IFE&C news and rumour roundup (Dec 19)

Well folks, you might think I’ve headed south for the winter or propped up my feet with a glass of sherry in hand, but in reality RWG is actually working this Friday before Christmas.

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That’s right. I’m forgoing a third holiday luncheon cocktail to write the IFE&C weekly news roundup. Just like last week’s roundup, we’ll go in a nice, orderly fashion, starting with HARD NEWS, followed by RUMOUR and SPECULATION (ie. unsubstantiated but delicious) and lastly more TOTALLY UNSUBSTIANTED stuff.

HARD NEWS:

Just because I’ve had a fixation with Wi-Fi-enabled activity of late, doesn’t mean I don’t recognize what’s happening on the other side of the pond. UK carrier BMI has begun a six-month trial of OnAir’s in-flight communications technology but has initially opted against enabling voice calls on mobile phones. BMI becomes the first British carrier to offer passengers this functionality. The carrier will trial the service for six months on a single Airbus A320 aircraft operating between Heathrow and Moscow. In addition to sending texts, passengers will also have access to the Internet and email. “BMI is doing this as a trial partially to gather information on social etiquette regarding cell phones onboard an aircraft. Why would people who are so used to listening to conversations on the train and on a bus be so reluctant to prevent the same from happening on a flight?” asks a BMI spokesman. Bloody good question. I can’t think of a good answer (but I’m in the bring-it-all-on-board camp, as you are well aware).

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Interestingly, one day after OnAir released news of its BMI deal, AeroMobile announced that the 50,000th passenger has used its system on an Emirates flight. An arbitrary number? (Not if OnAir’s press release is dated 15 December, in my humble). The call took place on an Emirates service from Dubai to Cairo on Wednesday, 10 December. “The passenger, an Etisalat subscriber, connected to the network on his personal mobile phone to make a three minute call from 36,000 feet aboard the Emirates Boeing 777-300,” says AeroMobile in a statement, noting that the milestone was passed “in the ninth month of service with Emirates” which now operates the system “on five different aircraft types”. Okey doke. Got it!

The following falls into Hard News because it is Aircell going on record about its plans for bringing a feels-like-TV experience in-flight. A few of you had some questions about the Colorado-based company’s plan, and I forwarded them on.

Aircell says:

“In answer to your question about bandwidth for streaming content in the cabin, without going too deep into the technical details, we typically deploy three access points in an aircraft. Each access point supports 802.11 a/b/g technology and is configured to use different channels/frequencies to maximize bandwidth.  In addition, we use a proprietary technology for video/audio streaming applications that squeezes even more juice out of that bandwidth. All of that to say, we have no concerns about supporting the content streaming needs of the cabin.

“In answer to your question about licensing and paying for media when you already have access to the Internet, keep in mind that the two services – content and connectivity – are not necessarily connected. There may be occasions when all a passenger wants is an entertainment product, and we would enable that purchase as a decision separate of connectivity (although largely complementary to it).  And though there would be licensing fees depending on the type of content, we intend to have different offerings that will appeal to many price points.”

RUMOUR and SPECULATION from little birdies:

Okay, so we know that TriaGnoSys and VT Miltope have formed a strategic partnership “to provide end-to-end systems for in-cabin networks, focused on developing network backbones for aircraft, over which a range of services can be offered to passengers and crew”, including broadband Internet access.

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But did you know that they are also working closely with T-Mobile, ViaSat and AeroSat (antenna maker) to make Lufthansa Internet-happy once again?  I have heard from more than one source that this plan is progressing, although perhaps not as quickly as Wolfgang would like. The Connexion by Boeing antenna on Luftie’s aircraft might get a bit of play first though….ohhhhhhh. “Obviously we can also bank on T-Mobile becoming the third GSM service provider (with their partner Miltope/TriaGnoSys) in the industry after Aermobile and OnAir,” says a source. Another source tells me to expect more mobile operator giants like T-Mobile to get in the game of in-flight connectivity. Makes sense. Makes perfect sense. Will Panasonic continue to push its Ku-band solution with this sort of competition?

More TOTALLY UNSUBSTANTIATED stuff:

Thales has secured two major IFE wins – Gulf Air will equip 15-plus Gulf Air Airbus A320′s and Qatar Airways will equip 30 A320 family aircraft.

I may have skipped that third luncheon cocktail but it’s now dinner, so let the celebrations begin.

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