If you have not figured it out already, this week’s cover shot is the latest wireless offering from Fiber Optic Central — Lumexis. Dubbed “WiPAX”, it is the much awaited add-on (or stand-alone) Wi-Fi-based feature to the Lumexis IFE System. Our image here is of the WiPAX demonstration hardware, included L-R: WAPs, Wireless Server Unit (WSU) with loadable 1 TB SSD cartridge, and Aircraft Interface Unit (AIU).

Wireless in general has been the darling of the traveling-set and Smartphone sales have skyrocketed. Some 46 per cent of telephone users in the US claimed a Smartphone, cites a Pew Research study from 2011. Is there no wonder that airlines are deploying wireless connectivity in their aircraft? There are probably north of 3500 aircraft (but less than 5000) flying today with 802.11 a/b/g/n service and the list of airlines includes some 26+. It’s a big deal, and it is getting much bigger. When we got wind of WiPAX we jumped at the chance to cover it in a Hot Topic, so we asked Rich Salter and the Lumexis team to fill our readers in:

Q: What is the product designation of the new Wi-Fi feature in the Lumexis system?
A:
It is called WiPAX™ for “Wireless to the Passenger” and it can either be an add-on to the Lumexis FTTS® fiber optic based system or a stand-alone product for narrow-body aircraft. WiPAX streams wireless content to passenger electronic devices (PEDs) such as Smartphones, tablets and laptops, and will be shown at the AIX show in Hamburg, Germany at the end of March.

Q: Why was this feature designed for a fiber optic-based IFE system?
A:
Many customers and potential customers have told us that they want to accommodate PEDs as well as embedded screens.

Q: Is this feature retrofittable on previous hardware?
A:
Yes, it can be retrofit into existing installations of FTTS, though it will require that Wireless Access Points (WAPs) also be installed if they are not yet in the aircraft.

Q: How many passengers can use the Wi-Fi for their Smartphones downloading email? Streamed video?
A:
Every passenger onboard can connect to the system and download email (if an off-aircraft connectivity system is installed). Regarding video content streaming, while the server can stream to every passenger on the aircraft, the choke point in any wireless system is the capacity of the WAPs. We are using the same commercially available aviation WAPs as are currently being supplied, and these are 802.11 s, b, g, n WAPs. Our findings indicate that only about 10-15 simultaneous users per WAP can reliably stream High Definition video smoothly, so we are being conservative and only committing to those numbers for potential customers. But WiPAX will absolutely deliver to as many users as any other product, while our server’s delivery bandwidth is much higher than competitors. Therefore, as we continue on to demonstrate better performance in revenue service, we will happily expand that commitment.

Q: Does the Wi-Fi offering provide any other function like content update, seat display streaming, crew connectivity?
A:
Initially, we are offering content updates via a plug-in solid state disk (SSD) cartridge for 1 Terabyte of content, and daily news and other short updates can be done via USB drive or via wireless when the aircraft is on the ground.

We believe that fiber optic network offers so much more to the embedded displays than wireless (lower weight and much higher bandwidth for HD video), that we would never offer wireless to the embedded seat displays. Crew connectivity can be accommodated by the off-aircraft connectivity/satcom communication system (not a part of WiPAX).

Q: Speaking of connectivity, what type of head-end connectivity does your system talk to – Inmarsat, On Air, GoGo, other?
A:
WiPAX is compatible with any off-aircraft connectivity system that has an Ethernet port interface.

Q: Are phone calls enabled with this system via VOIP. How about cellular frequency connectivity?
A:
Voice-over-IP phone calls are possible with an off-aircraft connectivity system, and the WiPAX interface will allow that, but it is not part of the basic WiPAX system.

Q: About how many persons/WAP is the system capable? Is it 802.11 a/b/g/n?
A:
The WAPs are standard 802.11 a/b/g/n, and all passengers onboard can connect to the system and do non-streaming tasks (email, onboard shopping, food and beverage ordering, etc.), but, as noted above, when streaming content, only about 10-15 users per WAP are possible – the same as for other wireless systems.

Q: What additional hardware, S/W, is required per installation/retrofit?
A:
WiPAX is an extremely simple system, the key components of which are the Wireless Server Unit (WSU) and the WAPs – there are a few other small boxes that perform the aircraft interfaces and the Secure Data Bridge that securely stores and offloads credit card data.

Q: Has any airline purchased the WiPAX system?
A:
Though we just started to demonstrate the system to airlines last month, we already have a launch and multiple other airlines negotiating for deliveries.

Q: How was the system tested, bench? Flying?
A:
As the system has been derived from FTTS which is flying around the world in daily revenue service with both widebody and narrow body aircraft, all of the LRUs of the system are indeed certified and operational. Consequently, we anticipate the first STC for the WiPAX configuration in a customer aircraft in late spring or early summer of this year.

Stay Tuned Readers!

And now for something completely different. We tracked down Kerry Farris for a couple of satcom questions and found him at Thales. Here’s a bit more: “My Thales career started in January as Director of Sales for the America’s Region” – You can him at his office at (949) 790-2903 in Southern California.

This week’s Single Aisle Solution comes to us from Lufthansa Systems, and true to its Teutonic techno naming convention; BoardConnect is a clever hybrid IFE system. Hybrid because airlines can have it both ways – wireless streamed seatback entertainment and/or pure wireless audio/video/game content to passenger devices. To date, four airlines have elected to install variants of BoardConnect on their planes – eliminating heavy wiring and costly hardware while providing the oft-demanded wireless content to devices that passengers carry aboard. This is the future of IFE – airlines provide the content, connections and wireless conveyance, and you bring your device. Welcome to the 21st century!

Q: What exactly is the LSY BoardConnect offering (baseline and options) for single aisle commercial airplanes?
A:
First of all BoardConnect is a pure WiFi based in-flight streaming system designed to serve single aisle as well as twin aisle aircraft. The basic concept makes it possible for passengers to use their own wireless enabled electronic devices (PED), such as Smartphones, tablets or net- and notebooks or airline owned devices (AOD) instead of in-seat screens, to access and enjoy in-flight entertainment content such as on demand audio and video, games, and in-flight information. As an option, Lufthansa Systems will provide WiFi-based, lightweight in-seat screens. Currently BoardConnect supports PED/AOD running on Windows, Mac OS and iOS. Android device support is planned for later this year. Depending on the device model the system is approved to play Early or Late Window movie content based on DRM protection and encryption. The core of the system is a rule- and workflow based management system (BoardConnect Management System, BCMS) that enables faster and simpler content provision to the aircraft than many other systems on the market. In addition,BoardConnect facilitates the integration of third party applications to further personalize the inflight experience.

BoardConnect consists of only few components. It is fully wireless with a centrally provided BCMS to control all content, information, user interface and functionalities of the system. Therefore installation, maintenance and operation of the system is drastically reduced in comparison to currently deployed traditional IFE systems.

Q: Will the eventual system be offerable for the B737MAX and A320NEO (or any new airplane, for that matter) or will LSY prefer to install the BoardConnect System as a retrofit-only program?
A:
Initially the system is available as a retrofit solution but we are in talks with the major aircraft manufacturers regarding line fits as some of our customers have new aircraft on order. However, due to the cable-less concept the installation of BoardConnect is fast and simple, making it the best option for retrofit programs.

Q: Do you see passenger connectivity being a part of all future BoardConnect system installations as a “basic” offering?
A:
Currently BoardConnect does not include Lufthansa Systems provided connectivity services; however, the system can be easily integrated with any TCP/IP based solution available on the market. Future releases are planned to include either a partner solution (Satcom or terrestrial ground-to-air based solution) or an airline’s own connectivity service.

Q: What screen size offerings are available for the single aisle aircraft… seat back, in-arm, bulkhead, overhead? We also note that Wi-Fi connectivity to passenger PED is a very big feature of your system – please define how you see the importance of connecting with passenger devices and what type of content would be available to them?
A:
Board Connect offers an in-seat screen for armrest, seatback and wall-mount. The size of the standard screens will initially be 10,6”. Due to the modular architecture of the BoardConnect display unit (BCDU) other sizes can be realized with minor effort. BoardConnect is clearly riding the wave of the mobility mega trend. Since it is the only system available that can distribute content to a full cabin without in-seat screens, it will provide professional entertainment not only in the traditional field of long haul flights but also on short haul aircraft. Traditional systems are simply too expensive and heavy for such scenarios. Surveys from various customers prove that already almost all passengers on board carry their own wireless enabled devices. At the same time mobile device sales show double-digit growth rates. BoardConnect therefore makes it possible for airlines to offer in-flight entertainment on passenger owned and airline provided handheld wireless enabled devices. Based on the product proposition airlines can in addition offer in-flight entertainment on embedded screens for first and/or business class as well as all classes. Currently the passenger owned PED concept is certified for Late Window Content only. Early Window Content is approved for devices provided by the airlines, as well as, for embedded screens.

Q: What do you see as the main advantage of Board Connect from a cost perspective?
A:
Compared to legacy IFE systems our solution has much lower life cycle cost. The installation doesn’t need an extensive downtime like a major overhaul or a cabin refurbishment. Instead it can be done during regular maintenance checks. This saves costs and allows for a fast rollout of the product. Additionally, BoardConnectis less complex and uses of-the-shelve components. This means high reliability and lower maintenance cost.

Q. If your single-aisle offering is flying today, can you provide a bit more information like: how many seats are flying, which airlines are equipped, what aircraft are involved? Is there any airline or customer feedback you would like to share with our readers?
A:
The system is already available on a Qantas Boeing 767-300 with 254 seats (which in fact is a twin-aisle configuration) and will be trialed in the same aircraft type of Condor early this year. A certified installation on an A320 of Virgin America was achieved in mid 2011. It is used for internal testing and development to facilitate the rollout of the system later this year. In the later part of 2012 the system will be certified and installed on a Boeing 737.

Q: What is the weight per seat of your offering and please explain the measurement conditions (for example: with cables, all hardware, etc.?)
A:
It is not possible to provide an exact weight per seat since BoardConnect can be integrated in different ways (with and without embedded screens and different numbers of access points). The head end server weighs approximately 5 kg and the weight per access point is 2.5 kg (A 767-300 with 254 passengers is equipped with five access points, while an A320 has 3 to 4 access points depending on the seating capacity). The in-seat screen weighs approximately 2.0 kg. There are no additional components like seat distribution boxes, data cables etc.

Q: Do you have an updated sales brochure and/or technical specification brochure about the product? Please provide a link to it or a PDF (or jpeg) that our readers can download.
A:
Please download from:
http://www.lhsystems.com/solutions/infrastructure-services/boardconnect/

Q: What seat vendors are potential suitors for seat back installation – or – which seat vendors are presently involved with your single-aisle system? Are they new or retrofit installations?
A:
We are currently working together with seat manufacturers for the seat integration of the BoardConnect Display Unit seat back and armrest integration. Currently this is scoped for retrofit installations; however, projects for OEM line fit installations have been initiated.

Q: Where does LSY see the single aisle market going…US, Europe, China, worldwide and how big do you see it becoming? Also, why did Virgin and Condor choose LSY Board Connect system?
A:
In terms of deliveries the single-aisle market will be the most important segment. The recently announced orders for the new A320 NEO or the new Boeing 737 MAX underpin the growth potential of this segment. Especially in fast evolving markets like Asia, North America and Latin America.Also, in parts of Europe and Africa the fleet of single-aisle aircraft is set to increase significantly. In the past traditional IFE systems have been difficult to install, maintain and operate in large-scale implementations on single aisle aircraft. The low weight, reduced footprint and high flexibility makes BoardConnect an ideal fit for this market segment. Nevertheless, as stated before, BoardConnect addresses the twin-aisle market as well and we see lots of opportunities in these markets, too. Last but not least,BoardConnect is a perfect fit for airlines operating both single and twin aisle aircrafts since the BCMS enables fast and easy content updates/update cycles, as well as, easy adaptation of user interfaces and personalized information for passengers.

The question of why our customers selected BoardConnect could of course be better answered by them. Virgin America is definitely looking for solutions that appeal to their typical “modern life style” target customers. Innovation, mobility, fast content exchange and social networking are key features to attract the typical Virgin America passengers.

Condor, as a typical charter airline, wants to differentiate from its competitors by providing additional services. The mobility trend has also reached the leisure segment. Most passengers carry their own devices making BoardConnect the perfect choice for the cost sensitive charter segment. Both airlines plan to also use the system as marketing and sales tool in order to increase ancillary revenues before, during and after flight.