Achieving linefit offerability for in-flight connectivity is tricky business, fraught with all sorts of challenges that would make your head spin. Thales is currently working towards achieving offerability for its Ka-band connectivity solution on the Airbus A350, and the company says it has secured an undisclosed customer for the offering, as well as for its Android-based AVANT in-flight entertainment (IFE) system. So kudos to Thales.
BUT, I'm now hearing that Qatar, while having selected Thales' AVANT IFE for its A350s (and 787s), is opting for Airbus' ALNA connectivity platform (with OnAir handling the GSM/Wi-Fi) instead of Thales' own GSM/Wi-Fi solution on the Airbus widebodies (contrary to my prior report that Thales had scored both!)
Initial A350 deliveries to Qatar will offer ALNA via Inmarsat SwiftBroadband until Ka is available (and that will occur when Inmarsat Global Xpress is available).
So, why this decision on the part of Qatar? Without the benefit of an interview with Al Baker (I must tap my colleague Max Kingsley-Jones for assistance there) I suppose there could be any number of reasons, but I'd imagine an Airbus-provided solution for an Airbus aircraft is going to be less expensive, don't you?
Airbus hasn't been totally blatant about its march towards becoming a major in-flight connectivity player (alright, it is in a JV with SITA for OnAir) but the airframer's role as a connectivity force to be reckoned with is becoming more defined as it flogs ALNA/OnAir (SBB initially, Ka later for mobile AND Wi-Fi) as an alternative to what is on offer from the IFE providers, Thales and Panasonic. Will this ultimately snatch the connectivity deals out of the hands of Thales and Panasonic, effectively relegating them to IFE providers on the A350?
Not so fast. Singapore Airlines will launch Panasonic's Android-based eX3 IFE system on its Airbus A350s and the firm's Ku-band eXConnect Internet solution. And, as mentioned above, Thales has secured an undisclosed customer for IFE and Ka on the A350. The two deals show that IFE manufacturers are still scoring connectivity business despite Airbus' ALNA proposition.
But, one wonders, is the time quickly approaching when airlines forgo IFE altogether and simply offer superfast Ka connectivity to passengers? And if so, doesn't Airbus seem to be, oh how shall I describe it, well positioned? I wonder if we'll see litigation in this particular sector yet.