Commercial, Connectivity

ViaSat Sees Social Media Connectivity as the Next Big IFC Market

By Juliet Van Wagenen | June 15, 2016
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[Avionics Today 06-15-2016] ViaSat’s Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development for Enterprise Services Bill Sullivan wants to know how they and other In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) providers will compensate for Snapchat.

Snapchat logo on a smartphone
Social media user with smartphone. Photo: Jisc

“Internet content is rapidly changing — it’s like playing a game of whack-a-mole. You adjust to one piece of Internet content application or one website and another one pops up. The question is: How do we win?” asked Sullivan.

Satellite-based solutions are slowly making in-flight streaming video — often seen as the Holy Grail of IFC for airlines and passengers — a reality. But Sullivan noted during the 2016 Global Connected Aircraft Summit last week that the company’s research has found new applications are edging into the arena.

“Every passenger wants to do on the airplane what they do on the ground. ... They want to be social, they want to do social networking and texting; they want to be productive with email and other corporate applications; they want to see what’s going on, they want access to news and sport;. sometimes they want to shop. And above all we know that people want to stream content,” said Sullivan.

Airlines such as JetBlue, a ViaSat customer that began allowing streaming video for Amazon Prime customers last year and, more recently, Aeromexico, which has announced a trial for in-flight Netflix through Gogo’s newly activated satellite-based 2Ku solution, are using partnerships and satellite-based solutions to make in-flight streaming video a reality. Moreover, as High Throughput Satellites (HTS) begin to come online, more bandwidth than ever before is becoming available for aircraft cabin usage, making new feats possible in the IFC environment.

“On airlines, we are finding that people can do whatever they want. They have the ability to stream; it is unconstrained. We have airline customers who have been doing that ... Whether it’s Netflix or Amazon, people are out there trying to make those deals and there are business models that support that. So video, I think, we’re whacking that thing down,” said Sullivan.

He also pointed to research by broadband equipment company Sandvine that revealed that bandwidth consumption for streaming video in mobile environments in North America is only half (37 percent) of what it is in fixed access environments on the ground (65 percent). He also notes that applications such as Sling TV, in which customers are looking to gain access to content they have already purchased, is creating more of a struggle for IFC providers and airlines, which are looking to grapple with ways to deliver enough bandwidth to compensate.

While there is room to grow for streaming video in mobile environments, Sullivan expressed more concern for the IFC industry’s ability to compensate for the growth in social media applications.

“Social networking on mobile devices takes up a much bigger percentage of the bandwidth that we consume [in mobile environments than on the ground],” said Sullivan, pointing to the research that reflected 22 percent of all bandwidth in a mobile environment is consumed by social networking, versus only 5 percent in fixed environments.

While the research from Sandvine pointed to the lion’s share of video streaming in North America as coming from YouTube videos triggered by Facebook posts, it also pointed to newcomers in the arena, such as Snapchat, an image messaging and multimedia mobile application. Snapchat is currently using 4.11 percent of bandwidth, eclipsing bandwidth use for streaming music site Pandora (3.95 percent) and streaming content platform Netflix (3.22 percent).

“A year ago Snapchat wasn’t even on this chart,” noted Sullivan. “These app providers are looking to drive engagement and whenever they are successful with that, it drives bandwidth in ways that we didn’t expect to see. We don’t know what the next thing is, and we’re trying to keep an eye on it but the advantage we have is that when it comes to the aircraft environment, it takes a long time to get new things on the airplanes, so we get to see it coming from a mile away. So, the problem we have, is figuring out if technology has to change in order for us to adapt.”

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