Bombardier has hinted at it before – that wireless IFE might find a place on the CSeries. But the company now believes there is “a good chance” that by the time its CSeries mainline airliner enters service in 2013, a wireless IFE offering may be viable.
The Canadian airframer tells RWG: “As we watch technology mature and as we listen to our customers we are starting to see a trend which would indicate that by 2013 a good portion of the common IFE systems (be that data, video, music, shopping etc) could be transmitted ‘wirelessly’.”
“The maturity isn’t quite there yet to be definitive, but there is a good chance that by 2013, you could get on-board entertainment downloads to your laptop, or as a minimum, we could only provide power to the seat back video monitors, but their content wouldn’t need a second wire, it would be transmitted wirelessly instead.”
At present, Bombardier is not directly in talks with IFE providers. “Instead we are monitoring the market and watching the trends, both from technology and customer demand point of view,” says the firm, adding: “We are not in a rush on this yet and as the technology evolves, we’ll be able to get the latest for the CSeries when EIS nears. Our customers are saying the same.”
We’ve talked a lot about the challenges of wireless IFE in the past. Boeing in 2007 scuppered plans to fit wireless IFE technology to its 787. One concern was that the 802.11n technology’s specification had not yet been ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
“With the ratification of the 802.11n spec, this challenge has been overcome,” Panasonic director of product marketing Cedric Rhoads told me last year. But other niggling issues persisted.
One of the lessons that Panasonic learned during the 787 wireless IFE project was that ultimately the weight savings in moving to a wireless distribution architecture was not realized as originally envisioned. “The concern for us was that the value of wireless was not there and it represented a very big trade-off in bandwidth, and thus capability”, said Rhoads.
Thales chief engineer Ken Brady agreed with this assessment, noting that if you choose to do wireless, you’re certainly providing less potential capability.
Wireless IFE came back into focus last year when Airbus commissioned Bluebox Avionics to provide its wireless system for inclusion in the A380 demonstration mock-up in Hamburg.
The test could assist Airbus in deciding if the technology makes sense for offerability on its A350. But in light of Bombardier’s clear interest, and Airbus’ potential interest, perhaps it’s time for Panasonic and Thales to again focus on a wireless IFE offering.