Lots happening out there so here's a news roundup...
First up, kudos to Inmarsat, which is expected to achieve global coverage of SwiftBroadband on 24 February. The aeronautical service supports in-flight mobile connectivity providers AeroMobile and OnAir, as well as a clever Internet solution being developed by Arinc. Check out Inmarsat's satellite repositioning page for a fuller break-down.
Next up, Southwest Airlines is urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant authority to Row 44. I've written a fuller story here, but here are a few key points and thoughts:
1) Southwest's trial of Row 44 is being conducted pursuant to a grant of modified experimental authority issued to a Hughes subsidiary on 5 February 2009 by the commission's office of engineering and technology. So essentially, the FCC saw fit to at least green-light the Southwest trial. I'd imagine that this bodes well for Row 44 and its larger aspirations.
2) Southwest says all passengers participating in this testing are being informed that, at this time, the in-flight connectivity service is being provided for experimental purposes only and that it "can be cancelled at any time". Okay, Southwest is being a bit careful here, admitting there is a possibility that final clearance might not be awarded. BUT, if the airline was really worried it probably wouldn't be pushing ahead with further equipage of three more Boeing 737s.
3) Yes, yes, I know. I've been covering this saga in a blow by blow fashion, and I'm sure you're wondering if I've grown tired of it. The answer to that my dear friends is: Hell No! Row 44 seems to do a lot of its talking in FCC filings these days so that's where I'm hanging. Thank you very much.
Now, what's next? Oh yes, portable IFE maker DigEcor gave me a grand interview yesterday. Check out my piece here. But here are some key points from that little ditty:
1) DigEcor is optimistic that take-up of its portable players will grow this year as airlines defer or cancel deliveries for new aircraft equipped with installed IFE hardware, predicts the firm's president and COO Brad Heckel.
2) DigEcor is still assessing the level at which passengers will use connectivity onboard aircraft. But he says the firm wants passengers to be able to access the Internet over its portable player to take advantage as much as possible of whatever bandwidth is available. As we know, DigEcor's first customer, Alaska Airlines, is slated to shortly begin trialling Row 44's Ku-band-based connectivity system.
3) DigEcor has ongoing programmes "where we are looking at more semi-permanent installations that would not require the type of wiring of an embedded system", says president and COO Brad Heckel. That IS interesting!
Now here's a big ole pic of DigEcor's XT model:
Okay, what else do we have? Ah yes, United Airlines has a very snazy web site about its international premium-class offering called Suite Dreams. The site has the latest info on its fleet retrofits (about 30% is completed). Here's a helpful chart (click on it for a bigger view):
United is one of about a dozen carriers offering iPod connectivity to passengers via Panasonic IFE. Speaking of Panasonic, the company remains confident that most of its airline customers will push forward with plans for IFE retrofits "and new aircraft IFE plans".
It notes that Airbus and Boeing are forecasting robust production rates for 2009 despite the current global economic crisis.
Lastly, AirFax has a really good update about US Airways' trial of Lumexis' fibre-to-the-screen IFE system. Read the full text here. But here's some key pars:
Firstly, the Lumexis fiber optic system has been installed on airplane T/N 680 in Rome, New York. With work beginning on Jan. 5, 2009 it took some 23 days to complete it. All seats have been equipped for a total of 150 stations. A FAA flight test was performed last week. Insiders state that installation supplier, Inflight Canada, exclaimed that Lumexis is the easiest retrofit of this level of system they have ever performed! One source noted that one of the installers said that with a bit of pre-installation effort on "A" checks, planes like A330's and A340's could be retrofitted in 7 days! Think about it, cable placement has been made a lot easier because of the complete disregard for EMI/RFI issues - cable placement and noise are a thing of the past because of the under floor seat boxes and dedicated cable "tubes".
We also understand that Inflight Canada designed the iCache system, which uses a patented beam (stringer) grabber that greatly did away with the drilling, rivets and sealing used in normal mechanical installs, and yes, we asked our spies about the fiber optic cable installation in the seats. It seems Smallhorn went to the Canadian Military to get smart on these processes and we hear they got a real education. The military uses a lot of fiber and has developed a skill set with this technology. This probably contributed to the easy seat modification that ensued. The system needed no special ATE or test equipment... they plugged in cables and it worked! About the only note we feel should be made is with respect to weight. While the Lumexis system itself is probably the lightest installed, full capability in-flight entertainment system, the added boxes and tubes of the full installation package no doubt raised the final number.
The Inflight Canada and Lumexis folks aren't talking but we think there is another North American customer in the works.