Wifi connectivity at 39,000ft: What are the sticking points?
As connected consumers, we’re increasingly running our lives from smart devices, yet air passengers can only get online on 24% of all miles flown.
As connected consumers, we’re increasingly running our lives from smart devices, yet despite the fact that we have high-speed internet access at home, at work, on the move and even underground at London’s tube stations, air passengers can only get online on 24% of all miles flown.
Can commercial airlines bring online access in line with what is delivered by other modes of transportation and get more passengers online at 39,000 feet?
Rising demand for in-flight wifi
In the space of a few years, in-flight internet capability has gone from a nice-to-have to an expected service; with consumers demanding even faster connections, according to a recent survey by Honeywell Aerospace. As a result, commercial airlines are working to respond to this demand not only to keep their customers satisfied but also to maintain a competitive advantage.
Indeed, Honeywell Aerospace’s Inflight Connectivity 2014 survey found that the availability of in-flight wifi was a major factor in choosing which airline to fly with, with 22% of respondents admitting they would pay more for a flight that was wifi-enabled than for one that was not.
The legacy solutions that have so far been used to provide internet capability are now struggling to cope with the increasing passenger demand. In-flight wifi systems are hampered by bandwidth limitations, typically only providing enough capacity for individual passengers to handle simple tasks, such as checking their email and browsing social networks, but not enough to stream services such as Netflix or YouTube – services you’d expect to be popular on board.
There have also been difficulties in the method of delivery. Ground-to-air internet services are complicated when travelling across country borders, with oceans between territories making it impossible to deploy ground stations at regular intervals.
Satellite-based services have therefore been adopted more widely on international flights, although historically, these have proven to be extremely costly and difficult to install.
Custom-built airline applications
In recent years however, the cost of sending up satellites has fallen. This factor, combined with the rising demand for in-flight connectivity, has seen a huge array of airlines begin to monetise their wifi services, with increasing revenue opportunities being made available to forward-thinking carriers.
Airlines can monetise their internet services in a number of ways, but one approach is to use custom-built airline apps. These applications link up to the passenger’s individual in-flight entertainment systems, enabling them to interact with the plane via their personal device. These are only active while the user is physically on the plane.