Arinc is nearing a major milestone with its Cabin Connect in-flight wi-fi system as Virgin Atlantic prepares to go "live" with the service on three of its Airbus A330s.
Cabin Connect provides an onboard wireless hot spot that enables passengers to connect personal electronic devices to the internet via Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband network. Arinc signed a memorandum of understanding with launch customer Virgin in September 2012 and finalised the contract in November.
"Very quickly from the contract signature we've moved into deployment," says Lee Costin, Arinc's director of satellite solutions and cabin services.
The first Virgin A330 for the trial had the system fitted during a heavy maintenance check at SR Technics in January, and met certification requirements with "flying colours", says Costin. The second aircraft was equipped at London Gatwick in March.
"We believe that installation of the wireless component can happen within two overnight installs rather than taking large amounts of time out of service for the airline, which is something that is extremely important for the product and customers going forward," says Costin.
A third A330 is undergoing modification, clearing way for the 12-month trial to go live for transatlantic passengers within the next few months. "We're just finalising the exact date with Virgin Atlantic at the moment," says Costin.
"We're continuing to see strong interest across both single-aisle and widebodied fleets for connectivity," he adds. "We are announcing further enhancements of our Cabin Connect service at Aircraft Interiors."
The system comprises a server located in the aircraft's avionics bay and four wireless access points in the cabin. There are master control panels in the flightdeck and cabin for use by the crew.
"It's a relatively simple solution, but the devil's always in the detail," says Costin.
"The commercial model is we're selling this service as an enabler for the airline. The airline cabin environment is the airline's shop window - it's up to them how they want to then package that to the passenger. We're building this to enable them so they can charge either through credit cards, have this as part of voucher deals and promotions, or make this part of the ticket price.
"We've now got an environment on board that has wireless connectivity to passenger devices so there are plenty of other value-adds that can be added on to that platform, both revenue opportunities and improving the service within the cabin."
In addition to web browsing and email capability, the system is also set up to provide news, sport and weather updates, as well as useful connecting-flight and arrival information. Costin says the 432kbps data rate is "able to serve more than enough concurrent users to service an airline".
If successful, the trial could be extended across Virgin's planned fleet of 10 A330s.
Costin acknowledges a natural evolution of the system would be to deploy it to stream entertainment content to passenger devices, as an alternative to embedded in-flight entertainment (IFE).
"We're seeing two schools of thought," says Costin. "Where there's an embedded IFE system it's seen very much as being complementary, as an alternative method to add value from an airline to a customer. But there are obviously other situations where you have airlines that don't have any IFE at the moment, and there's a good potential then to start streaming information over this service.
"At the moment we are able to push - with our live news product - some data up there for streaming of things like news and sports bulletins. There are potential evolutions to include other data."
However, he cautions that it would not be economically viable to stream video content from the ground, so this content would have to be hosted on board the aircraft.