Philippine’s A330 wireless IFE program will serve as case study

Anyone following the IFE industry closely will understand the significance of Philippine Airlines’ decision to offer a purely wireless entertainment experience to passengers on board its Airbus A330s.

At present, nearly all commercial widebody aircraft are ordered with embedded IFE, and many airlines – Delta and Emirates among them – see those in-seat screens as an absolutely vital part of the passenger experience on long-haul routes. After all, embedded IFE can still deliver an experience that – as yet – can’t quite be matched by wireless IFE solutions on the market due to a variety of factors, including Hollywood’s decision not to permit the streaming of early window movie content to passengers’ own devices.

Even so, Philippine Airlines’ program will be watched by airlines and IFE stakeholders because its success could spur others – including second- and third-tier legacies and low-cost carriers – to go all-wireless on long-haul flights as well, particularly as more and more passengers turn to their own personal electronic devices for entertainment.

We’ve known for some time that Philippine Airlines selected OnAir’s new wireless IFE solution, OnAir Play, for retrofit to its A330s, after also tapping OnAir for inflight mobile and Wi-Fi connectivity on the widebodies.

Now new details have emerged about exactly what this streaming video solution entails. Global Eagle Entertainment says its WISE (Wireless Inflight Services and Entertainment) agnostic software platform is running on OnAir’s hardware, representing the official launch of WISE.

WISE supports most popular mobile devices, laptops and tablets, including Apple iOS and Android operating systems, as well as all major Internet browsers, says Global Eagle, adding that it also features a Digital Rights Management (DRM) solution for secured content streaming, and offers ancillary revenue opportunities, such as payment and purchasing options. Philippine Airlines’ passengers can stream content such as movies, television programs, music and apps for free.

“OnAir provides the hardware (the service and wireless access points) and we provide all the system software. The graphical user interface (GUI) is ours, and when you select a movie, the code that delivers that movie to you and another movie to someone else – all that content handling is what WISE does,” Global Eagle CEO Dave Davis explains to RGN. Additionally, just as Global Eagle supplies content for Philippine Airlines’ aircraft with seat-back IFE systems, the company is supplying content for its wireless IFE on the A330s.

Philippine Airlines president and COO Ramon Ang says the ability to offer a broad content program via the wireless IFE system “is an important amenity for our passengers”.

OnAir holds supplemental type certification for the hardware “and obviously we collaborate actively with respect to the software certification” which includes load testing and making sure the system doesn’t crash when delivering entertainment to 150 passengers, says Davis.

But can OnAir Play and the WISE platform support the simultaneous streaming of movies to a full planeload of passengers on the A330? “I don’t think any system provider can say that their wireless system can support every single passenger, but there have been significant steps [to improve the technology] over the last couple of years. Also take into consideration the fact that some people don’t bring devices and some are sleeping,” says Alexis Steinman, managing director of Global Eagle’s DTI unit, which developed WISE.

He stresses, however, that “everyone who has a desire to have a movie will have that delivery” on Philippine Airlines.

It’s not widely known that WISE is being sold directly to – and used in whitelist fashion by – many heavy hitters outside of OnAir, including Rockwell Collins, Airbus, and Honeywell. Without detailing specifics, Steinman confirms that Global Eagle has secured “several partners [that are] currently public and in the background, and we’re signing up a few [more] a year”.