The Connected Sky: Inflight Entertainment

According to a new Whitepaper by Juniper Research, the proliferation of wireless PEDs (Portable Electronic Devices) in aircraft is ushering in an era of truly personalized in-flight entertainment where passengers can do what they want, when they want, and how they want.

In addition to live TV and movies which are shown throughout the aircraft and are typically free, passengers can increasingly access on-demand movies stored on the aircraft’s main IFE (In Flight Entertainment & Connectivity) system, with the ability to pause, rewind, fast forward, or jump to any point in the movie.

Video games are also becoming an important element of IFE content with some game systems networked to allow interactive playing by multiple passengers.

Another key trend impacting IFE is the growing popularity of smartphones and tablets, which is influencing passenger expectations on board aircraft

  • The majority of passengers carry their own smartphone or tablet devices and expect to be able to continue to use these devices on aircraft
  • Airlines are now beginning to realize that they must embrace these personal devices and need to ensure that their content and applications are hardware agnostic and work across multiple devices

Juniper Research forecasts that the number of connected commercial aircraft will reach 9.8 million worldwide by the end of 2019:

  • This will be driven predominantly by the increasing penetration of in-flight connectivity in short-haul, narrow-body aircraft
  • In the past, the growth of the IFEC (In Flight Entertainment & Connectivity) market was hindered primarily by the high cost of satellite connectivity
  • In 2001, aircraft manufacturer Boeing launched its ‘Connexion by Boeing’ service, which the company hoped would herald a new era of in-flight entertainment. However, in 2006, the company was forced to shut down the service
  • In 2008, the IFEC market was kick-started by US Company Gogo, which launched its ATG (Air-to-Ground) network in North America. Formerly known as Aircell, the company built a network of cellular towers providing coverage of mainland United States and parts of Canada and Alaska.
  • As a result, North America dominates the connected IFE market today but all regions of the world are expected to exhibit a healthy increase in the number of connected aircraft by the end of forecast period in 2019

Although the take-up rate of paid in-flight entertainment services currently remains low, passenger surveys continually show growing demand for connectivity and more entertainment options in the cabin. This trend is likely to increase as in-flight connectivity options improve and consumption habits continue to evolve in the digital age, says the report.

Improved connectivity will also fuel the growth of non-passenger related services such as flight crew data applications, cabin crew information systems, maintenance, and big data applications.

There are a number of key trends influencing the IFEC market, and which are set to drive it during the next few years:

  • Following the launch of a number of new satellite systems during the past two years, with more scheduled for launch in the next few years, it is expected that the cost of the satellite space segment dedicated to IFEC will decrease substantially
  • In addition, the cost of bandwidth via an ATG network is also decreasing due to upgrades and the introduction of new technology
  • The changing consumption habits of passengers is another important trend that airlines and IFEC providers must take note of, as passengers switch from web browsing to content streaming as their preferred activity. Several IFEC service suppliers have already started catering for this demand
  • With up to 80% of passengers reportedly bringing their own smartphones, tablets or laptops onto aircraft, BYOD offers many benefits to airlines, particularly if a PED system enables airlines to eliminate other IFE such as embedded seatback devices
  • In addition to the financial savings, there is also an important weight saving as it can reduce/eliminate the weight of a seatback IFE, as well as wiring requirements

Finally, airlines are interested in providing ‘nose-to-tail’ connectivity, which enables them to offer ‘in-cabin’ services from which they may be able to generate new revenue streams. Some have started, says the report.

  • Virgin America and Virgin Australia’s RED Entertainment System allows passengers to chat with each other, compete against each other via on-board games, talk to flight attendants, and request and pay in advance for food and drinks, as well as have full access to the Internet and e-mail
  • KLM’s Meet and Seat service allows passengers to upload personal information and pick a seat next to someone with similar interests
  • Virgin America allows passengers to send a drink to a fellow passenger through its IFE system, whilst Etihad allows passengers to e-chat with other people on board
  • Air France has an app that downloads newspapers and magazines free for up to 30 hours before a flight. It also has an app that allows children to digitally color pictures and download free games before take-off

For more information from Juniper, please visit here.


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