Lufthansa Systems: Like every good new idea in IFE, wireless systems are now being offered by a number of suppliers. Nonetheless, it’s difficult not to consider the first in that marketplace to be the clear leader–and, yes, we’re talking about Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect.

We talked to the man whose idea it was in Hamburg at AIX, Dr. Joerg Liebe, CIO of Lufthansa Systems and the visionary behind this hot new platform. Lufthansa Systems was the first to offer a complete wireless system– not just a concept. With Condor they were the first supplier to sell wireless to an airline. And with their Virgin America deal were the first to take a big customer away from the reigning IFE platform providers.

The soft-spoken, Southern California-educated Dr Liebe gave us a thorough, candid and thoughtful description of this product and where it’s going. Modestly suggesting that the platform is designed to be sold to airlines which don’t currently have IFE, rather than aimed at taking business away from the IFE duopoly, Dr Liebe says that BoardConnect has three models: 1. A head-end server streaming to airline-provided SDUs. 2. A head-end streaming to airline-provided tablets. 3. A head-end streaming to passenger-owned devices or a combination of these. It should also be noted that some studios have approved early window content streamed from the server to the installed BoardConnect IFE seat units. The approval is only applicable to the BoardConnect system and tablets, but not PEDS; however, to the best of our understanding this is a first!

With sales to both Virgin America and Virgin Australia, and the AIX buzz about a very successful trial with Qantas, Dr Liebe may have to step out from behind his modest facade and brag a little! But somehow that doesn’t seem his style! The BoardConnect concept not only appealed to us but the jury at the Crystal Cabin Awards had the same inclination!

Panasonic: When Panasonic takes on a big project they usually do it right and the process ends up being a long, cautious march to the solution. For just under 10 years now, we have been covering pieces and parts of a global communication offering from the Lake Forrest, CA company. In fact, this is the first year we have gotten solid numbers on customer installations and the non-announcement announcement indicates they have been doing their homework. This story is multi-faceted so we will break it down for you in bullet points because this year’s AIX is where it has all come together. In the press announcement, Panasonic’s David Bruner noted that there was a real tipping point in demand in 2011 for inflight connectivity. Bruner went on to state that every single airline now believes they have to have GSM capability and broadband offerings on their fleet. “Not just big aircraft,” he noted, “but small ones too. And these services need to work exactly the same way in the air as on the ground so there is no passenger learning curve.” Basically, this translates to WiFi, cell connections, and streaming video. All hot products on big and small aircraft – even those with premium entertainment systems.
• Panasonic has been pressing to close out their coverage of the Ku network globally. There is a lot of coverage already in the northern hemisphere and by tying in to IS14 from Intelsat they will snag seamless coverage from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South America. This is a key piece to the Panasonic network and it is now in place. Additional capacity has been added to Australia, New Zealand and the Trans Tasman. The General Electric 23 satellite will serve the South East Asia, Australia, and South East Pacific connections.
• Panasonic has also reached commercial agreement with Airbus for line fit on the A380. This means they can eliminate the retrofit costs and they also noted that they will be adding offerability on the A350 as well. Panasonic has been undertaking this objective for the past 4 years. With respect to Boeing and the 787, Panasonic reports they are making progress on the 787 linefit as the result of their work on the 777.
• A major step in any satellite network is the ground connectivity portion. In an investment move, Panasonic elected to take a majority share of an existing satellite service provider, AeroMobile. AeroMobile operates a ground network that manages the relationship between the airline connectivity and the cell phone roaming partner. This feature is what Telenor brings to the party and Panasonic does not have, nor do they want, this additional complexity. As a result, Telenor, a minority shareholder is not leaving and is “absolutely involved in the venture”. AeroMobile switches from satellite to a global telco system on the ground where traffic routing begins. Furthermore, Panasonic provides pure IP traffic to AeroMobile, who translates it out to the network. Today, AeroMobile has a significant number of aircraft flying with Swift Broadband and in effect, AeroMobile is platform agnostic. This represents a great marriage for Panasonic.
• Did we mention that Panasonic announced they have 1300+ aircraft already signed up for their Global Communication Suite? Consequently, Panasonic has been searching for the best broadband network to provide economical service to airlines and passengers. Panasonic is focusing on designing a new Ku band network by providing maximum capability in areas where airplanes fly and none where they do not via spot beam selection. There goal: Maximum bandwidth at the lowest cost. To achieve this they are working with a new un-named partner who is “a player with global capability and of the highest quality in the industry”. This bodes well for eXTV.
• The net result of all this activity will be a service offering beginning in 2015 with North America and the North Atlantic covered first. Europe to Asia will follow and finally all of Asia.
• Along the way, Panasonic developed a Ka Band antenna as a candidate for high through put capacity. The irony was they found that capability in Ku. Noting that the airborne antenna is the most difficult design part of the process, by sticking with Ku very little change occurs to the aircraft – this is a major plus for the airline. (Note: One could assume that Panasonic has found clever ways to gang and steer spot beams in satellites with that capability. Obviously, receiver design plays a significant part in this as well.)
• The majority of the 20+ existing eXPhone customers will continue to work with the Ku equipped aircraft. These include operators like Virgin Atlantic, Malaysia Airlines, and Emirates. Gulf Air and Lufthansa will be onboard soon. We also understand Cathay Pacific, SAS, Turkish Airlines, and Etihad have signed up.

Editor’s Note: Mea Culpa! In case you lost your copy of Wheelock’s Latin, it means we are sorry to the nice folks at D.e.u.t.s.c.h. because we misspelled their name in the last issue of IFExpress. We say it again, “Mea Culpa!”

As our readers have probably surmised, the Single Aisle Solution series we have been running is an attempt to help airlines and IFE watchers understand some of the entertainment solutions available on aircraft like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320. However, we wanted to go beyond the ‘look and feel’ of the individual IFE systems and, in this case, ask a bit about the industry, the design and development philosophy, the concept and rationale for a ‘passenger-centric’ design, and their single-aisle platforms. Our goal is to separate the four systems, eX1, eXLite, DMPES, and eXW, because we never seem to keep them straight! We hope this helps. We also thought since we had Panasonic’s attention, a connectivity update would be of interest to our readers. Panasonic has over 1200 aircraft tails committed for the Global Communication Suite (GCS) service with airlines like Gulf, Turkish, United and Etihad… and airlines not yet announced. Let’s get started with Part 1:

Q: In general terms, can you talk about the trends you are seeing in IFEC?
A:
Wow, where do we start! These are such exciting times in communication and entertainment. As part of one of the biggest and most innovative companies on earth we are blessed to be able to leverage massive investment in key areas that shape the passenger expectations at the same as addressing airline essential needs in cost, weight, power, reliability, usability etc.

We see the biggest & fastest growth in connecting the seatback to the ground. “Enabler” can be such a cliché word but it’s so applicable when it comes to connectivity in our industry. IFEC value is truly realized and delivered when a passenger is connected to the airline. It fuels revenue, personal experiences, cost reduction, new CRM tools and seamless travel threads where pre-flight and post-flight aspects of the travel “thread” will be joined up with the in-flight experience, so that the passenger is enabled with the greatest amount of comfort, control, and entertainment throughout their journey.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been amazing stuff going on in recent times. Millions of people around the world are enjoying an amazing entertainment experience offered by airlines and their IFEC vendors. As incredible as the experience is, however, airlines are still looking for ways in which their IFEC system can really generate more business value – to leverage it as a true business platform.

We see trends in many other areas that shape our road maps and future: lightweight materials, new content licensing and delivery methods, maintainability advances, true HD content, incredible new audio technologies and ways of extending the passenger experience to personal devices, amazing HMI developments, augmented, virtual and physical realities, networked devices and intelligent spaces and so much more.

Q: Does this affect your approach to developing IFEC systems?
A:
Absolutely. At Panasonic, we merge these technologies together into near term and long-term road maps, constantly testing ourselves and working with our partner Airlines to determine what brings the most value to them. In the current global financial climate have focused on what we call the transition of IFEC systems to “passenger-centric business platforms”, rather than as just entertainments systems – the term ‘entertainment’ can diminish their perceived value. We develop technologies and global services that help airlines differentiate their brand, build passenger loyalty, offer unprecedented levels of passenger personalization and attract new travelers.

We are connecting the seatback and moving to the Android platform, bringing IFEC systems right back into line with the rest of the airlines’ digital touch-point strategies – applications, branding, user interfaces, etc. Technologies designed for personal devices can be scaled to the seatback in a very elegant and controlled way. This way the airlines can take advantage of that place in front of a passenger to leverage their brand in a very high quality, on-demand way.

Q: Can you talk a bit more about the passenger-centric business platform?
A:
Panasonic is a solutions company. Our job is to align with our customers’ business goals and provide the technology that makes that real. If an airline’s goal is to have a six-star hotel room and a lavish passenger experience, we do that. If their goal is to simply generate maximum direct ancillary revenue from offering IFEC at minimal cost, we do that too. You can see that from our extremely diverse customer base.

In order to generate more business value for airlines from IFE, we really need to push the envelope in industrial design to create an environment that is totally uncompromising in passenger living space & comfort, design, usability, picture quality, weight, power and size. This home-theater atmosphere needs to draw passengers into an amazing entertainment experience that includes a broad suite of cross-functional applications, backed by a robust set of tools and services that help airlines manage and optimize their marketing goals and objectives.

From there, we can leverage broadband connectivity to help deliver highly targeted advertising, concierge services, internet and social networking, phone service, real-time credit card validation and more. In addition, in order to help drive the lowest cost of operations, these solutions should be monitored and maintained by a global turn-key support organization that keeps it fully operational and ensures that it will deliver against high passenger expectations at the lowest possible cost.

By connecting passengers to an immersive in-flight experience, by helping advertisers and merchants with new business opportunities, and by connecting passengers to each airline and the IFEC systems to the maintenance organization, IFEC suppliers can help airlines transform the IFEC system in to a business platform that generates more value for their organization.

Q: Panasonic is well known as a server-centric IFEC solutions provider. What is your view on seat-centric architectures?
A:
We take a balanced approach to server vs. seat centric. That’s not to avoid the direct answer to the question, but as we said we are a ‘solutions’ company. We merge customer’s desired outcome to applicable technologies. We do what makes the most sense.

More directly, when we look at the trends in today’s consumer electronics, we see devices going thinner and a thinner client with more capacity at the server. Hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested in the cloud, faster servers and thinner clients. That’s not a passing trend, that’s a reality.

Purely seat-centric goes the opposite way and puts complexity, weight and power into every single seat, as opposed to having a really fast network that can truly leverage the growing content demands from airlines and passengers. With server-centric, if our customers want to double content capacity, they update one LRU, not 300 or more Also we only load content to one LRU, not 300 so content gets onboard faster, which is a key driver.

Q: But what if a carrier absolutely wants more content stored in the seat to, say, improve reliability?
A:
Even though our new systems are operating at 99.9% reliability already, we can still offer seat-centric options. As a matter of fact, Panasonic has offered airlines the ability to have seat-centric solutions to back-up or augment the existing server technology since 2006. Our X-series platform supports hard drive and/or memory card storage at each seat for content as a redundancy mechanism. Our customers found Panasonic systems to be so reliable that for the most part they haven’t necessarily had to use those drives.

There are real limitations to storage capacity to consider with seat-centric architectures. In addition, it’s much faster to update a single server than to upload content to each seat.

Q: Switching gears, can you please describe the Panasonic systems that are designed for single-aisle aircraft?
A:
Today, Panasonic Avionics offers several solutions including eX1, which is our most powerful HD capable single-aisle X Series system; eXLite, which is a lightweight, low power, cost-effective X Series solution for the retrofit market; DMPES – our overhead video and distributed audio IFE with a digital head-end server; eXW, which is Panasonic’s wireless IFEC solution; and our Global Communications Suite, which provides global in-flight broadband connectivity and mobile phone service.

As a solutions provider we mix and match elements of the X Series systems to suit the airline’s mission. We can use elements of each of these systems as building blocks to configure a solution. For example customers may chose DMPES overhead in one class and eX1’s 18” displays in another – their business needs determine our product offering – not the other way around.

Reader’s Note: Next week IFExpress will discuss in detail the aforementioned single-aisle solutions from Panasonic. Hold on to your seats folks because we will be including block-diagrams for your inner-tekkie!

Istanbul, Turkey | September 23, 2011 —Turkish Airlines will be the first carrier to offer live, inflight television on Trans-Atlantic flights. Turkish Airlines will also become among first European carriers by introducing wifi internet access to it’s passengers.

Turkish Airlines will debut live television and connectivity via seatback portal, a first for commercial intercontinental flights. This is made possible through the use of the PLANET IFE Platform, a Global Communication Suite System developed by Panasonic Avionics Corporation. This system will also provide wireless Wi-Fi Internet after full testing and certification.

Live television on intercontinental flights is a first and will feature a variety of programming including uninterrupted access to BBC World, BBC Arabic and Euronews channels with sport channels to soon be added. Seats are also equipped with in-seat power that allows charging of mobile devices as well as continuous Internet connectivity.

Via the PLANET IFE system, travelers will have full access to live text news and Miles & Smiles members will be able to view their account information enroute. Those wishing to join the program will be able to do so online and, via a Customer Services link, passengers will be able to provide feedback on their experience with Turkish Airlines.

The new system will provide live, uninterrupted content to aircraft flying all over the world, even over oceans. Passengers will be able to go online using their mobile devices such as notebook, ipad, tablets etc. on available Turkish Airlines flights.

Turkish Airlines will receive the first B777-300ER equipped with GCS system from the Boeing Company on September 23rd, 2011. Turkish Airlines also plans to activate this system on 11 additional Boeing 777-300ER and 10 Airbus A330-300 aircraft in its fleet in the near future.