Thales and Panasonic travel different paths to connectivity

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Rival in-flight entertainment system manufacturers Thales and Panasonic are taking different approaches to bringing connectivity in-flight, with the former now confirming it will use Inmarsat's new aeronautical service SwiftBroadband and the latter sticking to a Ku-band offering.

"Thales has done a fairly exhaustive assessment of the market and the technologies and is moving forward with SwiftBroadband connectivity solutions that we're offering to the marketplace," says Thales vice-president and general manager for IFE Alan Pellegrini.

Solutions are being tailored to operate through embedded IFE platforms and as a standalone connectivity option, and will be offered under the TopFlight brand. Thales is also one of the manufacturers bringing to market the avionics for SwiftBroadband, which became commercially available through distribution partners in late October.

In speaking to the avionics manufacturers, a lot of airlines have been putting all the provisions in their aircraft so that they are basically ready to go if they decide to push the button and start doing things," says Inmarsat head of marketing, aeronautical business Lars Ringertz.

"If you look at the Ku-band alternatives, they basically have to start from scratch. There is a lot further to go to start using the service."

Pellegrini predicts that Ku-band may take hold in the USA, but says that "given Connexion by Boeing's demise, the significant investment they made, the lack of business model they've proven, I think it is prudent to move at a modest pace with that particular technology".

Used globally for satellite broadcasting, Ku-band is ideal for high-data rate communications, and is less susceptible to electrical interference problems, say champions of the service. Last year, Panasonic began offering to assume the service requirements of Connexion.

While still prepared to accommodate former Connexion customers - whose aircraft are equipped with the Mitsubishi Electric antenna system - the company is offering new broadband customers its eXconnect service using Starling Advanced Communication's Ku-band antenna system.

Panasonic also has not excluded itself entirely from the L-band sphere. A partner in Panasonic's eXconnect service, Arinc/Telenor joint venture AeroMobile, is providing mobile phone capability using existing Inmarsat "Classic" Aero and Swift64 satellite communication systems, with greater bandwidth coming available through SwiftBroadband.

The relationship with Panasonic is "a preferred reseller", says AeroMobile director of marketing David Coiley, noting that the firm is "able to work with all airline customers regardless of their IFE complement". Saudi Arabian Airlines, for example, has been revealed as the second confirmed customer for AeroMobile's cell phone service. Roll-out of the AeroMobile service will start in 2008 alongside the retrofit of Thales TopSeries IFE on the carrier's 22 Boeing 777-200s.