As always, the job of the IFExpress Team is to interview vendors at the popular IFEC Shows and report to our reader, and this year is no different. In three days (and in three consecutive issues) we hope to give our readers a view of what people said about their products and perhaps explain the “spin” in a useful way. We hope you find it interesting and worthwhile.


Linstol

For years now, we have passed by the earphone folks at Linstol and so this year, we decided to stop and talk with Peter Woolhouse and Jakob Levinson about their new products. Besides colorful new products we got interested in their Noise Cancelling Headset (Model 250) and tested the unit with our iPod. We note that the unit has a couple of features we really liked. First when placed over our ears, the product almost completely canceled the show floor noise when turned OFF, which means a good mechanical fit. Amazingly, music still played through them when turned off! No battery worries here. Then we turned them on and the Model 250 increased fidelity (and presence) and cancelled even more noise! Secondly, it’s rechargeable through a mini-USB connector on the bottom of one headpiece – 5 volts. We remember up to 14 hours of continuous usage with one charge. Nice job Linstol! Airlines can get the Model 250’s with modified individual color and logo applications on up to 7 of the headphone parts, all for around $30 a pair. Check them out. (Editor’s Note: We note that even with 32 ohms impedance, the efficiency provided ample loudness.)


Panasonic
Two big stories accentuate the Panasonic presence at the show in Anaheim.

Ku-band narrow body antenna roll out: Oddly enough, Panasonic has teamed with Boeing Network & Space Systems (N&SS) for their new electronically steered phased array antenna designed (primarily) for narrow body aircraft (2. Image). The flat planed phased array antenna consists of a transmit and receive array situated next to each other in the horizontal reference plane. And you guessed it; the antenna design contributes to perhaps the lowest Ku-band antenna drag profile in the industry (2.7” or 6cm high). Also, it is important to note that the shroud around the antenna itself could be designed to fit: Boeing and Airbus narrow bodies, as well as, business jets. Also, we were told that the antenna is ARINC 791 compliant. The antenna will be available in 2016, and with their existing Ku-band mechanically scanned antennas they can cover any fleet of aircraft. Furthermore, if you are too young to remember Connexion by Boeing, it was launched and in service in the late 90’s to early 2000’s on Lufthansa but never gained in popularity – most likely due to cost at the time – but their engineers know how to design antennas and we suspect that’s why Panasonic chose them. With the burgeoning single-aisle market and the demand for more passenger connectivity, this market will grow! Watch this product.

NFC: EMV compliant Near Field Communication technology is being developed within Panasonic’s inflight entertainment systems. The system will be launched in 2015 because you will probably see NFC enabled smartphones and cards being used in flight. Here are some of the features of this service: high value transactions and purchases, personal data synchronization, frequent flyer status via NFC card/phone – gold card advantages, crew check-in is now available via NFC, Passenger specific information pushes are now available, and it will now work with the iPhone 6. With increased hacking and fraud issues, this is a must technology for aviation. One airline told us an unbelievable dollar scam they encounter each month but asked us not to reveal the amount or the airline. With NFC, scamming is now pushed down one notch and as a result, bigger purchases are doable. We expect this feature to end up on all Panasonic IFEC systems.

Cool Room Update:  You know how we like the Panasonic “Cool Room” and every year Steve Sizelove outdoes himself on getting the latest, and we mean LATEST technology, to show how it and innovation might affect the IFEC industry. Here’s a clue from this year’s room – Oculus Rift. You will have to wait till a future issue to get an update… the Panasonic Cool Room will be the subject of a future Hot Topic!


AeroMobile

AeroMobile’s Kevin Rogers told us the following:

“Today 270+ aircraft are installed. The installation rate is 5 – 6 planes per month and this number is expected to grow over the next 12 months.”

“Panasonic is the sales arm for the AeroMobile service”, he noted.

“The Panasonic announcement about the single-aisle Ku-band antenna will have a significant impact on the market, primarily because of the narrowbody applications and the services required in China.”

“Panasonic’s Ku-band hardware allows the AeroMobile telecommunications operation, and in fact because of coverage and availability, AeroMobile should be considered a virtual country.”

“AeroMobile has 270 roaming agreements today, but all are handled/billed by the company.”

“Interestingly, the only 2 countries where there is a service gap are in the USA and China. China has their own frequency standards and the USA has other issues, as we are all aware of.”

“80% of users of phones in the aircraft don’t use voice – they just use text and data. This emulates the usage on the ground.”

“The service is very popular especially in business class, partly because it is so easy to use.”


Thales

Big news at Thales is the acquisition of LiveTV from JetBlue. The addition of two familiar faces, Glenn Latta and Mike Moeller (as well as others), appeared as part of the Thales team at APEX. While we suspected that the org chart was presently in flux and yet to be worked out, Dominique Giannoni and Glen Latta wanted to discuss strategy and how the LiveTV acquisition dovetails with the growth and support development of the entire IFEC package from Thales. The attached two charts (link) pretty much tell the story. Chart 1 has all the Gee Wiz information you need, from the point that Thales IFEC is 15 years in operation to the fact that they have 1,700 aircraft flying in all major platforms, including 200 with Ka-band connectivity.

Chart 2 is perhaps the most significant. Not only does it frame Thales based on functionality, it shows what the strategy for the company and is probably the most significant part from the company’s perspective. The $400 million purchase appears to be a hand-in-glove fit because of LiveTV’s in-depth connectivity capability matches perfectly with the Thales IFE offering. Glenn Latta is the President of LiveTV a wholly owned subsidiary of Thales USA reporting to and he and Dominique Giannoni, CEO IFE&C. Together, they are shaping what is becoming a significantly changed business. Perhaps the best quote comes from the team when they said, “Look at it this way, today Thales has 1,815 people focused on IFEC. Both sides, Irvine and Florida, are leveraging their strengths and are looking at each project customer by customer, so integration of the two companies is well under way.”

Additional observations about the merger of the two companies based upon our interview were:
1) The strategy behind the merger with LiveTV was three fold: the need for a strong connectivity add-on, a strong retrofit business, and entry into the low cost market.
2) LiveTV can now leverage the line-fit experience with the retrofit experience. This is a very broad offering to the airline.
3) The acquisition of LiveTV brought Thales: Wi-Fi in the cabin, a back office, a front office, transaction process, and a portal.
4) LiveTV brought Thales 700 aircraft flying of which 200 are flying with Ka-band connectivity and a backlog of 250 aircraft to be fitted with Ka.
5) 50% of the LiveTV engineering team is software, and as a result, the employees have the ability to adapt to either organization.
6) Both LiveTV and Thales brought content to the table. They are now looking at leveraging these groups and are looking at the offerings on a customer-by-customer basis.
7) Dominique Giannoni told us that key area of development is to improve airline operations through connectivity.
8) The philosophy behind Thales/LiveTV is that everything is based upon the strategy not necessarily the product as a result of this corporate blending.
9) In the words of Glenn Latta, “It is an opportunity rich environment.”


Inmarsat

We met with Leo Mondale, President Inmarsat Aviation who will be a new focal point for Global Xpress, and a good one at that.

We thought it best to start off with a definition: Global Xpress is a super-fast, Ka-band broadband satellite network from Inmarsat that will provide worldwide (almost) coverage with three geosynchronous satellites.

During our interview we asked a few questions to give our readers a better view of the system. Here a few of the salient issues:
1) One satellite is up today and the other two will be deployed by mid-2015.
2) Aviation will experience up to 50 Mbps data rates.
3) The first satellite covers the coast of the UK to portions of Asia. See attached and is in orbit today. We note that it is a spot beam satellite that has 89 distinct beams, as all will have. Because the spot beams provide continuous coverage over its footprint, it is possible to manage the data traffic as the aircraft travels through the beams
4) Today’s current Inflight Connectivity does not emulate the ground experience; however, the newer generation of users will demand more from their airborne connectivity experience and Global Xpress hopes to fill that need.
5) Three ground stations (with redundant features) will deal with live, rain-fade issues.
6) The first customer for Global Xpress was Vietnam Airlines via Gogo, Thales and Honeywell.
7) When the third satellite is up and operating there will be very few commercial air transport routes that Inmarsat doesn’t cover.
8) Global Xpress Service was announced in June of 2010 and the first satellite build happened on time.
9) Leo Mondale stated that if it were not for launch slides Global Xpress would be in service today.
10) With the exception of the North Atlantic, maritime and aviation routes don’t tend to overlap.
11) The industry has accepted Ka-band and there are very few questions about its capabilities anymore. The first customer was the Military and they have been interested in Ka-band for the last 10 years.
12) “We are at the beginning of a massive capacity and infrastructure increase, all in alignment with our decision in 2010 to launch Global Xpress service. We are excited to be part of the wave!” Leo Mondale


Some Final Notes