[Via Satellite 09-29-2015] Leo Mondale, president of Inmarsat Aviation, is calling on airlines and Internet service providers to look to the future of aviation before equipping for aircraft cabin Wi-Fi. During a speech at the APEX Expo in Portland, Ore., yesterday, Mondale called the industry out on several concepts that still need to be addressed across the In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) landscape.
“One of the biggest problems for passengers and connectivity today is that it still does not work. That is not an industry wrapping itself in glory,” said Mondale during the conference’s “Maximizing the Aviation Connectivity Business Opportunity” session.
While the satellite operator traditionally provided services for cockpit communications in the aircraft, Inmarsat began to focus on cabin operations as passenger interest in IFC took off in recent years. The company has been very active in the aviation industry, recently managing an aircraft tracking trial using airlines’ existing communications capabilities alongside Airservices Australia. Inmarsat also recently launched a combined LTE-based ground network and satellite network, dubbed the European Aviation Network, which will combine satellite-based S-band connectivity from Inmarsat with a ground-based LTE network developed and run by Deutsche Telekom.
As a company with a leg in both the data communications and aviation business, Mondale said Inmarsat was poised to deliver what some would see as hard truths to the industry. He began by noting the areas that members of the aviation industry still need to address regarding IFC, including cyber security, and ensuring that connectivity was not creating another vulnerability opportunity in the aircraft.
“Can you prove that there is no security issue here? I think the industry is going to have to rise to that occasion and provide triple assurance that this is as secure of a connection as you are going to get,” said Mondale.
Mondale also spoke to the quality of service surrounding IFC that airlines are able to deliver passengers. He said airlines need to not only deliver technology that is capable of handling today’s expectations, but also managing those expectations that will evolve as well.
“The fact that you are picking technology today that is supposed to last you two more turns on the mobile technology, with devices that roll over every nine to 18 months — that’s common in that market — keeping up with that, or even catching up, is going to be a non-trivial task,” said Mondale, calling on the industry to rise to the equation. In this respect he spoke to how the current Internet capabilities might evolve as well. “5G is very much on the radar, and it’s going to be very much better and higher performance than 4G,” he added.
To move forward with IFC, Mondale called on these issues to be addressed “full on and in a very honest way.” Although he noted that addressing these issues would not be easy, cheap or obvious. To this effect, he touted a hybrid satellite and ground network solution, which Inmarsat committed to in 2014, as the best way to service high-density traffic areas during peak times of operation.
“Very small radio cells are the best way to serve high density users and markets. That’s obviously true in terrestrial technology; it’s also true in aviation communications. The way you can serve large numbers of aircraft and, of course, the passengers on them in concentrated traffic areas during peak busy hours, is with smaller cells. It concentrates the power, reuses the underlying radio resource, and reduces frequencies. And, frankly, there’s only so much you can do from space,” Mondale said, noting that this only works if you have enough raw material in your system to realize those benefits. This has been a problem in the United States, according to Mondale, but with Europe, should present enough resources to “outperform” any satellite technology during high-density peak busy hours.
“You have to size your network for the peak, because that is when reputations are made. That’s when quality impressions are made. During those peaks, it’s not going to be good enough to do it on average,” said Mondale.
He also noted that the “speed war,” or providers competing to deliver the fastest megabit per second, was also not ranking as important to customers, and that guaranteed speed per device was likely a more important metric, ultimately.
In terms of business model, Mondale emphasized that every airline needed to operate on its own business model and, therefore, it’s own solution. Moreover, Mondale took on what he called the “myth” that the business model of selling Internet in megabytes per second (Mbps) was one that would work for the aviation industry.
“I’ve heard statements that everybody sells mobile data by the megabyte, and that actually isn’t true. The way mobile data is sold in most of the world is in very large gigabyte per month allowances, and it’s a very different thing to count a gigabyte allowance than it is to count megabytes, because you will be appalled at how quickly your smartphone and your tablet consumes megabytes,” said Mondale. “That is not the way customers expect to buy data. They expect to pay once and get enough to do what they are going to do in the period they are paying.”
While Mondale admits that Inmarsat does have aircraft flying that operate on this model, he maintains that this is an ineffective model to sell to the consumer industry, which will likely end up unhappy and cause more customer service issues than before IFC entered the picture.
Ultimately, Mondale encouraged airlines to look to the future of aviation, technology and customer habits before they equip for IFC, and choose a flexible solution that will enable them to keep up with the times, so to speak. He said he has been preparing Inmarsat and its customers to understand the industry needs to do more as a whole. He talked about the progress needed in satellites, terminals, on-board networks, and ground systems in terms of facilitating the ease of use. “That is not going to come from a single, one-time technology choice. And I would encourage everyone to not make their decisions based on single, one-time technology choices,” Mondale added, citing that it’s often years before the last aircraft is even installed with an IFC system.
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