Passengers boarding an Airbus A320 on a sunny day.

Seamless member Kontron pushes for common aero modem form factor

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When the Seamless Air Alliance first came on the scene, it was unclear how many competitors would want to participate in the group’s work to develop inflight connectivity standards. After all, companies are often wary that standardization will limit their differentiation in the marketplace.

But while there remain a few holdouts, the Seamless Air Alliance’s trajectory has been nothing short of impressive. Since co-founders Airbus, Delta, OneWeb, Sprint and Airtel launched the group in 2018, more than forty companies have joined, and Seamless now boasts a ‘who’s who’ of airlines, airframers, telcos, satellite operators, inflight connectivity service providers and avionics manufacturers. Airlines are even working together as part of a new airline forum within the alliance to compare notes about their IFC experiences, and to help Seamless decide on what issues to tackle next to make IFC simply work better, according to Seamless CEO Jack Mandala.

As a member for nearly two years, hardware manufacturer Kontron is seeing “a lot of value to be part of that organization”, company avionics product manager Yves Beaumont told Runway Girl Network at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg. “Members are coming from many different companies, and we are all working together to make the passengers’ experience better. It is very nice to get feedback and vision from members such as airlines, modem manufacturers, system integrators, equipment manufacturers and software companies.”

Indeed, the German-based multinational company, which designs and manufactures embedded computer modules, boards and systems including for onboard aircraft, serves as a good case study for how Seamless is spurring change and innovation in industry.

But first, a little bit of background.

In aviation, Kontron develops servers, WAPs, modem managers (modmans) and other avionics hardware and software to support both current-gen and nextgen inflight entertainment and connectivity solutions. It does not sell directly to airlines so its customers (whether they be system integrators, connectivity providers, OEMs or software vendors) are using its solutions and white labeling them. As such, Kontron sees the world fleet as its addressable market.

Over at Seamless, Kontron is actively participating in two of the alliance’s prestigious working groups: the first one is HOST (Hosted Platforms Working Group), for which it is chair; and the second one is ARCH (Architecture/Interoperability), which is chaired by Airbus and Boeing.

HOST’s initiative is to enable the industry to define and build IFC solutions based on general-purpose vendor neutral hardware, open interfaces and software, with Beaumont explaining to RGN that: “This initiative addresses the following needs: airlines want to be able to use IFC as part of their digital outreach. They want the capability to add/remove services like ‘Apps’ based on common IFC hardware.”

Notably, Kontron already has a middleware HOST solution working on its hardware. Branded as ACE Flight SGOS, it was demoed on Kontron’s stand at this year’s AIX. “It is a highly flexible OS giving the capability to integrate, maintain, operate and monitor any user defined application [as containers or VMs], required to support any airline’s IFE&C business model,” said Beaumont. “All compute, network and storage management is via a configurable Resource Manager…”

“Importantly, this platform allows a customer to take any Kontron hardware platform and deploy their container applications quickly, with the included middleware managing the connections between hardware and software.” So, for instance, he said, an airline can try Kontron’s low-cost, low-barrier P100 portable wireless entertainment platform “and then deploy the same applications on a fully embedded solution. This is a solution with a very strong history and multiple installations flying today.”

Spearheaded by the big airframers, the ARCH working group, meanwhile, “is very proactive and dynamic in terms of planning the next technology. One of the main topics of this group is to ease the connectivity interoperability. Kontron plays a key role by working on the standardization of [the] aero satellite modem form factor,” said Beaumont, revealing:

After surveys with many modem manufacturers (Seamless members and non-members), we are currently working on a draft document that will specify the basic set of requirements for a standard Aero Satellite Modem. Having a common modem form factor could really ease the time to market for integrators and airlines.

In short, if an airline wants to swap out its modem, the process will become a lot easier.

“This is the main idea pushed by Airbus and Boeing by driving those Seamless Working groups,” explained Beaumont. The Kontron executive pointed to fellow Seamless member ST Engineering iDirect as being particularly helpful. “iDirect is really active and contributes a lot into this effort of modem standardization.”


It’s groundbreaking that competitors in the inflight connectivity space are working together on this level, helping to create synergies and innovation.

“The end goal,” stressed Beaumont, “is always to improve passenger experience by providing innovative solutions to the market. The best example of this synergy is all the discussions around the standardization of the modem form factor. All modem manufacturers are starting to work together in order to see how they can align with this new strategy of standard modems pushed by Airbus and Boeing.”

He continued, “Eventually with this strategy, yes competitor A versus competitor B could offer the same solution, but we will all have a different value proposition for the market. Kontron’s avionics value proposition is strong: Kontron is a large worldwide company. We are not only in the avionics market; we have many other verticals like Transportation, Medical, Communication, Defense and Industrial. This gives us strong financial health, and being part of a large group, helps us on the procurement and supply chain aspect. We have a better control and ownership of all the sub-assemblies inside our avionics products. Finally, we can leverage 30 years + of experience in avionics with more than 6,000 aircraft flying globally with Kontron IFE/IFC equipment.”

Indeed, rather than fear change, this kind of standardization works directly in line with Kontron’s vision. “We are developing open architecture solutions. A good example of this is our ACE Flight 4783 Dual Modman; it is a 4MCU box with a server capability, plus two satellite modems inside. The first configuration released and flying right now is the iDirect iQ800 + Hughes Jupiter 2 modem,” said Beaumont in reference to the GX+ North America GEO solution launched by Inmarsat and Hughes.

Kontron ACE FLIGHT 4783 on display at AIX 2023. A black box sits next to a sign describing the product. But other modem sets for the Dual Modman are in Kontron’s future, supporting different combinations of regional or global networks. “We are working to release more configurations in the upcoming months (single modem or dual modem configurations),” said Beaumont.

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