Road warriors are accustomed to encountering a bad cell reception in various airport facilities around the world, and when airliners are parked at the gate. But what happens when an airline’s dedicated cellular provider isn’t delivering as promised on the airport ramp? Poor cellular performance can impede ground operations and the pilots’ ability to communicate with internal systems and one another, in turn leading to delays.
That’s why NetForecast — the company known for measuring and assessing network performance at the user level, including on board aircraft — has developed QMap Airport, a simple app that continuously measures network performance in the background whilst collecting real-world data from employees’ digital devices, ensuring that airlines have a clear and accurate performance view.
Runway Girl Network sat down with NetForecast president Rebecca Wetzel and director of business development Mary Rogozinski at the APEX/IFSA Global EXPO in Long Beach to learn more. Rogozinski explained that airlines were having difficulty connecting their employees’ devices in the airport apron. When the baggage handler can’t communicate with the pilot, delays can ensue.
“So, we developed the application, basically applying the same technology that we’re using inside the planes measuring quality of experience, but now on the devices used by baggage handlers, tech ops including engineers, maintenance people, potentially pilots because they are communicating to the ground, and even possibly gate agents, customer service agents,” said Rogozinski. “It is solving a similar problem [as in-flight], but on a different scale and with different employees.”
Wetzel noted that NetForecast can provide data about the cellular service that even the cellular providers can’t supply. For instance, a provider might look at its radio frequency data and say, ‘the RF signals are good’. But the problem may not be between the tower and the device; it might be within the service provider’s network. Their peering is perhaps insufficient and causing a bottleneck that is causing the poor service to the airport. “We can see that,” said Wetzel.
Just as NetForecast’s QMap Inflight-branded app arms airlines with information to hold their aero ISPs’ proverbial feet to the fire to meet their service level agreements (SLAs), QMap Airport helps to ensure telcos are delivering as contracted to airlines. “It will definitely enable them [airlines] to renegotiate contracts in some cases” said Rogozinski, and to reach “more favorable terms” or push providers to do better.
Some may even decide to switch providers. “And you know, as we say, ‘the data are the data.’”
NetForecast first started publicly teasing the QMap Airport solution this summer. During the Denver Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit, Rogozinski gave a very high-level overview of the product on stage. Following the session, and before she could even sit down, Rogozinski was approached by an aviation stakeholder who said: “You’re the first person who has spoken to my need at this conference.” Your author is not terribly surprised, as some readers have urged Runway Girl Network to cover the topic of airport connectivity choke points!
NetForecast has since fielded tremendous interest in QMap Airport from airlines. In fact, a pre-release version of the app was successfully used by a US-based airline to document service shortcomings and justify switching its cellular provider at a busy airport in the Pacific Northwest, according to NetForecast.
But the firm sees an opportunity to roll out QMap Airport with airlines and airports around the world. “That’s the great thing about what we do; it’s really an app on a device. And so yes, it can monitor just about anywhere.”
Elsewhere, NetForecast is also moving into the rail space, with a solution for train operators that need to measure the true “end-to-end” data of the often multiple networks that deliver onboard Wi-Fi to their passengers.