Another successful AIX has passed muster and the IFExpress team is in the process of pulling stories from the reams of data collected to keep those ‘Hot Topics’ flowing for the foreseeable future. As a show, the official details are not yet available; however, it looked like an ample supply of visitor and airlines were present – no complaints from vendors must mean a good show was had by all. Let’s turn to highlights now:

Seat-Centricity seemed to be the theme, from Crystal Cabin Awards to vendor space, enhancement and advancement of seat electronics was commonplace. For those of you searching for a definition, seat centricity simply places more of the storage and content processing at the seat. More powerful processors, increased memory, and GUI-driven interfaces are the name of the game. Beyond hardware and software, the dependency of servers and networks for content delivery is reduced. An earlier prediction from an IFE maven gave us this quote in an earlier Hot Topic: “…and Seat-centric IFE systems will get traction in 2011 with significant orders.” While we are not sure about the ‘traction’ part we are sure of the orders. Vendors who sell this type of IFE are sitting on orders. Take that to the bank!

We counted at least 3 new GSM (Ku and Ka) hardware sources and while we did not talk to them all, the big surprise was from the software house, TriaGnoSys. Their 2 box solution is pretty revolutionary. We note the company has hired an additional hardware team and is working with subcontractors to deliver a simpler GSM inflight telephony solution. With over 1,300 connectivity equipped airplanes flying toady, we promise a story on this one, and the trend, soon.

App developers (We talked to two) also demonstrated their wares. An iPad for crew usage from Ultramain got our attention, while platform agnostic Plane Bill showed new, slick, and very useful airline apps. MRO iPad solutions were in attendance as well.

One major player (No names mentioned – yet), who has reduced their IFE footprint in the past few years, is ramping up a new system this summer… probably for a single-aisle solution. We suspect their new gadget includes connectivity, but what do we know? Stay Tuned on this one, probably in early summer!

Panasonic displayed their VERY SLICK, seat-centric Android, X3 IFE system – and it was really nice. Panasonic worked up a few apps with a new outside supplier that were clean, fast and very attractive and hosted it on their seat-centric solution. Their display and app presentation was the talk of the show.

While we visited at least 4 portable IFE suppliers, there were more at AIX. While the iPad was represented, we saw at least one new tablet-driven system… and yes, it ran Microsoft Windows 7 OS.

Thales IFE guru, Ken Brady, showed IFExpress their Ka-Band Global Express connectivity solution (Inmarsat), destined for 350-XWB service. Will greater Ka-Bandwidth provide the $/kilobit advantage and rule connectivity?

We finally got a look at the new, thin, HD display from Lumexis… nice!

Big Display folks – ACS, showed us new, no fan, LCD display designs (It’s done with ‘chimneys’) and a thin (1.9 inch), giant 46 inch LCD unit. Thin is in!

Much to our embarrassment, Ka-Band connectivity is coming on strong. In the past, we echoed expert opinion that Ka-Band, here today on marine applications and business jets, would probably debut on commercial planes in 5 or so years. Wrong! Live TV and ViaSat are looking at a 12 month time-frame.

And now the thanks:
An IFExpress thank you goes out to Panasonic’s Gene Connelly who literally gave us the shirt off his back – a real nice Panasonic shirt! The folks at AirCell sent us on our way (domestically, speaking) with 8 hours of inflight Internet… gawd we were glued to the iPod screen. And yes, the domestic legs were shorter. We didn’t want to quit the “I am sending this to you from 30.000 feet” messages. We also have to mention and thank the folks at PopCap Games, Bookworm improved our spelling, but what really matters is our garden is now free from zombies (Plants vs Zombies). Lastly, a ‘thank you’ goes out to the AIX media folks who provided Wi-Fi and life-saving morning coffee.

“The Little Blue Pill For Your PIPE”
It is not the size but the way you use it.

Last time in “Why Size Doesn’t Matter” I outlined the specific issues limiting timely connectivity communication due to satcom latency. Today, lets talk about some fixes, to make the most out of your pipe.

In a world guided by the laws of physics you may feel a little trapped by the inevitable lack of comparable Internet service when flying over the pacific at 600mph, but I have good news. The Internet is a complex place filled with a lot more than just streaming media.

The Internet world is really broken into two broad categories that have evolved sequentially in two distinct directions:

1) Communications Centered. 1970-199x
2) Rich Media Content. 199x-Today

For the last 40 years the Internet has grown and moved inevitably towards the “richening” of content from text email and bulletin boards to AJAX and embedded interactive media, but one fact seems to buck this trend, the growth of instant connections and the new “always connected” model. Since 2007 we have seen a steady reversal of the importance of Internet media in a human sense back to raw connectivity. Born out of the collision of convenience, and shrinking Internet devices (Smartphones), the “instant al-ways on” model exploded.

To understand how important the use of this technology is to your inflight connectivity needs, you need to examine both the growth of rich sources, such as, Streaming Video at the same time as growth in Instant Messaging/Broadcasting and Status Updates. A recent study on Internet usage shows the US’s largest single consumer-use of band-width during peak hours is Netflix (15m members) at over 20% (400+ Mb per day per user); whereas, Facebook with over 150 million users in the US market only uses 2%. In fact, 8 of the top 10-bandwidth users are streaming video, accounting for 60% of all traffic on the Internet by volume.

So how to take advantage of the change? Firstly you must offer connectivity, “always on” is just that. Secondly, offer targeting access services… not the pipe. The Internet is not what it used to be and selective access is not only a bandwidth advantage but also a passenger service preposition advantage.

Here is an analysis of usage and SBB (Swift Broadband) costs to clarify the service focus:

• Open Internet access on SBB, limited to a single channel of 400 Kbits/s costs the passenger a maximum of $15-$30* per minute to stream video. (Based on the 50K bytes per second link speed)

• Mobile Facebook access on SBB, costs the passenger a maximum of $0.22-$0.44* per minute. (Based on US figures for mobile access of 24 hours a month @ 16% of 400 MB usage per month)

• Instant Messenger access on SBB, costs the passenger of $.005-$0.01 per minute. (Based on 40 words per minute composition and 5 simultaneous conversations)

In addition, the bandwidth requirements for Mobile Facebook are such that a single channel could supply simultaneous service for over 500 passengers.

Interesting enough, many other services have similar, if not smaller, network profiles but are highly desirable, such as Instant Messaging and Twitter. In time, the market players will move but the new “instant always on” culture has become well entrenched in our lives.

So what is the little blue pill for your air to ground pipe, it is optimizing your Internet offer-ing to selective services that are highly desirable and bandwidth effective, and re-focusing open Internet access as a generally desirable inflight service.

References :

* Based on SBB costing of $5-$10 per megabyte

Welcome to the first edition of SymontySez. I am Symonty and I hope to be able to present some views and ideas about connectivity and the IFE industry (now strangely being renamed the Passenger Experience Industry) from my 12-year journey in this field. My company, SymonTek, is responsible for the software and servers that support inflight connectivity and we work anonymously with some of the biggest names in this industry.

I am completely sure loads of you will disagree with me. That’s okay. The purpose of my commentary is to make you think and ask questions. Masticate on it for a bit, and if you bite, watch out for your uvula! And if you disagree, why not drop me an email at: I appreciate healthy intellectual discussions.

“Why Size Doesn’t Matter”
A Satcom’s Tale of Time and Distance

This issue of satellites, aircraft, and data pipes comes live from the Utopian anarchy of the Internet connected world. We rejoice in our collective consciousness, as the laws of physics seem to melt away in an interconnected world no longer ravaged by the disparity of distance.

Now wake up silly pants, you are on a plane over the Pacific… so sit down and think about the problem…

Geostationary satellite-based Internet on an aircraft is difficult, in fact a single TCP/IP packet has to travel over the 44,000+ miles from an aircraft to your favorite web server and cannot achieve more than 64 Kbits/s no matter the size of the pipe. Let me explain how technologists are able to “fix” this limitation and why it is ultimately of no value.

Satellite data services, such as Inmarsat Swift, Ku, Ka, etc., have unique benefits over ground-based connection technologies — they require far less infrastructure. Only 3 or 4 satellites and ground stations are required to cover almost the whole planet (the poles remain an issue for all Geostationary satellites). Additionally, the technology is stable and mostly off-the-shelf; you can buy either direct data services from Inmarsat, for example, or rent spectrum from satellite service providers.

Now the hard part, lets face some facts about GEO satcom without getting too heavily into TCP Slow Start, MTU window management and the congestion algorithm in general.

Geo satcom start to be scary because the marriage with TCP is not a match made in heaven. This was first recognized in 1972 (RFC346). Since TCP and some payload management systems, like streaming video, use latency and packet loss to indicate congestion and or link speed. Some serious side effects come into play when the distance is taken into account. The problem is: each connection takes so long to get back and forth TCP thinks the link is either congested, slow or lossy and re-sizes each “window” into smaller and smaller chunks until the throughput, when multiplied by latency, seems to level out at around 64Kbits per second. Interestingly enough, the net effect is an efficient multiplexing that works very well with high numbers of users and very poorly with a single user.

To increase the single request throughput on a high bandwidth and highly latent link the use of Performance Enhancing Proxies (PEP) have seen widespread usage for some time, specifically in the fixed terminal world. While PEP works by fooling TCP with local packet acknowledgments (prior to the packets actually arriving at the other end successfully) it requires that the underlying link is virtually error free*. Also remember, this only increases the achievable single connection throughput, and it will still take up to a second for each new request to be answered by the other end.

So now there is an increase in the available throughput of large requests, for example streaming video, that passengers can watch while flying the pacific? Well yes and No. With streaming technologies, such as YouTube HD, available at 1280×720 H.264 at only 2mbits/s, which on Inmarsat (if you could bond the channels together to get it) will cost the passenger around $5 per second. Even if you are the satellite service provider and you have available satellite spectrum, that one YouTube viewer, on one plane is gobbling 8% of the total capacity of a transponder or… $2 per second. This is based on a $250K per month 30Mb/s transponder.

This is “Why Size Doesn’t Matter”

The underlying technology and the distance limits any effective throughput without costly compromises and poor customer experience. And the cost per MB means that any increase in usable capacity quickly becomes too expensive for most pax to use. Finally, the only real reason a larger pipe size would be of value would be for multiple users, and with the take up rates we have seen to date, this is not an issue.

I don’t think size matters for open Internet access, but may I suggest the “little blue pill for your pipe?” Tune in next time.

E-mail Comments:

* A geo stationary satellite signal has to pass signals over twice the circumference of the earth before it is even routed to it’s final destination, so the space segment is round 250ms for a single hop and as much as 1 second from your airborne laptop to the web-server. To put this in perceptive try ping and see how your connection fares against 1000ms.

* As error rates increase the extra traffic caused by the overlay of PEP and TCP are geometric and degrade far quicker with PEP than without in states of increasing error rates. To decrease error rates more of the bandwidth is allocated to the error correction protocols and delays due to computations, this looses bandwidth for end-to-end usage and also slows the initial connection to each new server, so you have to balance the benefits.