Panasonic Avionics believes it has the advantage of being able to learn from Connexion by Boeing's earlier attempt to provide in-flight broadband connectivity services after securing the latter's former lead customer Lufthansa as the first customer for its new eXconnect service.
In an eagerly awaited selection, Lufthansa has confirmed it has chosen the Panasonic solution to relaunch its onboard broadband Internet service, FlyNet - nearly three years after Connexion by Boeing pulled the plug on its service.
While Connexion by Boeing ultimately failed to create the financial case to continue, both Lufthansa and Panasonic believe they are better positioned this time around to establish a sustainable business model.
"It's been a long time that Panasonic has been looking and working on the broadband product," explained Panasonic Avionics chief executive Paul Margis, during a press conference in Frankfurt to announce the new service. "Boeing did an excellant job in proving it could be done and one of the advantages we have is we are able to see what worked and what didn't.
"We are not trying to create an independent eco-system," he says, noting the company has been looking to leverage what is already out there. This includes working with partners including marine connectivity specialist MTN Satellite Communications to provide the Ku-band satellite network services for the Panasonic connectivity product and with Aeromobile on in-flight mobile communications services.
"Technology has moved on and we can better use the spectrum," says Margis, adding the company also benefits because as an IFE provider it sees connectivity as just one part of the product.
"We see it as a much bigger picture. The communications is an enabler of it, not the end goal."
Panasonic believes it will also benefit from Lufthansa's earlier experience and understanding of in-flight broadband connectivity, and is even able to re-use some of the former system Lufthansa had for the Connexion by Boeing service. "We are re-using the antenna sub-system and replacing the modem that connects with the ground," Margis explains. "In parallel there is a new antenna developing going on, but even that will use the existing [antenna] footprint."
Lufthansa had around 70 aircraft flying with Connexion by Boeing and expects to be able to rapidly ramp up the Panasonic system-equipped fleet to enable it to launch the service mid next year on around 50 aircraft. It hopes to have its full long-haul fleet, numbering up to 100 aircraft, outfitted by the end of 2011.
Margis adds he expects more carriers to follow Lufthansa's lead on connectivity. "Lufthansa is the launch customer for eXconnect. There are other airlines potentially on their way. I think once they [airlines] see Lufthansa move in this direction, there will be more," he says.