Bringing connectivity and streaming to the air

Gogo’s Blane Boynton discusses the rising demand for connectivity and streaming content on aircraft
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Blane Boynton, VP of Product Management at Gogo.
Blane Boynton, VP of Product Management at Gogo.

While flying on an airline and travelling the world can be a fun experience for most, there are very few passengers who relish the idea of being stuck on a long-haul flight. Thankfully though, there is a range of activities that passengers can engage in to help pass the time.

For the last two decades, the most popular choice of distraction amongst passengers has been with seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) systems, which allow users to watch the latest movies and TV shows. More recently, however, there has been an uptick in demand by travellers for both internet connectivity and the ability to stream content on their personal electronic devices.

According to the US-based inflight internet, connectivity, and entertainment technology provider Gogo, it is a development that airlines are aggressively positioning themselves to deliver.

“The days of seatback IFE systems on domestic or medium-haul routes seems to be diminishing in most places, and the airlines are looking for a way to leverage the personal electronic device that most passengers have onboard to provide entertainment,” comments Blane Boynton, VP of Product Management at Gogo.

Servicing 20 commercial airlines across the world, the company’s extensive portfolio includes high-profile carriers, such as KLM, American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, and Japan Airlines, to name a few.

At the centre of its inflight connectivity partnerships lies Gogo 2Ku, an in-flight connectivity (IFC) technology that delivers up to 100 Mbps via satellite, which also supports Gogo Vision, a platform that allows airlines to stream content and live TV onto personal devices.

Some of the company’s more recent projects include British Airways’ integration of 2Ku into its fleet that was carried out over the last eight months. Following the successful implementation, UK’s flag carrier secured a partnership with VISA, who is providing a free hour of connectivity for passengers on long-haul flights.

Boynton also highlighted another case with Aeromexico that helped the carrier secure a partnership with Netflix.

Aeromexico is a 2Ku airline. They secured a partnership about a year ago with Netflix that was providing free Netflix to passengers in the aircraft. That partnership demonstrates 2Ku has the capacity and the speed to provide streaming video services in the cabin,” comments Boynton.

“This validates 2Ku and its performance, while also demonstrating that the provision of streaming content into the back of the cabin is a real use case that we’ll probably see more of in the future.”

Boynton went on to explain that such partnership opportunities surrounding the inflight connectivity experience and onboard entertainment are quickly becoming common practice in the industry. Essentially, airlines are seeking out such partnerships in an effort to alleviate the operational costs of providing connectivity.

This situation also creates a bit of a challenge, particularly when it comes to making the case to prospective sponsors, such as telco providers and credit card companies. To draw their interest, Boynton shares that one has to be able to demonstrate that the collaboration will have, “a direct impact to their subscribership’s bottom line.”

There is also the challenge of keeping technology on aircraft up-to-date, an issue that stems from a development cycle that can run between 24 to 36 months, as well as an extensive certification process. Factor in the time it takes to deploy new systems and what you have is an incredibly lengthy process.

Another trend that is currently driving the market is the increasing demand by passengers who want to connect with their own content. The long-standing model of the industry when it came to entertainment was that airlines would curate what movies are available in the cabin, while certain carriers would go the extra mile and invest in securing early releases.

What we are finding now is that many folks would rather be connected with their own content, such as titles in their Netflix and audio from their Spotify. This idea of connecting content to passengers is definitely here to stay,” comments Boynton.

Outside of the passenger experience, Gogo has also seen increased demand from airlines, “to leverage their inflight connectivity systems for operational advantage.”

Sharing that Gogo maintains an entire product line dedicated to operational support for connected aircraft services, the company’s offerings include connected electronic flight bag solutions that are designed to help pilots fly more efficiently.

“We are in discussion with airlines for further use cases. One of them is around predictive maintenance. What if you could start the maintenance of the supply chain activities for a problem while the aircraft is in the air?” asks Boynton

“Let say you have a non-critical system that has an issue. The pilot can report that issue while the aircraft is en route and the idea is by the time that aircraft pulls up to the stand at its destination, the part it needs is sitting there waiting, as is the maintenance technician. Shortening up the entire maintenance cycle,” he concludes.

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