As the conversation heats up about whether or not current in-flight Wi-Fi business models make sense, it’s easy to forget just how jaw-droppingly cool – and entertaining and useful – it is to surf the web at 30,000ft. And while people like me (journa-bloggers always on deadline) may fall into the minority who are willing to pay $20 for unfettered access to airborne Internet, the number of folks who want connectivity – at least in some form – is growing fast.
For lack of a better word, the techies are spreading like a virus and soon we won’t want to be disconnected for five or eight or 12 hours during flight (how we pay for the pleasure is another conversation entirely). Even JetBlue Airways subsidiary LiveTV, which believes wholeheartedly in free in-flight Wi-Fi, is exploring an ultra-high-speed Ka-band satellite solution.
That is one of the reasons why major in-flight entertainment (IFE) manufacturers are taking connectivity very seriously. Panasonic Avionics, for example, is readying to equip aircraft with highly-connected IFE systems. Executive director, corporate sales and product management Neil James in April gave a presentation at the WAEA meeting in Kuala Lumpur about Panasonic’s “future view” for gadgets and gizmos, which factor strongly into the firm’s vision for IFE&C (see below). Look very closely (i.e. click on the actual graphic).
If you think in-flight connectivity isn’t here to stay, think again.
In that vein, here’s hoping Aircell can figure a way forward because that company has done something that none other has ever managed to do (including Boeing) - equip a vast amount of aircraft in the USA with in-flight Wi-Fi. One of Aircell’s customers, Virgin America, is already working to make its Panasonic-built IFE systems more connected via the Gogo link (we’ll talk more about this later). But I’m sure Charles Ogilvie could tell us a thing or two about that. After all, it’s all about connections.