Panasonic to trial eXConnect on BBJ before commercial launch

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Panasonic Avionics this summer will trial eXConnect on a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) in advance of its planned launch of the Ku-band in-flight connectivity service - and its new television network - on commercial operators.

The in-flight entertainment (IFE) giant last week revealed it has secured an initial customer base of five airlines for eXConnect - two from Europe, two from Asia and one from Africa. Installation on the first major customer will occur "late in the calendar year of 2009" following the BBJ trial, Panasonic director of corporate sales and marketing Neil James told ATI today.

The five-strong group represents a mixture of trial and firm customers for eXConnect, "but the majority of the five are beyond trial - they are looking to implement it across a significant portion of their fleet", reveals James.

All five have selected the eXPhone onboard mobile phone service offered under partnership with AeroMobile.

Some of these same customers have also agreed to offer passengers the Panasonic Airline Television Network, a proprietary broadcast TV distribution network that includes a selection of broadcast television channels specifically licensed by the firm for worldwide distribution to aircraft in-flight.

Internet protocol (IP) is the data delivery method for the programming but the experience "is much more in line with traditional DBS (direct broadcast satellite) in that we're not targeting the laptop or passenger device as the display device", says Scott Scheer, manager of programming and media services within Panasonic Avionics' global communication groups. "Rather we are integrating it into IFE systems."

Multi-year deals with five major television news groups have been announced, including Al Jazeera, BBC World News, the Bloomberg Television network, euronews and France 24.

However, Panasonic intends to launch the service with seven to eight core channels, including some sports programming, and build from there as the market demands, says Scheer.