What does 2011 hold for in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC)? That’s not the easiest question to answer. After all, technology is moving SO fast, and a host of new players are entering the field.
I decided to put the query to industry expert Jonathan Norris, who holds the title of vice-president cabin design office at Airbus, and chairs the technology committee at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).
Here is Jon’s forecast for the year. It represents his own personal predictions, and not those of his employer or APEX.
1) More airlines will elect to move away from ‘traditional’ centralized head-end server IFE systems to lower weight, lower cost, simplified architecture systems which have eliminated (or significantly optimised) head-end servers in favour of seat-centric ‘smart’ screens with local content data storage and processing. Examples of these types of systems include (but are not limited to) 1) Zodiac’s SiT system that recently began flying on Royal Jordanian’s A340s, 2) Lumexis FTTS that recently began flying on flydubai’s B737-800s and 3) IMS’s RAVE system which SriLankan Airlines has recently ordered for installation on its A330s and A340s.
2) A ‘new-comer’ (not necessarily one of the three named above) will enter the ‘arena’ taking-on the current long range (twin-aisle) aircraft IFE duopoly and win a ‘significant’ airline order comprising both linefit and retrofit installations. This ‘new-comer’ will also aggressively challenge the short range (single-aisle) market. I think it is inevitable that there will be some consolidation within the supply chain as the incumbents ensure that their product range remains competitive.
3) In the short range (single-aisle) market I believe we will see a steady move away from overhead ‘drop-down’ video to individual seat-centric screens as passengers become increasingly used to having individual screens, i.e. the myriad of personal electronic devices available to passengers today (smart phones, tablet PCs etc), highly integrated economy seats, HD quality content and as airlines continue to reinforce their brand to compete with other market offerings.
4) Whilst many airlines will continue to ‘explore’ the use of portable IFE devices (be they purpose built or re-purposed COTS devices such as iPads, Sony Play Stations etc) I believe that the challenges of 1) getting studio approval to host early window content and 2) the logistics of battery and content management and 3) the competition from the new breed of ‘seat-centric’ simplified IFE systems will keep these devices in a ‘niche market’ position and restrict their market penetration.
5) More airlines will realise the necessity of offering in flight connectivity to their passengers as it becomes a ‘must-have’ to compete in this über-connected world – much as IFE became a ‘must-have’ 10 to 15 years ago. The various charging models for in-flight connectivity will also evolve during 2011 as airlines seek to balance potential ancillary revenues with potential operational cost reductions that a connected aircraft can bring. For the late-adopters of connectivity, airlines will have the significant benefit in 2011 of being able to try-out many of the connectivity technologies being offered on the market today: AeroMobile, AirCell, Iridium, OnAir, Panasonic eXConnect / eXPhone, Row44 and draw their own conclusions on system performance versus promises.
6) 3D IFE is not going to realise any significant market penetration in aircraft cabins – it’s at the top of the hype curve today (see Gartner’s 2010 Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle below), whereas HD will become de-facto.