Inmarsat: How many passengers will pay for Ku-band?

With in-flight Internet, unless you can make money on it, why the heck would you provide it? If passengers aren’t willing to pay for it, what’s the point?

Ku-band connectivity is a great promise, loads of bandwidth – that’s fantastic. But how many people on the aircraft are going to pay to use it?

If you look at the usage, I’ll bet you’ll have one, two, three or four high-end users who will use loads of bandwidth, while others will do a couple of emails. You won’t have a lot of people doing streaming video and Skype because very few people actually do that. If you’re an airline, why would you bolt on that [Ku-band] solution if you’re going to have three to five users?

These are just some of the questions that Lars Ringertz would like to see answered.

You’ve no doubt heard of Ringertz, Inmarsat’s head of marketing aeronautical business. He has been running the speaking circuit like nobody’s business. From Vancouver to Hong Kong – and loads of places in between – the man has been getting the word out about Inmarsat’s 432kbit/sec SwiftBroadband solution.

SwiftBroadband does not give passengersthe same sort of high-speed Internet experience they’re accustomed tohaving on the ground; rather it can support a ‘lite’ Internet experience, or managed Internetsuch as Arinc’s Oi offering (which adds cached content for punch), while simultaneously supporting voice anddata capabilities.

But do you really need to be the slickest kid on the block to get some action? And do carriers really need to offer high-speed Internet to passengers in order to keep them satisfied?

Ringertz doesn’t think so (as you’d expect considering his title). During a cracking interview this week, Ringertz said: “We’re not sexy and we’re not possibly the flavour of the day but the certified avionics list is constantly getting longer. Nobody is paying these manufacturers to get type-approved on multiple aircraft. They are independent companies. They do it because this is the mainstream solution. In that respect it is business as usual for us,” says Ringertz.

He suggests that it’s very easy to get carried away with the discussion about in-flight Internet at the moment because air-to-ground (ATG)-based Aircell and Ku-band-based Row 44 “have been extremely successful with their announcements”.

But the Inmarsat executive is not convinced that enough people will pay for Ku-band service to make it a viable business model in the near-term.
 
“Getting people to change their behaviour and start spending money in a different way is very difficult. Yes, you have road warriors whose behaviour is to pay for Internet in hotels and when they are out and about, and yes you might be able to do that, but when mom and pop are flying, it might not be part of their spending habits,” he says.

So if passengers won’t pay for Ku-band, who will? Says Ringertz: “At the end of the day, it’s about who is putting the hand in their pocket, which is why new technology is fantastic but it has to be something very tangible as a benefit for you, the airline, to do it.”

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3 Responses to Inmarsat: How many passengers will pay for Ku-band?

  1. Bob September 11, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    Used the new Internet service on Air Tran flight, ATL – SEA, a 4 hour flight. It worked very well, better than many ground locations. Did not see another passenger using the service. Price was $12 for 4 hour flight. This is a big plus for business travel customers, especially on long flights.

  2. Shannon September 11, 2009 at 7:10 pm #

    I think it is naive for someone to think people will not expect to have internet access while flying. Not just the business traveler-a whole new tech savvy generation is on it’s way. Isn’t this the same thing people first said when satellite tv was first installed on aircraft?

  3. Mushroom September 23, 2009 at 7:03 am #

    Shannon,

    Satellite TV was free (or priced into your tickets) the biggest hurdle is getting someone to pull their credit card out and punch in the long number on the front to pay for something.

    Many businesses fail because they do not realise how hard that little act can be for a user.