Nok Air Partners with Thaicom for In-Flight Connectivity Strategy

By Mark Holmes | June 18, 2014
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[Avionics Today June 18, 2014] Nok Air, a leading Thai low-cost airline, hopes to have its first plane ready to fly with Wi-Fi connectivity in the next two months. Patee Sarasin, CEO, Nok Air told a press conference at CommunicAsia that the airline aims to be a leader by offering free connectivity to passengers and that, once this is done, Nok Air will be able to build revenue-generating services on the back of it. The airline will partner with Thaicom for satellite capacity and Global Eagle Entertainment (Row44) for the services part of the offering. 
Patee Sarasin, Chief Executive Officer of Nok Airlines (speaking), with Nile (Patompob Suwansiri), Chief Marketing Officer, Thaicom Public Company Ltd, and John Lavalle, Chief Executive Officer, Global Eagle Entertainment. Photo, courtesy of Thaicom.
Nok Air, which had more than six million passengers fly on its services last year, is one of a number of low-cost airlines that emerged in Asia in the 1990s. Nok Air has 48,000 flights per year and the carrier will provide broadband Wi-Fi services on many of its aircraft over the rest of the year — ranging from Internet access to other complementary services in the future.
Sarasin believes the youth market, a key demographic, for Nok Air, will more likely fly with Nok as a result of having this connectivity. 
“If you look at the Internet users in Thailand, it is the youth market [that drives it]. We started putting free Wi-Fi at the airport. It created a phenomenon of driving new passengers. The youth market takes 20 to 30 percent of our total market, so we see this as an investment; what comes afterwards is where the moneymaking begins. We know that the key element is connectivity,” he said
The company is making a huge investment to offer these services, and passengers will be able to access the Internet for free. “Why is it for free? Wi-Fi always started being paid, but everything becomes free. Eventually, the commodity is what people always expect,” Sarasin explained.
Sarasin admits the airline has been planning the service for two years, with one of the key challenges looking to find the right partners for the services. In terms of its initial rollout, he said, “We will install six aircraft straight away. We will be the number one airline in South East Asia providing In-Flight Connectivity (IFC). We want to be a leader in differentiation. For example, I have 73,000 followers on Instagram. It is a great way for me to communicate with potential customers. My intention is to go beyond connectivity. We have designed something [that we think] is quite cool. The future will be quite wild with in-flight connectivity.”
For Global Eagle Entertainment (Row44), the deal is a boost as it looks to position itself as a key provider of IFC services in Asia. 
“We have almost 560 planes flying over four continents connected,” said John LaValle, CEO, Global Eagle Entertainment. “We view this part of the world as critically important. We want to be first in the region. We want to provide content and content management. We have to demonstrate we have staying power. We are absolutely delighted with this partnership.”
Thaicom is at an interesting phase in its growth strategy. The operator is in the middle of an aggressive expansion plan for new satellites, with the launch of three new spacecraft between 2014 and 2016. Previously, its last satellite launch had been 2006. In this expansion plan, the company will be targeting a number of verticals, as well as the African satellite market, and the growing HD market in Thailand, another key target for the company, where the number of HD channels is expected to ramp up significantly over the next few years, according to Patompob Suwansiri, chief marketing officer, Thaicom. 
The company has recently launched its “New Frontiers” campaign, which will see it expand its focus to include end-to-end satcom mobility services for air, land, and sea vehicles. Thaicom aims to provide expanded sea-air-land connectivity targeting the customers in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region.

This is the second major announcement that Thaicom has made in the IFC arena in the last month. Earlier in June, the company announced that it had selected Hughes HX System, a high-speed Internet platform, from Hughes Network Systems, as it looks to tap the IFC market. 

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