UK researcher house Juniper believes that more than half the world’s commercial aviation fleet will be equipped with inflight wifi by 2022.
It estimates that currently one-in-four planes allow passengers to log in at 30,000 feet.
Despite the implications of the”laptop ban”, the demand for inflight connectivity is being driven by BYOD – “bring your own device” – with passengers connecting to the aircraft’s wifi using their own laptop, smartphone or tablet.
Juniper adds that “monthly inflight entertainment revenues are forecast to rise by 30% on average per aircraft over the forecast period”
The headline figures above are taken from some paid-for research, while the press release doesn’t go into how, exactly, airlines can generate inflight entertainment revenues. In a BYOD world, the obvious revenue stream would be charging for access.
Co-incidentally, Qantas has just released some stats about an inflight wifi trial it has been running since April. It looked in detail at how passengers were using the wifi on one of its planes and found that one-in-three logged on at some stage during the flight. This compares to only 5% of passengers who took advantage of the service when ran a trial in 2012. However the earlier version was, “older, slower, paid for.”
Another methodological consideration is that the Qantas plane in question – a Boeing 737, registration number VH-XHB – flies “up and down the east coast of Australia”. Its longest domestic route, according to FlightAware.com, is Sydney to Perth at five hours, but the majority of its flights are between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane which take less than two hours.
The relatively short duration of the flights means that usage patterns will inevitably be different from patterns on longer-haul flights. Being off the grid for twelve hours is a different proposition to dropping out of contact for ninety minutes.
Nonetheless, Qantas’ findings will resonate in Europe where a lot of flights are around the same duration. Qantas found that it was able to get system reliability above 98%, with download speeds typically exceeding 12 megabits per second.
Both these figures have improved during the trial and customer surveys showed 88% of passengers giving the service the thumbs up.
General browsing around the web was the most common activity with news sites proving popular. Facebook status updates, messaging and shopping sites also came up, as did steaming services such as Netflix and Spotify.
Downloading content is likely to be more popular on long-haul routes than short-haul, and this is one of the issues airlines and the inflight wifi system providers have to face – what happens to the bandwidth if everyone on a 12-hour flight wants to download a box-set at the same time?
Qantas plans to have inflight wifi rolled out across its entire domestic fleet – some 80 aircraft – by late-2018.
Its provider is Nasdaq-listed ViaSat, one of the many inflight wifi connectivity providers in the marketplace. Qantas is using ViaSat’s Ku-band satellite system.
Juniper has also released some free research which explains the various connectivity options airlines have – air-to-ground or satellites, with the latter broken down further into Ku-band, Ka-band, S-band and L-band.
The research also names Panasonic Avionics, Gogo, Thales and SITAOnAir as the four major disruptors in the sector.
So while the connectivity is improving, and the demand from customers is there, the specifics around how airlines can generate revenues from inflight connectivity are unclear. Emirates recently announced that it was making its inflight wifi free to certain tiers of its loyalty scheme and those in business and/or first, with the pricing structure changed for non-members and those in economy.
Emirates’ approach could be the template others follow – offer inflight wifi as part of the ticket price for members and those at the front but treat it as an ancillary revenue stream for the rest of the plane.
As the inflight wifi sector matures, it will be interesting to compare and contrast how the world’s airlines attempt to monetize the service.
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