What you need to know before AIX in Hamburg (Part I)


I read a fascinating Newsweek article the other day while pretending to work out at the gym (yes, I do drag myself there at least once a fortnight when I’m not traveling and when I’m not…well, I do drag myself there at least once a month).

The article suggested that the Twitterization of our culture is having the unintended consequence of brain freeze. I don’t doubt that there is some truth to this argument. Some truth to this argument. Some truth to this argument. Unfortunately, for better or worse, I don’t have too much time to ponder it! There is SO much going on in the world of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and aircraft interiors that it’s nearly impossible to keep up (but we’re all trying, right?)

So let’s get started. As we all prepare for the big Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, portable IFE specialist The IMS Company is looking rather well-positioned to make a splash in the embedded industry. The company has secured Air Berlin and SriLankan as customers for its RAVE “seat-centric” in-flight entertainment system (pictured above), and is garnering serious attention from the likes of Lufthansa and many others, sources say.

Since its unveiling in Palm Springs in 2009, RAVE has undergone a little bit of a face-lift. The display now has a design akin to popular smartphones and other devices. Dare I say it looks “iPad-esque”? Yes, I dare. The graphical user interface (GUI) is also very modern looking. And check this – you can rate your IFE via RAVE.

“The rating system is just like you would find on the (Apple-like) devices today, and programs like YouTube,” says IMS vice president, sales and marketing Harry Gray.

Here’s what else you can expect from RAVE. Says Gray:

“Our displays come standard with an audio jack and USB port for charging of personal devices (as well as a game controller if desired).  A software program is available to capture any purchases as required, much like you would do for online purchases via your computer. The customization of a credit card reader, RCA jacks and PCU [passenger control unit] are all remote devices. The PCU is relatively self explanatory – user control for longer pitch seats (first and business class) as well as a game controller and Passenger Service System (reading light, flight attendant call / cancel) as standard. The customization comes with an RJU (Remote Jack Unit). This small device is customizable for various options (Credit Card reader, RCA jacks, all kinds of audio jacks, USB, etc., etc,., etc.).  This concept keeps our display standard, lead times short, and keeps the costs down for the customer.”

Rave i button.JPGBut what’s the funky little “i” button? It looks very “i”-well, you know. That button, says Gray, actually serves multiple purposes (see pic to the right). In a normal state, the button activates a slide-out (vertical) menu (settings) bar that includes electronic (software) switch options for the following:

1.       Volume – Up / Down

2.       Brightness – Up / Down

3.       Reading light – On / Off (for twin aisle aircraft only)

4.       Flight Attendant – Call / Call Cancel (for twin aisle aircraft only)

5.       Display Off (for night mode). 

6.       If needed (although most unlikely), it is also used for an individual seat reset.

IMS is now in discussions with a number of original equipment manufacturers for linefit offerability (not an easy task for anyone, although Sicma recently managed to break through with its SiT seat-centric IFE on the Airbus A330/A340 due in no small part, I’m sure, to the fact that it’s parent Zodiac already has a long-standing relationship with the airfrmaer).

One of the requirements of the “big 2″, Airbus and Boeing, is an installation, says IMS’s Gray.  “That task will be completed in a few short months, and we’ll be through the first gate.”

Another IFE firm making its mark in the industry is Lumexis, which is flying on flydubai, and has secured Transaero as its second customer, according to a report in ApexNews based on sources (a report that is now being widely discussed as fact in the industry).

But what does Lumexis – which has based its next gen fiber-to-the-screen (FTTS) IFE system on fiber optics – think of the “seat-centric” movement, especially now that IMS (and Sicma and Intelligent Avionics and others) are jumping into this space?

Lumexis CEO Doug Cline tells RWG:

“Panasonic and Thales had become extremely complacent over the years, disregarding the need for innovation while enjoying the largess of a duopoly. Now, they are both behind the eight-ball and having to very belatedly play catch-up as newbies are grabbing business due, in many cases, simply to the abused customers’ dissatisfaction with failure-prone headend-servers and non-redundant networks having repeatedly taken out large sections of their cabins’ passenger entertainment. 

“Not surprisingly, any new approach that gets rid of such headend dependency is highly appealing and terrestrial tablet-based (seat-centric) architectures are familiar, deceptively  simple answers, while server/network-based solutions like FTTS are “tarred with the same brush” of having the same problems as legacy systems. Yet the reality is that FTTS, at least, is dramatically different.

“Unlike legacy systems, in FTTS both its fully solid-state server and network paths are fully redundant, so that a failure of a server or one of the network paths causes no degradation in continued delivery of full HD video to every seat on the airplane  Nonetheless, a double failure, i.e., both a server and a network path, could take out multiple seats.  However, FTTS seat monitors do in fact have the option to use local storage right at the monitor in the same manner as seat-centric products. Thus,  this leading-edge architecture has the significant advantage of both huge bandwidth (80Mbps per seat) for delivery real-time of today’s and any future application, PLUS failover to seat-centric operation in the unlikely event of  multiple headend and network failures.

FTTS cabling.JPG“With the dramatic success of  terrestrial wireless connectivity and tablet-based PCs, it was inevitable that the IFE market would experience numerous new players emerging at the low end of the market, where the barriers to entry are low and the price competition will become cutthroat. It is TDB as to which companies will survive since, to my knowledge, none has yet flown, much less endured the rigors of airline service for a prolonged period.  (Although flydubai’s six FTTS-equipped B737-800s have flown over a thousand flights to date, I will stipulate that even that is still a relatively small number to validate the long-term durability of any airline in-seat IFE system.  But new planes are arriving at an average of about one per month, so the operating history data base is growing rapidly daily for FTTS.)

“Some newcomers, as you know, are touted as “Wireless”, but since all embedded systems of whatever architecture require copper wiring to power them, there is not such thing as a truly “wireless” AVOD system.  There are, however, wire-powered systems which rely on wireless data delivery that is subject to the changing RF environment we talked about Thursday afternoon.  My point is, why rely on such a variable path when it is so easy to run a tiny fiber optic “wire” in the same cable as the copper power wire? Since there is absolutely no radiation of RF from that glass data channel and no susceptibility to “crosstalk” interference, it just seems a no brainer!” (P.S. Try to spot the Lumexis fiber cable above…hint, it’s purple.)

Thanks Doug. There is lots of food for thought there (and some that P & T would contest, no doubt). But now let’s talk wirelessly wired IFE, ahem. We know that Lufthansa Systems has a system, which will launch on Condor this summer, but did you know that Siemans (with partner Altran) is going to launch a new wireless IFE solution at AIX? The solution will rely completely on the passengers’ bringing their own personal electronic devices (PEDs). I hear it’s kind of like the Zune system. Microsoft has been playing with the idea of streaming media to various PEDs. So the content will scale itself to the device (apparently they do it on some trains in Germany).

Then there is IFE Products, a firm that is launching a wireless AVOD system called “Genesis”. So it’s clear that there are a lot of people playing around with the idea of wireless IFE (be it to passengers’ own PEDs or in-seat screens). (Tangent – what a cool name…you can go so many places with Genesis, like the “Garden of Eden” GUI where Twitterized, over-caffeinated businesswomen can relax and take a chill apple pill).

Stay tuned for more pre-AIX love next week!

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