging service and expands to include value-added services and live credit card processing that generate revenue to fund the platform upgrades as you go.
The benefit is: Airlines only need to gear up gradually and segregate live Internet for the very few willing pay, while the rest use minimal bandwidth down the same pipe. The ratio is similar to that of economy and business class: 6% of live internet passengers can be leveraged off 95% of the bandwidth, while the remaining 94% of passengers can be easily accommodated on remaining 5% bandwidth.
The objective is to control the delivery of passenger services with the ability to expand offerings as revenue dictates.
Corporate aircraft today already have this capability however it’s taken time to migrate to the realm of airlines. This is because connecting hundreds of devices simultaneously down a single link needed a revolutionary approach – this is what Bluetooth Smart delivers.
It eliminates the need to provision high bandwidth to accommodate everyone onboard. Twelve years of aircraft connectivity confirms that only 6% of passengers will pay for broadband meaning the remaining 94% expect it to be free. The provision of free services to the vast majority of passengers who expect it can only be a positive for airlines as bandwidth can be dramatically reduced. Delivering free services allows you to control the size of the pipe and what users see and do. App-based connectivity solutions still appear fast, yet it’s actually the servers managing the link that determines what you receive and when. This is the complete opposite to Wi-Fi…as once connected you are consuming bandwidth constantly, particularly in background mode.
IoT gives you a choice about what services to provide and at what charge (free or paid). The bandwidth is then staged to meet the demand. You can start with just a 200kbps link that can deliver free messaging, destination services and live credit card processing to hundreds of passengers at once. Importantly only one Bluetooth access point is required for all this to work!
How is this possible?
With the fflya solution, Bluetooth Smart keeps everyone connected and maintains a status of what devices are onboard and active. What makes Bluetooth Smart unique is that logged in devices run in parked mode meaning they are essentially offline. The link automatically activates when the user sends a message or processes a transaction, completing these events in milliseconds. As a result no one person can occupy a large portion of the bandwidth at any point in time. The security is quite unique not only for the way it switches channels, but is a closed network and when combined with encryption and proprietary protocols is more secure than open Wi-Fi as there is no external way to access it.
Imagine hundreds of passengers sending and receiving free messages or booking holiday tours at the same time – all occupying less than 10% of a 200 kbps link.
IoT takes the risk out of installing Wi-Fi as there is little or no outlay in the early implementation stages and by the time the demand for broadband increases the program is self-funding. The staged approach of the program means adding further capacity is not an issue as the revenue justifies the system upgrade.
One of the most difficult elements of managing any network is working out how to implement and how much capacity do you need. On the ground Wi-Fi access is random and bandwidth can be easily balanced. In contrast, when a crewmember announces that Wi-Fi is available inflight, you will notice the majority of passengers all log on at once regardless of whether they need it or are just curious. This is why Wi-Fi needs multiple access points, as the system can be easily overloaded. Having to reset the system when it grinds to a halt is frustrating for the crew and passengers. App-based Bluetooth messaging platforms do not have this issue, as users are not occupying bandwidth just to login. The network identifies them and parks them until they do something, which is why you only need one access point to cover an entire aircraft.
IoT leverages off bits of data using Bluetooth Smart whereas, Wi-Fi requires Kilobytes to deliver similar services. Let’s compare WhatsApp to the fflya messaging services. WhatsApp must stay online by maintaining touch with a ground network. Even if you do nothing you still consume bandwidth. So on a typical flight WhatsApp is occupying valuable bandwidth constantly. Sure you can be turn background mode off, but now you are disconnected and have the inconvenience of routinely checking in. In addition, as Wi-Fi is high power your battery will drain quicker
The fflya messaging app allows you to stay logged on for the entire flight as it consumes no bandwidth even when you are waiting for a reply. Furthermore, Bluetooth Smart uses the latest Low Energy technology so your phone battery lasts longer.
How does it work
The fflya IOS or Android App can be downloaded from the App Store via multiple means before a flight. The airline can embed fflya in their own booking App for easy access, mass-mail their frequent flyers or send the passenger a link to fflya upon booking a ticket. Since fflya is only 10Mb in size making it quick and easy to download compared to a typical WhatsApp or Facebook update that can be up to 150Mb.
Once you have the app all you need to do is to enter your user credentials for validation. You can do this on the ground or inflight.
Your credentials are your normal email address and cellphone number. We need this for 3 reasons:
Like all modern messaging platforms fflya has 2 levels of verification to protect your security.
- Late Delivery
Once you leave the aircraft the system automatically changes to ground mode, so any late replies are routed to you on the ground.
- Destination Offers
The app hosts attractions and savings on services based on the destination you are flying too, so discounts on items of interest selected inflight are reconfirmed to your mobile or email account on arrival.
Upon opening the App inflight, the Bluetooth access point updates your destination status with any new offers and you are registered on the network at the same time. Knowing you’re onboard, the app will automatically revert to park mode, only alerting you with regular notifications when necessary.
Our product fflya is an engaging product as it targets people who are captive, bored, disconnected, and destination-focused. This sort of connectivity is precise and impossible to achieve on the ground because the person is nowhere near as attentive. It creates a major opportunity for real-time marketing with immediate impact because of passenger focus. Further, fflya generates revenue and brand appreciation when passengers download the App, thereby increasing an airlines digital reach. Furthermore, fflya flags frequent flyers creating endless interaction both inflight and on the ground. By offering the App and free messaging, passengers become brand advocates since every App downloaded and message sent promotes the airline. As the connectivity is now free passengers will access it.
Our fflya app delivers revenue from day one with AEROS
AEROS are attraction discount vouchers available in the fflya App that deliver travel savings in hundreds of destinations including the passenger’s hometown.
- Once inflight, fflya displays a number of AEROS for the upcoming destination. When a passenger selects something they like, fflya uploads a message from the sponsor that confirms the discount and code.
- Then fflya sends an email to the passenger’s email account showcasing the sponsor and the attraction with a booking link. Passengers can also communicate directly with the sponsor.
- Upon arrival, passengers begin to save money on shows, restaurants and tourist activities. On arrival they have the opportunity to select more AEROS at the destination.
Interestingly, fflya’s AEROS enhance the airline’s reputation by giving passengers more value for money. The advantage of AEROS is that you have a captive audience who is destination focused and ready to spend. The simplicity means there is no activation required. Sponsors are incentivised to come on-board as it’s free to join the program and they only pay commission on real interactions and receive immediate passenger feedback. The AEROS systems profiles the interaction providing airlines with a unique insight into their passenger based which creates even more marketing opportunities.
What additional revenue services are offered?
With the evolution of Bluetooth Smart the promotional opportunities are endless. Note: fflya’s ability for passengers to interact directly with sponsors opens a whole new world and the airlines ability to host its own products can enhance revenue further.
What do I need on an aircraft?
The fflya system is compatible with any satellite network and all you need is a Bluetooth access point. The Bluetooth access point is flexible and can be installed on an aircraft in a variety of ways:
- It latches onto any existing Wi-Fi network.
- A hardwired connection to an existing satellite transceiver.
Evaluating any new service is a challenge and this is where fflya has a very unique solution that avoids any modification to the aircraft. Airlines can test the service with a fully self-contained portable system including SATCOM and custom window antenna. The system is classified as a carry on device and with supporting documentation there is no aircraft certification required, just operational approval. The following image illustrates an example of a flight test system onboard an A340 airliner.
The following image illustrates an example of a flight test system onboard an A340 airliner.
The benefit of this approach is airlines can evaluate and refine the services prior to selecting permanent hardware which removes the uncertainty of what do we need and will passengers pay to use it. Entry-level permanent hardware starts with the Inmarsat 200kbps link and it should be noted the test bed is also backwards/ forwards compatible with the new Iridium Next satellite platform that meets the same entry-level requirement. The business model is fully self funding so there is no equipment outlay.
When it comes the production level access point certification, it will be industry standard DO160, DO178 and DO294 compliance. Importantly as a low power device Bluetooth is already documented and tested as safe for use in aircraft, which eliminates the complexity associated of Wi-Fi installations.
The system requires an STC and the STC cost can be included subject to fleet size. The airline provides the installation manpower and fflya underwrites all the transmission costs including airline communications sent via the App.
Why haven’t we seen this before?
Bluetooth was originally designed as a one to one interface for tethered devices with its primary justification in mobile phones as Audio hands free. More recent developments saw it evolve into Personal Area Networks, Scatternets and Mesh networks but again it focused on controlling devices. The challenge and barriers of building a bidirectional communication network capable of accommodating hundreds of passengers in the aircraft environment without consuming valuable satellite bandwidth were endless. It has taken 10 years of development including 4 years of flight-testing and 4 years of working with Apple and Android to develop a proprietary BLE characteristic that connects via a custom satellite protocol to a purpose built ground based network with algorithms that manage every user by file type, flight number and aircraft.
For a demonstration of the new fflya system visit Ron Chapman ASIP Tech Inc. at APEX booth 1937
Want what the folks at IFPL will be showing in Singapore? Check this out.