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Engineered for aviation

The importance of consistent, reliable connectivity as a platform for service innovation

Your valued passenger is at 35,000 feet. They’re considering paying for Wi-Fi. You want them to go through with it, but you don’t want them to be mid-purchase, mid-movie or mid-message and find that the connectivity they hoped for just isn’t there. You don’t want them to hit one of those black spots or drop out zones you’ve heard of. Or just find that too many passengers are sharing the bandwidth at the same time.

The above scenario illustrates the fears many airlines have when considering offering passengers connectivity, yet they are convinced it’s the future as the demand for inflight broadband is a growing constantly. Besides, there’s the potential of the platform to build service innovations that can unlock new ancillaries, as well a whole new ecosystem of revenue streams.

So, can airlines be assured that passengers are going to have the kind of inflight broadband experience that they want and expect? With GX Aviation, they can. The award-winning seamless broadband solution offers the reliability that’s vital to be able to strengthen brand relationships and attract the ancillary revenue that the investment requires. Let us explain why.

Matching demand as it rises

Reliability and quality of service are key. Inmarsat’s GX Aviation delivers uninterrupted, high-speed Wi-Fi worldwide, powered by Global Xpress, the world’s first global Ka-band satellite network, and the only network built specifically to address global mobility. It’s the product of a network strategy engineered to meet the needs of aviation, ensuring consistent coverage and capacity today, and a commitment to match demand as it rises.

Three Global Xpress HTS satellites cover the globe with a seamless layer of high-speed capacity, with a fourth now in service, overlaying coverage in higher-demand areas. But airline demand is never spread evenly. A consistent service requires additional capacity targeted across congested flight routes and around busy airport hubs at peak times. So Inmarsat directs additional capacity, precisely where it’s needed, meaning a fast, reliable, consistent quality of service wherever planes fly.

And where congestion is greatest, and demand highest, Inmarsat has invested in unique solutions. Now live and flying with initial airline customers, the European Aviation Network (EAN) is the world’s first integrated satellite and air-to-ground network, combining a dedicated S-band satellite and around 300 LTE ground towers, to provide the same, reliable, consistent, high-speed service right across Europe’s busy airspace.

A commitment to reliability

What’s critical here is control. Inmarsat owns and operates these entire proprietary networks. As a result, it can allocate and reserve capacity for its airline customers, wherever they need it across the globe.

And as demand grows, Inmarsat are already adding further capacity – like the fifth ultra HTS satellite due to launch in 2019, as well as GX6A and GX6B scheduled for 2020 and 2021, which will bring further depth to the coverage in regions of highest demand.

GX7, 8 and 9 are also scheduled for the future, to take precision targeting to the next level with thousands of dynamic beams that can be customised to different shapes, sizes and power. And there’s GX10A and 10B to provide additional capacity at a higher elevation and across the Arctic.

Add to this, the fact that the density of European Aviation Network towers can be increased at any time too and you can see how Inmarsat is leading the way, allowing airlines the flexibility to dial up (or down) their purchase as the market evolves.

This certainty of current and future capacity makes Inmarsat the only connectivity provider that can contractually commit to a guaranteed data rate for its customers, alongside a binding long-term agreement on price. The same kind of commitment to reliability explains why Inmarsat is trusted to provide safety-critical cockpit data services to close to 200 airlines and over 90% of the world’s transoceanic aircraft.

By comparison, many alternative providers rely on leasing capacity across a wide range of satellites from multiple operators in the fixed satellite service (FSS) industry. The historical limitations of inflight broadband services show this approach has drawbacks.

Primarily this is because it’s a patchwork, not a single service. That’s the reason for those black spots and failures – inconsistent service quality, gaps in coverage and drop-outs as planes try to disconnect from one satellite network and connect to another.

What’s more, relying on others creates challenges for reliability, because capacity isn’t always available where airlines need it. Even in the Ku-band, served by several hundred satellites, only a few are compatible with aircraft terminals, and the vast majority are dedicated to services other than aviation, like video distribution and broadcast, for which these satellites were actually designed.

There are new Ku HTS satellites, but HTS beams are unavailable to lease exclusively, and the resulting managed service model means customers may have to share the bandwidth. That’s fine for aircraft that are far away from busy air routes, but around crowded hubs it means capacity on a first come first served basis, or spreading it around thinly so no one aircraft gets all it requires.

Over the past 30 years, the FSS market has endured cycles of over- and under-supply leading to fluctuations in price. Currently the market is enjoying the results of speculative investment that began about five years ago. The reselling model assumes this over-supply will continue, even though excess capacity works against the economic interests of suppliers. So when the demand from aviation increases, there’s no reason to be confident that operators’ timeframes or priorities will align with resellers’ needs.

Without a completely reliable service, connectivity-dependent services simply don’t make sense. Customer satisfaction and conversion to sale depend on airlines delivering a seamless service every time – a second-rate passenger experience will not be acceptable, now or in the future. Airlines will struggle to sell live sporting events if the video stops to buffer every 30 seconds. And they won’t be able to fulfil retail partnerships if they can’t deliver passengers who want to shop.

The connectivity revolution, and the advent of the digital airline, will rely on high quality, consistent broadband connectivity. Only Inmarsat is able to contractually commit to quality of service directly with the airline, over a network designed to deliver it to each aircraft worldwide. The new ancillary revenue streams need a constant, reliable platform. Inmarsat’s global network services, and the guarantees that come with them, are the firm foundations the industry requires.