Our IFE&C weekly news roundup is a little light on this the day after Christmas, but it's not completely snow-flaky.
US Airways says that while it intends to trial in-flight Internet "at some point" it is not likely to do so anytime soon (hmmm, if this is the case can we assume that US Airways is not Aircell's fifth - and as yet undisclosed - customer for Gogo? Read on to Rumour and Speculation.)
Additionally, US Airways "can't get specific" about my questions concerning whether that Lumexis IFE trial is forthcoming.
RUMOUR and SPECULATION
I understand from a source that we're going to learn the identity of Aircell's fifth Gogo customer very shortly. An obvious guesstimate would be United Airlines, which was one of the first US majors to push forward with in-flight connectivity.
Pulling liberally from my own previous articles on the subject, United Airlines and now-defunct Verizon Airfone in the summer of 2005 claimed the distinction of becoming the first companies to receive FAA STC approval to install the necessary cabin equipment to enable passenger and crew use of Wi-Fi devices during flight.
Airfone later participated in the US Federal Communications Commission's 2006 auction of air-to-ground spectrum, but withdrew, and its competitor Aircell won the exclusive 3MHz licence to provide wireless broadband services on commercial aircraft. At that time, United said that it was "evaluating several systems" for offering broadband service domestically over an air-to ground (ATG) link, and internationally through a satellite link.
If that statement continues to hold true, it leaves only two options for United on the domestic front, Aircell and LiveTV, the latter of which acquired the 1MHz slice of spectrum at auction, and this year secured its ATG presence with the acquisition of Airfone's network.
If you think about it, a LiveTV-provided IFE&C solution wouldn't be totally out of the realm of possibility for United. After all, the Star Alliance member is readying to welcome LiveTV's newest customer, Continental Airlines, into the grouping's fold. Continental will offer 80 channels of live television plus basic connectivity services. That said, from an in-flight perspective, alliances aren't known for their consistency.
And what about AirTran? Here's another carrier that could conceivably go either way (Aircell or LiveTV). Through a relationship with LiveTV, the low-cost carrier currently offers XM Satellite Radio at every seat. But its Atlanta rival, Delta Air Lines, is going fleet-wide with Gogo. No doubt the pressure will soon be on AirTran to offer some form of connectivity. Interestingly, AirTran's in-flight magazine is called "Go".
Times Online is running a decent piece about in-flight entertainment (IFE). In it, industry veteran Alan Pellegrini, Thales' VP of in-flight systems, reinforces what we already know: Interactive IFE platforms that allow handheld devices to be introduced on a plug-and-play basis are now all the rage (quite necessarily if installed IFE is going to have a future).
Key quote from Pellegrini:
"We want to allow passengers to plug devices into their seat using a USB port and watch their own movies on our larger screens."
Large, flat-screen televisions with Internet connectivity and a movie selection comparable to a Blockbuster store are the future, adds the article's author, David Robertson. "Sadly, the size of the seat is likely to stay the same." Altogether now. Boooo....oooooo.....ooooooooo.
(Photo above of United 757 cabin. Courtesy AirTeamImages)