Airlines are taking a second look at using Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband (SBB) aeronautical service to support in-flight internet for passengers, following the London-headquartered firm's decision to offer more attractive pricing and double the number of channels available per aircraft as part of the evolution of the service.

"With the new flexible pricing, SBB is packaged and set up in such a way that it can support sustainable passenger wi-fi internet access if you want to do that," said Inmarsat head of aeronautical marketing, Lars Ringertz.

He added: "The airlines realise it's a very sensible strategy to go with SBB today, as it is affordable, and then offer Ka-band connectivity in the future."

While specific details of the new pricing scheme have not been publicly disclosed, a source with knowledge of the situation said he expects that, after these changes SBB - operated over Inmarsat's I-4 L-band satellites - will be "more than capable of competing with Ku [connectivity] and other technologies so airlines have a choice in what they want to implement".

From October, Inmarsat is also doubling to four the number of channels of SBB available per aircraft. Each channel provides a data rate of up to 432 kbps. The expectation is that airlines will ultimately dedicate three channels to the cabin and reserve one for safety services. The next step will be for avionics manufacturers to build avionics that will support four channels, and for Airbus and Boeing to decide if they will certify it on their airframes. "I think it all comes back to demand from the airlines. You're starting to see some announcements from airlines that are looking again at connectivity, and that is because we have removed the restriction of two channels, and pricing is more attractive," says Ringertz.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news