Connectivity in the Cabin: Inmarsat

Connectivity in the Cabin: Inmarsat

The AIX team sat down with aerospace thought-leaders, market disruptors and established companies to discuss how Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) can keep up with changing passenger expectations.

The team spoke with William Huot-Marchand, SVP Inflight Connectivity, Inmarsat Aviation.

What are your predictions for connectivity in the cabin in 2023?

“Renewed appetite for travel has come with new expectations for passengers’ inflight experience – and getting this right has become non-negotiable for airlines. This year is going to be all about unlocking what passengers want while in the air – which is also the key to commercial rewards. At the heart of this is the need to be connected.

Our recent Passenger Experience Survey found that over three quarters (77%) of passengers surveyed now view inflight Wi-Fi as critical to their inflight experience – an increase of 40% since 2018. Moreover, 82% of passengers said that they would be more likely to rebook with an airline that provided quality Wi-Fi, demonstrating that reliable connectivity is now a must-have, not a nice-to-have. So, we know the demand is growing – now airlines must keep up, and deliver the connectivity experience their passengers crave.

I anticipate we’ll see more ‘live’ connected experiences in the cabin this year. This follows our work with Qatar Airways during the 2022 FIFA World Cup, where our GX Aviation inflight broadband service powered more than 50 live streamed matches to passengers flying during the tournament.

We envisage this level of experience will continue for passengers, who don’t want to miss out on the moments that matter most – and expect to experience them live, from 30,000 feet.

Additionally, we’ll see airlines have more flexibility when choosing connectivity for their fleets – thanks to connectivity catalogue solutions like Airbus’ HBCplus. As the first managed service provider (MSP) selected by Airbus, we are excited to bring our global, Ka-band GX Aviation service – and our MSP expertise – to more customers in the future.”

How do you see in-flight connectivity evolving in the next five years?

“The next few years is going to be about a shift to personalisation. A huge 97% of passengers say they use their personal devices while flying, which presents an unmissable opportunity for airlines to use inflight connectivity to cater to exactly what their passengers want and need.

That’s why we created OneFi – our digital passenger engagement platform that’s been developed with inflight connectivity at its core. It offers a portal solution for airlines to bring inflight services together to increase passenger engagement and create ancillary revenue opportunities. OneFi covers everything from entertainment and media to loyalty and advertising.

Crucially, the solution is flexible and scalable so that airlines can offer what they want, when they want – and grow these offerings as time goes on, in line with their passengers’ ever-changing expectations. At a time when brand loyalty is harder than ever to earn, it’s vital that airlines shore up their offering to keep passengers coming back for more.”

Some estimations have put the “take-rate” for on-board Wi-Fi at just 6%, with some lamenting the poor connection and inability to stream content.

How do you see the role of WiFi changing in the cabin going forward?

“Our recent Passenger Experience Survey brought to light not only the increasing demand for inflight Wi-Fi, but crucially, the growing expectation that this connectivity should be free at the point of use. More than 4 in 5 passengers globally said that they expect Wi-Fi to be free on long-haul flights, while almost half agreed for short-haul flights.

The tide is certainly moving in the direction of free Wi-Fi – and among our customer base, we see take-up rates of up to 6x more for free Wi-Fi, and 4x more for freemium, than we do for paid.

However, airlines have to be able to offer the capacity, certainty, and capabilities required to handle these increased take-up rates. Several of our airline customers are already offering free inflight connectivity – including Singapore Airlines and Iberia – on either free or freemium models.

We know that the key to delivering high-speed broadband to more passengers on more flights is the right technologies – which our GX Aviation service brings.

As Wi-Fi becomes even more prevalent in the cabin, airlines have to adopt the solutions that will guarantee connectivity to every passenger, on every flight. Critical to this is our fully-funded satellite roadmap.

As part of this, our recently launched I-6 F1 and F2 are the most sophisticated commercial communications satellites ever which will help our customers benefit even further from the coverage and certainty that GX Aviation offers, well into the 2040s and beyond.”

The demand to stream content including on short and medium flights has proliferated.

How will airlines ensure they continue to meet this demand?

“Ensuring passengers can access the content they want, when they want it, on every route will be paramount going forward. We firmly believe that the best way to enable airlines to offer the best possible inflight connectivity experience – for content streaming and beyond – is through a multi-dimensional network that brings together multiple technologies across orbits, like Inmarsat ORCHESTRA.

A platform for continuous innovation, ORCHESTRA will synthesise an expanding combination of network services to intelligently orchestrate our backbone GEO network with LEO, HEO, and terrestrial 5G. This will deliver the best possible connectivity experience for every customer, and every passenger, on every flight.

New innovations will also be key, from dynamic beamforming technologies that will enable capacity to be concentrated wherever it is needed most, to new satellites in highly-elliptical orbit that will be dedicated to the Arctic region – providing connectivity on flights from the Middle East to the US West Coast.

“Also, it comes back to personalisation. Passengers want an experience that feels bespoke to them – and the best way to do this is to use a solution, such as Inmarsat’s OneFi, a digital passenger engagement platform which has been developed with inflight connectivity at its core. Bringing inflight services together increases passenger engagement, so that on any route, passengers can watch what they want, when they want.

And flexible modular solutions like this mean that as short- and medium-haul passengers’ expectations change, airlines can scale their offering to match their demand.”

Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) is the world’s leading cabin interiors event where airlines and the supply chain to meet and has been for over 20 years. AIX plays host to the latest innovations, technologies and products for the cabin interiors, inflight entertainment and passenger comfort industries.

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