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Rising to the top of the IFE heap

Airlines are well accustomed to seeing in-flight entertainment and communications services fall short of expectations. For years they've watched would-be suppliers enter the market, only to retreat in the face of technological missteps, overly ambitious schedules or reliability problems.

Companies that thrive share common traits - sound business plans, strong financial backing and stamina to withstand the cyclicality of the airline industry.

But as the World Airline Entertainment Association kicks off its annual conference and exhibition this week in Long Beach, California, it has become crystal clear that IFE and connectivity players that are either divisions of, or boast partnerships with, established industry names have an undeniable leg-up on the competition. One needs look no further than Panasonic and Thales to see where IFE hardware dominance lies. In the mobile communications sector, Arinc/Telenor joint venture AeroMobile and Airbus/Sita partnership OnAir are leading the charge. And in-flight broadband is being brought to the US market by 15-year old Aircell.

There is room for newcomers. Connectivity provider Row 44 is making headlines. Lumexis's fibre-to-the-seat IFE system is to be tested by US Airways. And Ireland's AirVod has unveiled portable players and customers. As in any industry, cream will rise to the top. But you can be sure both the frothy and the firm will be at WAEA.

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