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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boeing Sees Need For 'Flexibility' in Cabin Connectivity Market

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today July 10, 2014] Boeing signed its second major connected aircraft deal in less than a month, announcing a new partnership with General Dynamics to release the Tri-Band radar dome (radome) in the fourth quarter of 2015. According to a spokesperson for Boeing's cabin connectivity team, the company sees a need for flexibility in the passenger cabin connectivity market. 

The Tri-band radome is designed to protect the aircraft antenna and enable satellite communications. This latest announcement follows an agreement between Boeing and Global Eagle Entertainment in June to evaluate the creation of an In-flight Connectivity (IFC) system line-fit option right off the production line for 787s and 737s, which would prevent the need for aftermarket upgrades that are currently popular from providers such as Gogo, On Air and Panasonic. 

That leads to the following question. With more revenue then ever coming from sales of its flagship commercial airframe, the 737, why is Boeing looking to get into the in-flight connectivity market?
 
"As Boeing looks at the passenger cabin connectivity market, we see a need for flexibility for operators to be able to change system service providers, either at lease return, aircraft re-sell or a change in system providers," a spokeswoman for Boeing Commercial Aircraft services said in an emailed statement. 
 
Nearly 75 percent of the world's in-service fleet of commercial aircraft are Boeing planes, according to the manufacturer's in-service records. The option to provide airlines with connectivity off the production line could be huge, especially considering Boeing's recent finalization of a deal for 150 Boeing 777xs, and not to mention its current order backlog sits at nearly 5,200 aircraft, or roughly seven years of production.
 
According to Jim Losse, tactical systems executive at General Dynamics, the Tri-Band will "offer the flying public better in-flight entertainment connectivity over current single band Ku systems."
 
The main issue with current cabin connectivity speeds is that they're too slow.  Airline passengers want to experience their mobile Internet connections similar to the way they connect on the ground. Getting to a location and logging on to its Wi-Fi network to use the Internet, social media, email and other applications at average speeds of anywhere from 20-50 Mbps or higher depending on the service provider. 
 
Comcast for example offers home Internet service with a connection speed of 150 Mbps, while the average connection speeds on aircraft today are 10-14 Mbps if you're lucky. The ATG-4 service that Gogo began rolling out just last year could provide a maximum of 9.8 Mbps.
 
Boeing, according to an emailed statement, is also interested in helping to increase connection speeds and lower costs, as the Tri-band can operate in all commercial aero satellite communications frequency bands that are currently in use or planned for use. 
 
"These new bands can support additional SATCOM services, potentially increasing competition between service providers leading to improved connection speeds and lower costs," Boeing said in an emailed statement. 

With Honeywell's GX Aviation on the horizon next year and its recent pairing for an Air to Ground solution with AT&T, combined with Gogo's promise to bring a 70 Mbps cabin connection speed with its 2Ku Ground to Orbit (GTO) solution, operators are going to have plenty of options to choose from in terms of cabin connection systems within the next few years.   

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