A few months back, we penned a story about one of the most important improvements in inflight connectivity… more specifically, the VT Miltope router called nMAP2 and asked Robert Guidetti , VP/GM Commercial Division of VT Miltope for more data about the technical capability of it and its associated improvements on an aircraft Wi-Fi system, specifically, the increased passenger connectivity performance by using Cognitive Hotspot Technology (CHT). This time, we would like to increase the background on the CHT story and cover a bit more on the 802.11ac technology. If you don’t remember the story, you can find it here . So let’s now continue with some questions whose answers will provide our readers with a bit more technical knowledge about CHT:
1. Bob, first can you give us a quick summary of CHT, including some of the benefits, and tell our readers what products in the industry currently have it?
Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technology (CHT) optimizes network performance in highly congested wireless environments. As more passengers bring one, or more, Wi-Fi devices onto the airplane, with higher expectations for performance, VT Miltope recognized the need to actively manage the wireless spectrum, the wireless access points (WAPs) and the associated client devices. Although the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands have a finite spectrum, at times the appetite for these bands seems almost insatiable. With the rapid expansion of services such as Video-on-Demand (VoD), e-mail, web surfing, games, and more, the cabin wireless network can become highly congested.
CHT actively monitors the spectrum utilization, the number of Wi-Fi client devices assigned to the network WAPs, what services are being supported, data rate requirements, data utilization, etc. Using the information gathered from real-time monitoring, CHT manages the wireless network, including: client load balancing, band and channel assignments, RF power, client roaming, the data service type (VoD, e-mail, web surfing, games, etc.) and rogue WAP detection. Overall, CHT optimizes the bandwidth available to the Wi-Fi cabin network.
The overarching result of using CHT is to allow an airline to use fewer WAPs, and to increase the overall performance of the wireless cabin network. Therefore, the IFE&C system performs at a higher level, at a lower cost.
VT Miltope’s latest cabin WAP, the nMAP2, embraces CHT as a standard feature set.
2. Why does the “C” in CHT stand for “Cognitive”? Furthermore, would you please note some of the long list of features provided by the nMAP2 with CHT?
The “Cognitive” in Cognitive Hotspot(TM) Technology reminds us that CHT makes a WAP smart. With CHT the VT Miltope nMAP2 WAPs are able to talk to each other, to share information gathered about the wireless environment, and to make intelligent decisions to optimize the wireless network.
- CHT is specifically designed to address the unique challenges of a dense and highly congested wireless environment, e.g. the aircraft cabin. The following summary list provides a smattering of the real-time CHT functions inherent within the nMAP2.
Automatic Channel Assignment (ACA):
- Advanced Load Balancing with QoS (ALB)
- Smart Roaming (SR)
- Automatic Failure Recovery (AFR)
- Location-Based Services (LBS)
- Interference Minimizer (IM)
- Advanced User Interface (AUI)
- Dynamic Frequency Selection (DFS) (DFS is on the CHT roadmap)
With these and additional features, the nMAP2 becomes a Cognitive, knowledge gathering and decision making network device.
3. Mr. Guidetti, this is a repeat question but given the various standards (802.11a, b, g, n, and ac) can you again tell our readers what is/are the standard(s) used most often today and please give us a bit of information about the number of available channels and the bandwidth available for each and where this is all headed for fliers in the next few years?
Development of the original IEEE 802.11 standard was started in the early 1990’s with the initial release in 1997, with revision A being released in 1999. As we look at the 802.11a/b/g/n/ac evolution in the table below, we see that most of these revisions were multiple years apart with significant increases in theoretical data rates from 11a and11g, to 11n, to 11ac. Although the actual data rates do not normally match the theoretical data rates (on the ground or in the air), the actual data rate increases have been quite impressive as well.
Today, 802.11n has become commonplace with 802.11ac rapidly becoming the highest performing and dominant Wi-Fi offering, with most portable wireless capable devices (smartphones, tablet computers, etc.) now coming standard with 802.11ac radios.
4. Bob, we understand “the cloud” is an important part of the connectivity solution, can you tell our readers how it plays a part in your connectivity solution?
As airlines adapt cloud computing to the aircraft, the availability of high capacity, reliable wireless networks on the aircraft will play an important role. Having a wireless network that can be scaled to support the increasing utilization and demands of the cloud without having to add more wireless hardware will benefit airlines in multiple ways. nMAP2 with CHT and its ability to assign quality of service criteria to airline prioritized data ideally supports cloud services.
5. Streaming video has become an important part of the connectivity solution today and we wonder if you are seeing increased airline request for more and better data rates, if the CHT technology improves capability to stream video and exactly how does that occur?
Yes, streaming video and content loading are two of the most demanding connectivity applications – streaming video because of its relatively high data rate requirement and that it be nearly error free without error correction, and content loading due to the large amount of data that must be moved within a limited time.
A significant wireless challenge within the airplane cabin is RF congestion with potentially hundreds of client devices competing for connectivity to the network. CHT manages RF channel usage, RF power levels and re-assigns client devices to the correct WAP/nMAP2 to optimize the wireless network performance. Testing with and without CHT has shown a 2-to-1 performance improvement within crowded wireless environments.
6. Given that an airline installs a CHT capable wireless router, can you tell our readers what differences an airline can expect with the technology and typically how many can be served streaming content at one time?
The nMAP2 with CHT performance can allow an airline to use fewer WAP/nMAP2 units per cabin, or to increase performance to more client devices than traditional WAPs. Regarding the number of client devices per nMAP2, this will vary depending upon the airplane cabin configuration, the number of client devices vying for the same RF channels, the QoS requirements, etc.
However, a good rule-of-thumb for 1 Mbps streaming video per nMAP2 radio is: 36 to 54 client devices using the 5 GHz channels and 18 to 36 client devices using the 2.4 GHz channels.
7. Can you tell us a little about the most recent testing (or installations) of the nMAP2 product and the results that you saw?
We are very excited about the nMAP2 – with hundreds of aircraft installations; our customers are finding the on-aircraft performance results and lab test results to be similar. Since CHT is able to manage the wireless network utilizing real-time signal-to-noise (SNR), QoS requirements, RF power measurement and management, and other parameters the nMAP2 with CHT is able to improve performance throughput by up to 400% within highly congested environments.
8. Is there any new technology and/or new products on the horizon that VT Miltope has on the drawing board?
VT Miltope sees two technology opportunities coming. The first his here and is on our roadmap for this coming year, with the second being closely watched. The first is 801.11ac Wave-2. Wave-2 is advancement to the initial roll-out of 802.11ac, with Wave-2 providing the potential to add more clients with faster data rates in crowded environments such as the airplane cabin.
The second opportunity is IEEE 802.11ad, nicknamed WiGig (wireless gigabit). Since the standards’ release in 2012, WiGig has been getting some traction. WiGig is a 60 GHz based RF communication standard targeted at high data rate, short range applications, such as gaming and high performance video. WiGig is being combined with 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi devices to provide three band options depending upon the user’s needs. The industry is watching the roll-out of WiGig to see how well it is accepted within the consumer electronics market – in other words: when will enough people be carrying WiGig devices onto airplanes to start rolling WiGig into IFE&C systems?
9. Please add any products, services, or new features we have not covered.
VT Miltope’s latest product release is the cTWLU. The cTWLU provides flexible and cost effective wireless communications while an airplane is on the ground. Utilizing 3G Cellular, LTE and 802.11a/b/g/n & ac, the cTWLU is used to load IFE content, to load EFB data and to move maintenance data from the airplane to an airlines’ data center. The cTWLU is a much lower cost alternative to satellite communications, and satellite coverage is often spotty when an airplane is on the ground.
VT Miltope’s latest cabin WAP, the nMAP2, embraces CHT as a standard feature set. Soon VT Miltope’s latest wireless product, the cTWLU, will also harness the power of CHT. The cTWLU is an LTE, Cellular and 802.11a/b/g/n & ac enabled wireless Gatelink device for airplane to airport surface communications.
10. Also, any new or other changes we can note… such as people or customers we should mention?
The nMAPw is also incredible.
Unfortunately, most of our customers request anonymity. However, please come by our booth at APEX (Booth #1717 ) in Singapore and we can answer other questions you might have about the incredible cTWLU and nMAP2!
Seat integration is now a major game changer in the realm of in-flight entertainment and seat design. Rising to these challenges, IFPL has designed a new concept – a unique range of remote multi-port solutions that provide the airline, seat vendor and IFEC supplier with complete flexibility to integrate and combine design aesthetics with ergonomics. IFPL’s unique multi-port range allows airlines, seat and IFEC suppliers the ability to deliver maximum seat integration, creating an accessible and seamless design aesthetic. With flexibility at the core, IFPL have designed a multi-port range that provides options for customization such as: front or rear mounted, fascia material and color, soft light guide color and intensity An ingenious design, this new type of Multiport Jack offers airlines around the world the flexibility of choosing from a variety of easy to replace modules. These include a variety of audio Jacks, different types of USB outlets and a collection of wireless interface options with functions such as reading lights and passenger control buttons. The Multiport Range is available in a number of size (port) options to facilitate clean and neat integration including 2, 3 and 4 port solutions. To provide even more flexibility, IFPL is taking the same approach with its 110V A/C and USB-C 3.1 power outlets. Committed to working with industry partners and customers across the globe, IFPL strives to deliver a seamlessly integrated passenger in-flight journey, turning the mundane into a more enhanced experience.
We received a last minute input from Irina at Ideasroadshow – “Here is the link on our YouTube channel. I am also sending you a link to the Motivational Moments playlist on our IFE YouTube channel. (Editor’s Note: This is good stuff and thanks for sharing it with our readers!)
Singapore Uber Deal – Download the Uber app and register for an account. You’ll have the option to input your credit card or opt for cash payment. To enjoy a $15 FREE ride, simply enter the code “IFEXPRESS” into the Promotions tab! The code is valid until 31 October 2016.
Last year we wrote in our first issue: “Happy New Year to our readers and thank you for another year of IFE change and growth. We are always excited to write up our predictions, in fact, we have been researching for a couple of weeks now to bring you the latest in prediction news. Based on technology change, we are in for a ride this year, and beyond. Everything from drones to privacy is at risk to become a new item in 2015, and as we move into the world of change, we hope you find our view a bit different… and a bit useful.” The sentiment still holds so let’s get started on 2016. Here are a few of the big market and changes that we might see (or need) in the techno-world to come with aviation as our focus.
While 2016 may have a few techno-changes from 2015 and summary numbers differ, we are are riding the same messaging train! Since technology and media have grown so much (at least in the US) folks are spending more time on it than sleep or work (Business Insider), there appears to be plenty of opportunity time for messaging (Facebook, Twitter, and the like) but messaging will be even bigger. If you don’t believe it, just watch the ‘head down time’ at a public function where time is spent on devices – it’s less invasive and non interruptive.
Why is this a boom time for messaging, you might ask? The answer must lie in new, portable communication technology for one. If, as some writers predict, we spend over half of our waking day with media and technology, and because the devices and connectivity mediums are there, plain and simple, we will text. From a broader perspective, time on major digital activities will increase and has done so for each year for the last 5 years. To a greater extent, these behaviors are clearly a dominating trend and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. Further, as folks ‘cut’ their cable TV, products are rising up in the wireless world to support streaming TV via the Internet for portable devices. Check out this FierceCable article for more information on this subject.
On aircraft, we also expect to see this increase, after all some 97% of passengers (notes SITA) have devices with Facebook Messenger, What’s App, and WeChat. These devices (and apps) and limited connectivity channels are there, all we need are more lower price solutions (free or flat fee)… and yes, there are a few on the horizon and we will discuss them this year, but we digress for now. If anything will be a big deal in inflight lifestyle changes, it will be more messaging!
From an audio perspective, our daily life is a good predictor of what we want, and will do, on airplanes. Streaming audio is not new on the ground, with some predictors noting 4 hours of each day in that pursuit. On planes it is usually a ‘canned’ experience because connectivity to the ground is not cheap. However, with the demand of services like google Play, Amazon, MP3, NPR, Apple Music, Spotify and many more, there may be a future for advertised, real-time, streaming… if for no other reason than news. Today it’s the ‘under 17’ that spend the most streaming time but they do get older and will replace the ‘over 55’ who rely mostly on AM/FM – something to think about for your next IFE system.
Perhaps the past year has been better (data not out yet), but in the previous year (2014), the passenger count that lost a bag reached 24.1 million and, we note, the trend has been dropping (2007 – 18.9 lost bags per thousand pax, down 61.3% to 2014 – 7.3 lost bags per thousand pax). However with increasing load factors, increased seating and increasing traffic, it will be a real challenge for airlines to keep up. In 2014 it cost the airlines over $2 Billion for mishandled bags so the airlines are ahead of the $4.22 Billion in 2007. We also note that half of the issues were caused by transfer mishandling. Perhaps the new personal Bluetooth and Wi-Fi bag finders in conjunction with the new self bag tag programs, and the eventual electronic bag-tag programs (NFC and RFID) will reduce the loss even further in 2016. In fact, SITA has been making inroads with their BagManager baggage tracking service in 2015 and we anticipate this feature to take off in 2016.
We have shown a number of beacon devices in pictures from the IFE trade shows but basically we are talking about mobile location, mobile intelligence or mobile sales communication devices. These are small battery free or line powered devices that communicate with your device over Bluetooth (4.1) and Wi-Fi. The folks at SITA have been developing a lot of airport related solutions and it remains to be seen when they will come aboard planes. Developed at Apple, the iBeacon Registry is their effort to get this technology started in airports and here are their services: It allows beacon owners (airlines, airports or 3rd parties) to manage their beacon infrastructure and track where they are placed in an airport. The technology enables airports to monitor beacon deployment to prevent radio interference with existing Wi-Fi access points. It provides beacons owners with a simple mechanism to set the ‘meta-data’ associated with beacons. Also, it has an API for app developers who want to use these beacons for developing travel and other related apps. Notes SITA: “The aims of the registry are to promote the use of beacons in the Air Transport Industry and reduce the cost and complexity of deployment. This can be achieved with the following design goals:
- Promote shared beacon infrastructure to reduce cost and complexity of deployment.
- Introduce standard beacon types and data definition to encourage reuse.
- Provide a simple to use API to discover beacons and get meta-data about beacons.
- Provide tools to airport operators and beacon owners to visualize and track beacons.
- Be vendor agnostic – the service should work with beacons from any vendor.”
Furthermore, ABI Research notes: “Research data shows that, from a beacon shipment perspective, most vendors are shipping multiple contracts in the tens of thousands. This is a major upgrade from 2014, indicating that a lot of retailers are ramping up to deploy in 2016. Although not public yet, several original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) completed funding rounds, which will enable them to grow in 2016. Sensoro is emerging as a major market player, with more than 110,000 beacons deployed in China and some major orders lined up for 2016.”
This topic is massive and we will cover it for many times to come but we wanted to share one thought from an article in informationsecurotybuzz.com – titled: Human Behavior as the Biggest Threat to Company Security. “People were reported to be ‘almost universally’ the biggest weakness in information security, ahead of technology and processes. Of the respondents that reported to have an insider threat or policy, 70% offer employee training to minimize risk.” “The company employs intelligence teams that study different aspects of communications, user activity, social media, suspicious activity and other details,” said one respondent. “We’re seeing a lot more hands-on training, employee monitoring, and testing to address the issue,” said Ari Kaplan, security researcher. In fact, this human focused trend will be the number one item at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, the show of new things: “#1 Say Goodbye to Cool, Hello to Security and Safety. At CES we have come to expect the latest new shiny gadgets. There will be plenty of those this year, but that will not be the show’s main theme. The prevailing stories will center on security, safety and health services that help consumers in their daily lives.” The world is changing and aviation will be focused on this subject this year. Just consider how many folks touch technology that plugs into planes!
Don’t get too excited about virtual reality for aircraft applications. In fact, here is the view from Rick Merritt in EE Times who seems to agree: “Some people will claim virtual and augmented reality will be the next big thing in the run up to the debut of a handful of major platforms in the spring. But by fall the heat will start to fade as consumers, chilled by their high price tags and underwhelming performance, give a pass on them as gifts for Xmas 2016.” Some airlines have been flirting with the concept of VR for a number of years and have even featured the technology in their airline lounges, but we believe this technology has a long way to go before it can migrate successfully to the airborne environment, especially if motion sickness is taken into consideration!
We probably don’t need to say it but economy class will get more crowded, competition will drop air fares as competition ‘crams’ up… possibly a new ‘mini or micro’ class, there should be more mergers as more airlines take on the Delta World concept, deals and freebies will exist for the frequent fliers while the rest of the travelers will pretty much just exist inflight (if that’s possible), you will need better pre-boarding ID, Airbnb and Uber concepts will tempt a new US airline concept but the idea will be killed (this is a tough one in the US), and in the end VR may be needed after all to blunt the reality of coach class.
Women In Aviation Intl: Tracey Curtis-Taylor successfully completed her United Kingdom to Australia flight on January 1, 2016, recreating a pioneering 1930 solo flight by Amy Johnson. Tracey departed Farnborough airport on October 1, 2015, on her solo flight in a 1942 Boeing Stearman named the Spirit of Artemis. The flight covered 13,000 miles, including 50 legs, crossing 23 countries. Tracey is a keynote speaker at the 2016 International Women in Aviation Conference March 10-12 in Nashville, TN at the Friday morning general session, expected to be attended by nearly 4,500 participants.
IFPL just announced the delivery of a one millionth peripheral to Panasonic Avionics (see the News Releases section for the full story).
Lastly, we are working on a few surprises for 2016, but more on this later…
- 11 aircraft now equipped with streaming IFE system, branded as OnAir Entertainment
- No modification made to aircraft interior
- Onboard portal a twin-image of new web-based magazine design
- Seatback decals being used to advertise OnAir Entertainment features
Ljubljana, Slovenia | December 14, 2015– Slovenia’s largest airline (1.13m passengers carried in 2014) has expanded, rebranded and transformed its traditional paper inflight magazine concept to create OnAir Magazine and OnAir Entertainment, twin content platforms available at the airline’s website and onboard its aircraft.
On Adria Airways’ beautiful new website, launched officially December 10th (www.adria.si), OnAir Magazine content has become a central theme. Editorial from the airline’s paper inflight magazine has been reformatted into compelling online stories aimed at inspiring people to explore Slovenia and destinations beyond. Online content is being updated constantly and is organized into categories such as People, Cuisine, Aviation, and Culture and History.
The digital entertainment experience continues onboard Adria’s fleet of 11 Airbus 319 and Bombardier CRJ aircraft, where OnAir Entertainment replicates and expands upon the website concept. Using AirFi boxes (powerful, lightweight server/wireless access points or WAPs) the airline is streaming magazine content, flight information, shopping catalogues, destination videos, menus, HTML5 games, chat functions and newspapers directly to passenger’s own mobile devices.
“With the introduction of OnAir Magazine and OnAir Entertainment, we have brought rich and diverse archive of content together under a single brand,” explained Iztok Franko, Adria’s marketing and IT director. “We are particularly excited about the future of the OnAir Entertainment portal, which is made possible by the AirFi box. We’re very pleased at the speed with which we were able to roll-out this service and the quality experience our passengers are now enjoying. New features will be added regularly.”
On other European short and medium-haul carriers, AirFi box Wi-Fi programs have seen initial uptake numbers between 22% and 30%. Adria Airways could do better, however, as it has taken a highly proactive approach to educating passengers about OnAir Entertainment, even creating a special seatback decal explaining how to connect.
“Adria Airways is a brilliant airline to work with,” commented Job Heimerikx, CEO of AirFi. “They’ve really explored every utility of our box, increasing passenger loyalty and affinity by providing information and entertainment in many forms. It’s rewarding to help an airline please passengers and to have the platform operational overnight on their entire fleet. The flexibility of the AirFi instantly proves itself in Adria’s multimedia strategy”
The economical AirFi box is a totally portable streaming solution (no aircraft modification is necessary), so Adria was able to avoid a number costs and certifications associated with other IFE solutions.
This story grew out of proportions as we developed it and so we will run it in a couple parts to follow in succeeding issues of IFExpress. Our streaming video tale began innocently enough with our disgust with conventional TV and the “Paid Programming” channels on our home DirecTV service. We, and many others in the US, have also signed up for Netflix mailed DVD service as well for about ten bucks a month. A commercial-free movie helped us suffer thru our lower cost, DirecTV subscription. We learned thru our tech guru that Netflix subscribers could watch streamed movie videos thru their laptops as a free service from Netflix at no additional charge. All we had to do was download the Silverlight software on the Netflix website and set up a movie queue on their website. In minutes we were watching “Casablanca”… how cool. There was no other hardware required to move into streamed entertainment! With a simple cable, the MacBook was pumping HDMI video to the flat screen, all streamed and controlled via the Internet. We wondered if this would work on the road at an airport (probably), overseas in a hotel (don’t know), or on an airplane (no idea), that all is needed is a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection to the Internet? We will have more on the airplane part later.
Then we heard about Roku. Roku is a small (5″ x 5″ x 1.5”) box that is connected to a TV and receives digital, streamed video thru an Ethernet or Wi-Fi and delivers content to your TV without turning your PC into a video server (see Diagram). We bet it runs a Silverlight kernel like your PC and for $100, it frees up your laptop for other duties. After some research, we discovered that some TV’s (Panasonic) optionally now come with the streaming service capability (probably Roku equipped) and are able to snag over 52,000 movies from Netflix and Amazon On Demand like a PC or Roku. They offer a majority of paid showings but at least 12,000 free with a Netflix subscription. But what has this to do with InFlight Entertainment?
Consider the coming impact of this streaming revolution on mobile entertainment demands: If you think people want entertainment in hotel rooms and airports, wait till they get on an airplane and get a Wi-Fi connection. Sources tell us (last issue) that on the Alaska Air/Row44 demo planes, users were watching YouTube and many were observed snagging streaming video. While we do not know of a Netflix user plane streaming, we would like to hear from any reader who has. More importantly, what impact will this need for IFE (providing no airline or service provider thru-put “throttling”)? What about those stream-it-yourself types who use SlingbBox devices? With Netflix offering more video, audio, and radio choice than any airborne server could possibly provide (granted, not the latest content), will there be a rush to increase airborne connectivity bandwidth, and/or an airline rush to throttle the passenger service, and/or will we see a decline in IFE demand? Both GoGo and Row44 service may see some interesting requests for speed (GoGo more so than Row44 because of the inherent available bandwidth) as laptops become streaming entertainment receivers. Hey, this could kill the airline pay-per-view model! The streaming video phenomenon is also flourishing in the smartphone world as Direct Broadcast Services seek to deliver streamed video to PEDS, MIDS, NetBooks, and any other connected device one might carry.
Next time we will talk about aircraft IFE video streams and a possible new paradigm for onboard, ground-based content delivery.