With plans proceeding apace for European inflight Internet and streaming entertainment systems, including a fleetwide rollout of the latter at LCC Eurowings, Lufthansa Systems CEO Olivier Krüger sat down with Runway Girl Network contributing editor John Walton for an update, plus a five-year horizon scan and thoughts around the Bluetooth headphone revolution.
What can Eurowings passengers now expect to see on board? How much content, and of what sort — are we talking three to five episodes of a few box sets, early window, cult classics, or something else?
OK: Passengers can select from a broad variety of content. Not only can they watch movies and TV from major Hollywood studios but also get access to Destination Guides, Airport Guides, Destination Videos, Games, Music, a Moving Map and curated YouTube videos. The content set will constantly be adjusted according to passenger feedback, airline requirements and promotions, and addresses all Eurowings demographics like kids and adults, etc. Currently approximately 25 movies and a selection of TV shows are being provided which includes multiple episodes of a series or complete box sets. But this is a different kind of airline with route structures a bit different than traditional IFE. Therefore, we may likewise vary from the more traditional approach to content as the preferences of passengers become clearer.
What specific BoardConnect Portable system is used, and is it similar to any other airlines’ implementation? How is it different to the way that Lufthansa has been using BoardConnect?
OK: The main difference between BoardConnect and BoardConnect Portable is the fast and easy roll-out without installation downtime of the aircraft or a costly and time-consuming STC. In spite of that, the solution offers the same functionality as BoardConnect including moving map, daily updates via LTE, Hollywood content and TV shows. Once the content is integrated and the UI branding is done, the solution can be rolled-out within one week-end on a fleet of >70 aircraft as we have done it in the case of Eurowings.
To what extent is this BoardConnect system plug-and-play in the event that the airline desires to introduce connectivity? In other words, can the connection from the router plug directly into the existing on-aircraft wifi network?
OK: We are currently thinking about a combination of connectivity and BoardConnect Portable but this will take some more time and investigation. However, connectivity requires an STC and installation of antennas and modems anyhow, which allows for the installation of our avionics integrated cabin network in parallel without increasing the installation timeframe for connectivity. Additionally, some use cases still require an avionics installed server such as the collection and monitoring of aircraft data for predictive maintenance. In the case of cockpit communication (e.g. graphical weather updates, tracking, ACARS offload, etc.) avionics integrated hardware is still key. On the other hand, already today we offer a flexible upgrade path from BoardConnect Portable towards connectivity that avoids sunken cost for airline customers. In this case BoardConnect Portable with its flexibility helps to bridge the gap until connectivity is available all over the fleet. From a passenger perspective, only a new service (connectivity) will be added to the portal. Airlines can avoid disappointed customers that have no wifi at all.
More widely, how are the multiple connectivity products within the Lufthansa Group currently being positioned? What has changed since the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg in April?
OK: We are currently rolling out connectivity with our partner Inmarsat on the Lufthansa fleet at a larger scale. The connectivity is based on Inmarsat GX but within the Lufthansa Group Inmarsat EAN (air to ground) may become an option for sub fleets as well.
Particularly, how is BoardConnect working with the Media inMotion portable product your Lufthansa Group stablemate LSG acquired?
OK: We are in close discussion with RIM/MIM. We are looking into further integration and definitely we have very complimentary offerings. Especially the retail part of the solution can be made available on BoardConnect and we are also able to integrate into the RIM vPOS (virtual point of sales). BoardConnect together with RIM and other Lufthansa Systems solutions such as mCabin (our comprehensive solution for pursers), and the offerings of Lufthansa Technik (hardware, MRO services, etc.) [ensures] the Lufthansa Group is able to provide a unique offer to the market.
How is the installation planning for Global Express on Lufthansa going? What’s next for this customer?
OK: The roll-out process is working according to schedule. With our partners Inmarsat and Lufthansa Technik we achieved the STC for the GX system and BoardConnect in June, 2016. We are currently planning for the fleet roll-out that will take place in several Lufthansa Technik facilities in order to provide sufficient installing capacity.
Can you please provide an update on how the ViaSat Ka-band on El Al is progressing? What’s next here?
OK: The ViaSat System is integrated with our BoardConnect wifi IFE and during the first test flights, the service is performing extremely well and stable.
What other connectivity customers are you supporting?
OK: Beside the customers mentioned above, we are working on further opportunities that cannot be disclosed at this point.
More widely, where do you see the industry evolving? What’s next in the coming 24 months for IFEC?
OK: The major trend is digitalization of airline processes. Airlines are looking into optimizing services on board be it crew processes or maintenance processes, etc. In this respect we develop our platform in a direction that allows airlines to quickly deploy new services in the cabin. We are testing and working on several projects related to IoT and aircraft data collection and predictive maintenance.
Additionally, we are increasing our partner ecosystem to provide tailored services for airline passengers that generate benefits for the passengers and revenues for the airline. We also believe that virtual reality and wearables will improve and provide completely new experiences on board and on ground.
How about in five years’ time?
OK: The process of digitalization will change our world with an exponentially growing speed. We see the connected aircraft and fast adaptable open wifi-platforms as the key for airlines to differentiate their product and optimize revenues and operational costs.
What activity are you seeing around Bluetooth headphones in particular? Are airlines asking for these to be enabled and included as part of their testing for connectivity?
OK: Already today people can use Bluetooth enabled headphones on board. Modern wifi systems like BoardConnect already support this via the mobile devices of passengers. In a dense environment like in an aircraft cabin, extensive Bluetooth usage may cause interference problems. However, we believe that the new Bluetooth standards will help to improve service quality and adapt to the demands of the industry. We are testing the limitations of the current Bluetooth protocols in our lab.
What is LHS currently planning for in terms of the next generation of tablets and smartphones without a headphone jack?
OK: First of all even the new iPhone 7 will still allow [you] to use connected head phones via an adapter. However, the development will clearly lead to a higher usage of Bluetooth enabled headphones. The latest Bluetooth standards 4.2 and 5 have significantly improved security and data rates, also the energy consumption has been reduced significantly which is an important factor for the onboard usage of mobile devices. The main advantage of the new standards is adaptive frequency hopping that addresses the problem of interference in dense environments. We are carefully looking into this but do not see any negative implications at the moment.
Is this an advantage or disadvantage for tablet-based systems compared with embedded? Why?
OK: We believe that tablet-based systems will benefit from the current development. People will regard wireless headphones as the new standard. It will be difficult to enable the usage of Bluetooth headphones on older embedded IFE solutions.
What certification issues are there? How is this likely to affect time to market?
OK: At least airlines need to react on the fact that [when] aircraft are not wifi tolerant the usage of wireless headphones must be prohibited. We don’t see any implication for wifi based entertainment or connectivity solutions.
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