In somewhat of a departure for Kontron, the inflight entertainment and connectivity hardware specialist is taking a more direct approach to the market via its new strategic partnership with Carlisle Interconnect Technologies, while continuing to grow its business with IFEC integrators and service providers.
Under the arrangement, which was first announced at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Kontron and Carlisle are providing turnkey cabin wifi system hardware solutions, aircraft installation kits and supplemental type certificates (STCs). Significantly, the duo say their target customers include “airlines”, in addition to system integrators, connectivity service providers and software media companies.
“The idea is Kontron has always been a provider for black boxes” such as the Kontron ACE Flight server, Cab-n-Connect wireless access points, modem managers, and 4G antennas for data uploads and downloads at the gate, explains Andy Mason, VP technology at Kontron America. These systems support wireless IFE, satellite connectivity, and air-to-ground connectivity solutions which have been retrofitted to some 4,000 aircraft.
Carlisle, on the other hand, “is an expert in installation designs and certifications. So, in a lot of cases, our customers were engaging us both independently. So, we worked with Carlisle and we are now providing that as a single package,” he says.
The two firms are jointly investing in the cabin wifi system STCs. Some operators will choose to use the system to simply support wireless IFE. Others will use it to springboard into a fuller implementation, inclusive of a live inflight connectivity pipe.
“So, we bring a complete STC for the A320, 737, [that] the customer can leverage off of on a royalty-free basis. And this allows them to get onto the aircraft much faster. And they can buy the complete hardware set from the Kontron/Carlisle team,” says Mason.
Does the airline select its own content service provider in these scenarios? Yes, in general, Mason tells Runway Girl Network. “It’s an open platform” which opens the market to a lot of smaller, more regional content partners in places like Spain, France, the UK, Malaysia or China.
“So, we’re finding the airlines like to have a regional content orientation. And they also like the flexibility to switch, if they get tired of one software provider, they can switch to another one and not change anything on the aircraft.”
Indeed, Kontron is observing a lot of creativity in the regional content space as short-haul operators have different requirements than long-haul carriers – a point also highlighted by APEX Media director Maryann Simson on this week’s #PaxEx Podcast.
There’s also “a lot of emphasis on targeted retail”, says Kontron’s Mason, as well as destination content. “When you used to see, say, the charter airlines target destinations, you’re seeing a lot more of that on just the standard carriers”, as well as an interest in processing payments, and generating revenue.
Interestingly, Kontron and Carlisle have already started delivering on some projects. With an approved STC for cabin wifi on the A320 family, several install packages have been shipped since 2017, including to “two different airlines in Asia”, Mason revealed last week during a Kontron-hosted webinair. Fresh shipments will begin this summer to customers in Europe and Asia, he adds. Kontron also optionally offers its AirDefense wifi security software and extended service contracts.
Certifying IFEC systems is “somewhere between science and art”, notes Mason, and Carlisle is extremely experienced in working with the FAA, EASA and the foreign aviation authorities to get certification for these systems.
“One of our things that we do is develop the installation kits,” agrees Matt Weitz, project management lead at Carlisle. He says the firm’s Mobile, Alabama facility specializes “in the integration of the cabin systems for the aircraft from the structural components to the electrical interfaces for the system and also interfacing the aircraft system power for powering our systems with Kontron.”
Mason sees opportunities for growing installed cabin wifi packages with operators in China and India, which have loosened restrictions on inflight connectivity. But he believes many will use wireless IFE as a stop-gap measure until they’re ready to pay for full onboard Internet. “I think a lot of them are looking at that because of the investment – looking at doing it in a phased approach,” says Mason.
While Kontron is working with a number of connectivity teams, it is personally “focusing in China more on the wireless IFE”, at the present, he reveals. “India, it’s a similar situation, poised for a lot of growth. There are some barriers to entry; you’ve got to have local support, which we do – Kontron does – in both China and India. And a lot of it is overcoming the regulatory hurdles to get installed.”
At the same time, Kontron also sees opportunities to grow its business with other integrators and service providers. The firm has long supported Global Eagle’s Ku-band connectivity and live television product on Southwest Airlines, and recently inked a new arrangement with Global Eagle after they “won some new” as-yet-undisclosed customers, notes Mason.
“This [new agreement with Global Eagle] is leveraging off that go-forward plan with some new equipment that will be more easily installed and more adaptable to linefit also,” he says.
Kontron also provides hardware to Lufthansa Systems, Gogo and Inmarsat – the latter for both its European Aviation Network (EAN) and Global Xpress connectivity offerings – and has done work for Viasat.
But it also has heavyweights Panasonic and Thales in its sights.
“We are always looking to cooperate with Panasonic and Thales,” confirms Mason. “I think they’re doing so much that they’re looking for best value. So, in a lot of cases, Kontron can provide that especially if we have a product that meets their needs.”
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