Southwest working with AT&T, Global Eagle on IFEC enhancements


Southwest Airlines is working with AT&T Mobility Solutions Services and its inflight entertainment and connectivity partner, Global Eagle Entertainment, to enhance its IFEC offering, and is prepping to reveal more details about its efforts at next week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

The carrier’s Ku-band satellite-supported Internet service, in particular, has received decidedly mixed reviews, with some passengers bemoaning spottiness and bandwidth constraints. News that enhancements are in the works at Southwest comes at a time when another US low-cost carrier, JetBlue Airways, is enjoying success with its Ka-band Internet solution, dubbed FlyFi, which is provided by the pairing of Thales and ViaSat. Indeed, JetBlue says its free FlyFi-branded Wi-Fi tier is performing so well that it leaves the paid product “with a little bit of an identify crisis”. A nice problem to have.

Global Eagle confirms it is working with the airline as it gains insight from AT&T MSS. “The quick answer is that yes we are aware of it, and we have been working with Southwest on this,” says Global Eagle VP of investor relations Kevin Trosian. “From an airline perspective, we think they should be reviewing the new technologies out there and we’re supporting that effort.”

AT&T has consulted for Southwest in the past, and while the carrier is not discussing its specific work with the telco now, its senior director of product innovation and management Heather Hvidsten tells RGN, “At Southwest, hospitality is at the forefront of everything we do. We strive to provide an exemplary product and overall Customer experience. We work closely with our partners at Global Eagle Entertainment to continually survey our IFE product and to assist in planning sessions and product improvement processes on an ongoing basis. We’re always looking to enhance the products we offer and to remain forward-thinking with our onboard Entertainment offerings.”

She adds that the carrier – which offers streaming live television, video on demand, and Beats-sponsored music in addition to Internet service – has “some exciting announcements that will come from the conference in Hamburg next week”.

Whether the announcements will include an upgrade by Southwest to Global Eagle’s next generation Ku service – the antenna for which will be unveiled at next week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo – remains to be seen. Earlier this year the carrier told RGN that, while it has eyed “some other things that are coming up, and with the recent 2Ku that Gogo has talked about, there is a lot going on”, it is nonetheless happy with its partner, and excited about what the future holds for its connectivity once Ku-band High Throughput Satellites launch. Global Eagle’s satellite partner, SES, will launch a HTS over North America.

“We want to understand how to push the envelope with this [aero market],” SES management told an intimate group of journalists at the recent Satellite 2015 conference in Washington DC. The company says SES’s relationship with Global Eagle cannot be defined in simple “service provider” terms. Rather the two are working in concert to maximize the experience for customers. “We want to change the experience of travel, not just about moving people from point A to point B. How can we make it better,” says SES.