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INTERIORS: Panasonic and Thales launch wireless streaming solutions

Determined not to relinquish market share to wireless in-flight entertainment newcomers, embedded IFEC heavyweights Panasonic Avionics and Thales have launched their own streaming video solutions.

Ever since Panasonic launched its Ku-band satellite-based eXConnect in-flight high-speed Internet offering, "our vision has always been to stream content to passengers' own devices", said Panasonic Avionics executive director of corporate sales and marketing Neil James. "This new wireless in-flight entertainment system, which we've called eXW, is a natural extension of the product line for us."

Airlines may choose to offer eXW in standalone form or together with embedded IFEC. For airlines that seek the former, for example on regional or short-range aircraft, "we will be able to provide access to all passengers of a branded portal, with advertising, seat-to-seat chat, shopping, catalogue browsing, as well as news, information and video on demand", noted James.

Unlike some other IFEC companies, Panasonic is being cautious about over-promising on how many people can simultaneously stream videos.

"We can provide eXW and all kinds of really compelling functionality but realistically you can support 20 to 30 people per WAP. You start to overlap if you have three or four WAPs on a Boeing 777. We're saying that everybody on board will be able to access eXW in terms of features and functions. The only area we're being slightly conservative in is the distribution of video on demand in the kind of quality people would expect," said James.

Thales, meanwhile, has reached an agreement to work together with Siemens Communications, Media and Technologies on the development and testing of a new onboard wireless content distribution system that will complement the Thales TopSeries embedded IFEC systems.

The solution integrates the Siemens Media4Sky onboard application to the TopSeries system, and will enable passengers to receive streaming video, audio, and many other applications from the TopSeries digital server to their many different types of mobile devices, said Thales.

"The combination of the TopSeries hardware and Media4Sky applications bring together a contemporary, dynamic, user-friendly flying experience that will excite and engage all passengers. We are delighted to pursue this breakthrough initiative that is built on the proven work Siemens has accomplished in other transportation markets," said Alan Pellegrini, managing director for the Thales In-flight Entertainment business.

This is not the first time that Thales and Panasonic have looked to offer wireless in-flight entertainment. At the behest of Boeing, both manufacturers developed wireless offerings for the Boeing 787 twinjet. But in 2007 Boeing scuppered plans to fit those offerings to the 787 due to a number of factors. One concern, since alleviated, was that the 802.11n technology's specification had not yet been ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. But Thales and Panasonic also cited concerns that wireless required big trade-offs in bandwidth.

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