Condor readies to launch wireless IFE from Lufthansa Systems

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German holiday carrier Condor is gearing up to become the first carrier in the world to offer wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE) to passengers after reaching agreement to fit Boeing 767 aircraft with Lufthansa Systems' new BoardConnect solution.

Unveiled this week at the ITB conference in Berlin, BoardConnect is based on a Wi-Fi network which passengers can log on to through seat-back screens or their own laptops, tablet PCs, smartphones or other WiFi-enabled devices to access a range of video and audio on demand, games and other content.

IT specialist Lufthansa Systems, a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group, will install and certify the BoardConnect system that is expected to fly on a single 767 by this summer and could be rolled out to the rest of Condor's fleet thereafter.

"We are working on supplemental type certificate for FAA and EASA and Condor is the first customer here in Europe. We have other customers, which we are not announcing as of now, but we are working with other customers as well," Lufthansa Systems CIO Jorg Liebe tells ATI and Flightglobal.

He says the system is much easier to install than traditional IFE "because there is no wiring required" and "we don't use all of the seat distribution units", thereby reducing the number of line replaceable units (LRUs). Furthermore, the system "can be integrated during a regular maintenance check, so there's no need for extra downtime".

Lufthansa Systems is using 802.11n as its primary standard for implementing the wireless local area network. A broadband connection is not required, and indeed Condor's installation will offer IFE without a broadband link.

However, the combination of wireless IFE and in-flight broadband opens up "the possibility to offer more services", notes Liebe.

The content issues faced by Lufthansa Systems, particularly with regard early window movie content, are challenging, but Liebe says the firm is in "final discussions with the studios and we are pretty confident we can reach agreement".

He points out that Lufthansa Systems is using digital rights management (DRM) from Microsoft, "the same DRM as is used by Netflix in the US".

Passengers logging on to the wireless network will be greeted with a splash page that directs them to the IFE programming. "We are using the Microsoft Silverlight [platform], which is again widely used by Netflix for their application, so it's very similar to flash so a passenger needs to have Silverlight installed in their browser and that's all that is needed.

"Everything else comes from the server. The user interface will be based on the airline's requirements and will be completely different for each and every airline."

The concept of wireless IFE is not new, although it has yet to be implemented in commercial service. Boeing, for instance, originally planned to offer wireless IFE on its 787 twinjet. Panasonic Avionics and Thales were successful in developing wireless systems for the 787 from a technical standpoint, but wireless distribution required too much sacrifice in functionality and didn't achieve the desired weight savings and Boeing ultimately decided to offer traditional in-seat IFE solutions to 787 customers.

"If you look at what the traditional [IFE] providers were providing for the 787 programme and count the number of access points and wires to those access points, it's very understandable that during that time and their approach you didn't save a lot of weight. What we're doing is completely different. For the Condor 767, we'll have five access points installed and that's it," says Liebe.

This week at the ITB show Lufthansa Systems has been demonstrating how, with just two access points, it can provide wireless IFE to 80 netbooks. "And we could do it on one access point alone," says Liebe.