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INTERIORS: Bandwidth debate continues as connectivity takes off

Everyone wants an apples with apples comparison when it comes to bandwidth available from the different broadband connectivity providers. The trouble is, as consultant Michael Planey wryly observed during the Passenger Experience conference in Hamburg, "what we have is a fruit salad".

The different broadband connectivity solutions for airlines come with their own approaches on bandwidth. ViaSat, for example, says its Ka-band wi-fi service being installed on JetBlue will provide speeds of at least 12 Mbps per second for each passenger

"People value speed, whether at home or in mobile environment. We have built a system around a very high speed experience. So we are taking that and bringing it into the airline sector, says Bill Sullivan, director for strategy and business development, broadband systems at ViaSat.

Rivals argue it is more complicated to do so in the airline market. Indeed vice president of Panasonic Avionics' Global Communications Service reminds: "This is the most expensive place in the world to provide broadband."

Chief technology officer at another broadband provider, Row 44's John Guidon says: "One of the things we know from airlines flying is there is a reduction in efficiency, so you do have to over-provision.

"Just talking about speed is not satisfactory. It doesn't explain the totality of the experience," he adds. "Really people are most interested in, in my opinion, is page load time."

Panasonic's Bruner points to the growth of in-flight connectivity since it launched its service three and a half years ago. He believes a tipping point was passed in late 2011 after United Airlines made its big wi-fi commitment, which includes Panasonic's Ku-band solution and some ViaSat-equipped aircraft.

"It is not a question of do they [airlines] need it, that's over. Airlines are now on what should we use," he says. "The market is exploding. Passenger expectations and how much they are going to use the bandwidth is growing exponentially. It is changing the way we operate. All of us have to be fast adopters and scale our networks up to support increased useage."

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