Connectivity in the Cabin: Intelsat

Connectivity in the Cabin: Intelsat

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 Dave Bijur, SVP, Commercial Aviation at Intelsat.

How do you see in-flight connectivity evolving in the next 12 months and the next five years?

“In-flight connectivity will become even more prevalent and advanced than it is today. Overall, Intelsat in-flight connectivity will continue to evolve, providing passengers with a more seamless and enjoyable travel experience.

Here are a couple of predictions for what we can expect to see in the cabin in the coming months and years:

  • Increased bandwidth: Intelsat’s new ESA, a GEO+LEO solution produces the best combination of performance, coverage, and reliability in the market. The solution leverages the best capabilities of both networks and is built on an integrated infrastructure that relies on hundreds of satellites – in geostationary (GEO) and low-earth orbit (LEO) – providing airlines and their passengers with more IFC capacity and speed in more places, including polar regions.
  • Enhanced entertainment options: Passengers will be able to stream movies, TV shows and music in higher quality, and play games, thanks to the new streaming-fast speeds that come with our multi-orbit satellite connectivity.”

Electronically steered array (ESA) antenna and Multi-Orbit Satellite Strategy

“There is tremendous interest in the Intelsat electronically steered array (ESA) antenna that enables global streaming-fast Wi-Fi service and is available to airlines around the world.

Intelsat’s ESA is the only commercially available antenna in the aviation industry that can operate between low-Earth orbit satellites and geostationary satellites. Announced in June 2022, the new antenna has been accumulating flight hours with Ball, Stellar Blu Solutions, Intelsat and OneWeb engineers validating antenna and network performance.

In early 2023, Intelsat successfully demonstrated the new system to global airlines on the company’s Bombardier CRJ-700 regional jet outfitted with the new antenna and inflight Wi-Fi system. With peak inflight download speeds exceeding 275Mbps, airline customers were able to participate in live virtual meetings, stream media and stay connected without interruptions.

By using the Intelsat and OneWeb satellite networks together, Intelsat can offer the benefits of LEO’s low latency along with the redundancy GEO provides to address network hotspots that LEO networks on their own cannot address. Whether aircraft are flying polar regions or over the most populated cities in the world, the ESA antenna will offer seamless coverage from takeoff to touchdown.

At just 90 pounds and with no moving parts, the new antenna stands just 3.5 inches tall on the top of the aircraft. The terminal’s low profile has the lowest drag of any product Intelsat has ever offered, reducing CO2 emissions for airlines.

After installing the system in December 2022 on our regional jet, we’ve been hard at work perfecting this new technology and have taken some of the world’s leading airlines for test flights. An antenna without moving parts, that is much smaller than its predecessors, enables airlines to compete in the marketplace, delight their guests and have confidence that Intelsat’s multi-orbit antenna will provide the best performing inflight connectivity experience in the market.”

Here are some of the other key trends that we can expect to see:

  • Higher speeds: With advanced satellite technology and multi-orbit connectivity, Intelsat’s ESA will deliver streaming quality for every passenger. ESA’s peak in-flight download speeds exceed 275Mbps, allowing passengers to stream movies, play games, and work online without any lag.
  • More personalized experiences: Airlines will continue to integrate entitlements like loyalty and seat validation to offer more personalized experiences.
  • Greater integration: In-flight connectivity will become more integrated with other systems in both the cabin and flight deck. This includes integration with seatback entertainment and connected aircraft solutions like electronic flight bags, real-time weather data and flight profile optimization applications. For instance, passengers may be able to use their own devices to control their in-flight entertainment systems or receive real-time updates on their flight status. Pilots will have access to real-time information to make better decisions enroute, improving the flight experience and saving fuel.

“In conclusion, the next five years will see significant advancements in in-flight connectivity. Passengers can expect faster Wi-Fi speeds, more personalized experiences, and greater integration with other systems.”

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

How will airlines ensure they continue to meet this demand?

“There is significant interest among North American and European airlines, in particular, as they look to boost their Wi-Fi service on shorter flights operated by their regional jet fleets, especially those that still have air-to-ground service. LEO’s low latency along with the redundancy GEO provides addresses network hotspots that LEO networks on their own cannot address.

Alaska Airlines recently announced plans to use Intelsat’s ESA terminal and IFC services aboard its fleet of Embraer regional jet fleet. Intelsat has supplemental-type certificate programs underway for a wide range of aircraft and expects to begin delivering and installing shipsets in early 2024.

As Alaska Airlines announced, the new system will debut on Horizon Air in early 2024 and roll out across the regional jet fleet, including regional partner SkyWest, over a two-year period. With nearly all of Alaska’s mainline fleet set to feature satellite Wi-Fi by this April – also installed by Intelsat – the airline is on track to provide consistent streaming-fast Wi-Fi across their entire fleet by 2026.”

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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