Free inflight wifi on Citilink part of Indonesian move to go digital

It’s rare for any inflight connectivity start-up to make fast gains in the market. But Indonesian wireless technology provider Mahata Aero Teknologi (MAT) is incentivized in ways that many others are not.

“The government of Indonesia right now is trying to educate Indonesian people for the Internet, and digital,” explains MAT president director Muhamad Fitriansyah to Runway Girl Network. And that includes taking Internet to the skies for the island country, he says.

MAT began working with Inmarsat, Lufthansa Technik and Lufthansa Systems in December 2017, and studied options for delivering IFC to the region. Within three months, the parties had signed an MOU to support the installation of Inmarsat GX connectivity for what would collectively be their “first client”, Jakarta-based low-cost carrier Citilink. An official contract covering GX installs on 50 Citilink Airbus A320s was announced in July of 2018.

MAT executive director Iwan Setiawan agrees that the company’s zero to sixty acceleration in IFC has been “very fast” indeed. And there are no signs that anyone is slowing down, as the first GX-fitted Citilink A320 broke cover at the end of 2018, precisely on schedule.

The remaining 49 A320s are earmarked for equipage over the next 18 months. At present, installs are occurring during C-Checks, but if demand for the service proves high, “maybe we don’t wait” for the C-Check, confides Fitriansyah. GX equipage takes three to five days, confirms both Inmarsat and MAT.

Citilink, part of the Garuda Indonesia group is – like the country of Indonesia itself – working to transform to digital processes. The carrier has every reason to believe that its new inflight Internet offering will be a hit. After all, the service will be provided totally free-of-charge in support of a BYOD model for Citilink’s all-economy aircraft. It’s also being positioned as a differentiator in a market where the Garuda Indonesia group competes with leader Lion Air.

But surely the free-for-all model is an expensive proposition? “Well, expensive or not, it depends on which angle you see. But we still can manage it,” insists Fitriansyah.

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Will the cost be incorporated into the price of the ticket on some level? “No, the price of the ticket is the same and we don’t charge anything for the passengers, so it’s really free for the passengers,” he says.

The decision to be “totally free, 100%” permanently is again driven by the fact that “Indonesia is about two or three steps behind in digital” so a free proposition will help to bring the situation “from two step behinds to now”, and will serve as a service differentiator for Citilink, adds Fitriansyah.

Asked why GX was selected, he responds, “Well, GX is the best. Why? Because it’s Ka-band. And our business model is we are giving free wifi to the customer. And so for that, we have to make sure the connectivity can absorb the traffic from the passengers. And so we found the best was the GX system.”

The hope is that Citilink passengers will share their #PaxEx on social media. “That’s actually what we wanted to bring – communication from the airline to the ground,” says the MAT executive.

Inmarsat has been very supportive. “We have the same vision,” he says. All parties are now focused on rolling out the service for passengers, before potentially exploring driving operational benefits from the pipe.

We are doing very well in terms of collaboration. Every party has their own responsibility. We’ve become the integrator. So, it’s not just the only install, but we’re working for the next thing all together.

In November, the MAT team forged another MOU, this time to provide GX to Garuda’s domestic and international fleets, marking an extension of the existing 10-year contract with Citilink, Lufthansa Technik and Lufthansa Systems.

If there is a question about whether Garuda had previously expected to equip with Global Eagle Ku connectivity, MAT executives didn’t suggest anything of the sort during our interview, with management saying in terms of customers, “At the moment, it’s Citilink and the other one is Garuda.”

Noting that these types of endeavors usually take a lot longer, Inmarsat Aviation regional vice president Ben Griffin tells RGN: “These guys have really shaken up the whole model of how this works, so from that perspective it’s refreshing for them to have taken a technical evaluation and find GX is the best [which is] clearly a strong endorsement which we’re very proud of as well. So, we’re really pleased with it. And they’re great guys to do business with and to be with, and we look forward to more successes in the future.”

Photo at top: MAT executive director Iwan Setiawan and president director Muhamad Fitriansyah celebrate the first GX-equipped Citilink A320. Image: MAT

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