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 Don Buchman, VP and GM, Commercial Aviation, Viasat, Viasat.
What are your predictions for connectivity in the cabin in 2023?
“We suspect that airlines will continue to look closely – as they have for years – at free Wi-Fi options as part of the passenger experience, with increasing trials and exploration of what is right for each airlines’ goals and how to best leverage and integrate into the overall airline brand promise.
Free in-flight Wi-Fi can take many forms — from full, fast, free Wi-Fi to sponsored Wi-Fi to in-flight trial offers or sessions. And it will be up to each airline how they incorporate these options – or if they do at all – into the overall passenger experience.”
How do you see in-flight connectivity evolving in the next five years?
“As passenger expectations for high quality connectivity soar, meaning I can do what I want without constraints, we anticipate demand will continue to increase exponentially, and especially in under penetrated markets around the world. Being connected no matter where you are is increasingly the norm, even (and maybe even especially) while on the go.
Viasat is focused on positioning our airline customers not only for the growing demand and expectations for in-flight connectivity, but for the continually rising data requirements of the most bandwidth intensive applications of the internet: streaming video, live television, social apps, and more. Just like our earth-bound lives, the plethora of new data hungry devices and applications drive more and more demands for bandwidth, the aircraft is no different.”
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 Wi-Fi changing in the cabin going forward?
“At Viasat, for many years we have been focused on solving the greatest challenge to high quality in-flight connectivity, which provides a consistent and more reliable connected experience for passengers. Unfortunately, the industry has been branded by early experiences where the quality was extremely poor due to not enough capacity, which is the failure mechanism for IFC providers.
We have been evangelizing that poor quality is a thing of the past, and with a new generation of traveller emerging post-Covid, we are seeing higher and higher participation as the first experience with us is quite positive. So, with this experience, we see will continue to see take rates increase.
Across global air travel, demand for satellite bandwidth is concentrated over small geographical areas, such as major hub cities where many aircraft are gathered, especially during peak travel times. Considerable bandwidth is required to meet this capacity density challenge and service airlines customers in these areas with fast and consistent connectivity.
As more airlines understand that is the fundamental challenge and solve for it, even offering Wi-Fi as a free amenity perhaps, engagement from passengers rises considerably.”
The demand to stream content including on short and medium flights has proliferated.
How will airlines ensure they continue to meet this demand?
“You’re right about this trend. Connectivity is increasingly a proxy for entertainment – not wildly different from our living rooms today. And now those streaming services can come with us when we travel. In fact, 90% of passengers bring a PED on a flight.
We have long talked about the convergence of connectivity and entertainment — in fact, we’ve planned for it. Video is still top by far data consumption category – our service is designed to keep up with data demands now and into the future, especially with the ever-increasing video quality required by the latest high-def device screens.
We anticipate airlines will continue to express interest in expanding connectivity across aircraft types of all sizes, and we’re excited about this opportunity.”