INTERIORS: In-flight wi-fi arena hots up with Arinc's Cabin Connect

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Competition in the in-flight wi-fi sector just got more intense now that Arinc has thrown its hat into the ring with a new Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-supported wi-fi solution.

Arinc's so-called Cabin Connect Suite will directly compete with Airbus/SITA joint venture OnAir's SwiftBroadband-based wi-fi system.

It is being introduced at a time when Inmarsat is offering more attractive pricing for its L-band-based SwiftBroadband aeronautical service, and intends to make four channels available per aircraft beginning next month.

The Cabin Connect Suite is so cost effective, said Arinc, that airlines can now choose whether to provide the service free of charge or as a potential revenue generator or can charge passengers directly with a new flat fee charging structure.

"L-band is strategic in that you can combine safety services with cabin services and offer both, along with real-time credit card authorization and the content distribution side all combined in a business case makes for a very compelling offering," said Lee Costin, director of Arinc's satellite solutions and cabin services.

Real-time credit card authorization, in particular, will enable airlines to sell more luxurious, higher unit price items in their duty free sales and be "safe in the knowledge that the risk of onboard fraud is significantly reduced".

Arinc previously planned to bring to market a SwiftBroadband solution called Oi, which would give passengers access to a mixture of cached and live web content via their laptops.

"We've taken a step back and looked at what airlines want in communications and that's wi-fi for electronics so while some features of the Cabin Connect Suite are similar, it's actually a completely new service and product offering for us", said Costin.

He noted that Arinc has become a SwiftBroadband distribution partner, "so we're wholesaling but we are also closer to the product so we can differentiate ourselves a lot more".

Unlike OnAir, which also offers an in-flight GSM product via SwiftBroadband, Arinc is "not looking to develop a GSM solution" said Costin. "Clearly there are providers out there - Panasonic Avionics/AeroMobile for example - with whom we can integrate with so there is a GSM possibility but it's not a service Arinc is selling. We are really concentrated on the wi-fi."

Arinc expects initial contracts to be won in the retrofit market. Airbus, part of the OnAir JV, "is probably reluctant", while a lot of programs at Boeing are "currently stalled or in critical phases of delivery" so linefit options with them "is not going to be a short piece of work", said Costin.

Nicole Grainger, business manager, satellite solutions at Arinc said the firm has a number of potential new customers in the pipeline "spanning across regional and flag carriers". The suite "also works for all those US carriers" that offer connectivity on domestic US routes but require a "continuity of service" on international flights.