AirAsia facilitates passengers who simply want to text via apps

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In a world that seems insatiable for broadband Internet, AirAsia’s decision to offer a decidedly light airborne connectivity service to passengers has raised more than a few eyebrows on social media. But there is method to what some people perceive as the Malaysian budget carrier’s madness.

“This sort of service is perfectly suited to the current market in Asia as consumers have come to expect and rely on the ability to send and receive a WhatsApp, WeChat, or LINE message at any time. Our service is lightweight and cost effective so everyone can afford to use it,” says Sami El Hadery, executive director at Malaysian inflight entertainment and connectivity firm roKKi, which partnered with satellite operator Inmarsat to deliver the service to AirAsia.

He tells RGN: “I think this sort of service will gain a huge amount of traction moving forward especially in the single aisle market as it keeps the consumer connected at an affordable for all pricing. We will eventually provide email and social media packages but they will all be designed around the same principle of low-cost and lightweight data.”

During AirAsia’s so-called Friendly User Trial, which will run for a few months, the amount of data per passenger is being limited to 1MB. “Once the limit is hit the user is throttled. Once throttled, the user will still be able to send text and pictures for the remaining part of the flight; however, pictures will take longer to send,” says Hadery.

Detractors might argue that they this is a laughable data allotment. “But 1MB will probably last quite a little bit if only using chat apps. If text only, we’re talking kilobytes each message,” notes Routehappy data guy – and RGN contributor – Jason Rabinowitz. “After all, passengers aren’t loading web pages. They’re simply using text-based, pre-loaded apps.”

While the service will be chargeable after the user trial, it will not be billed per MB “but will be one fee for full access for the entire flight with the user getting throttled after they go above the 3MB data limit”, explains Hadery.

The connectivity solution operates over Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband aeronautical service via L-band satellites. It uses a Cobham-made four-channel satellite communication system that aggregates up to four times 332kbps totaling up to 1.3mbps of throughput. While SwiftBroadband generally supports 432kbps with a high gain antenna, Hadery explains that roKKi is using an intermediate gain antenna that supports up to 332kbps due to the fact it is “small, lightweight and an affordable package”.

He says roKKi plans to sell the service to other airlines. “This is an extremely attractive proposition to airlines as we have one of the only systems in the industry that is able to generate ancillary revenue for airlines. This is due to our innovative business model and low-cost hardware and lightweight services that use very little data.”

Will the likes of AirAsia be offered a natural upgrade path from this service to a higher bandwidth solution when Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band connectivity service comes on line? “It is still too early to say at this moment in time but in the long-term, passengers will demand higher speeds and Ka would be the natural choice,” says Hadery.

Photo above courtesy of Jason Rabinowitz, aka @AirlineFlyer on Twitter.

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