The Kontron stand at AIX 2024. The words: "Kontron, The Power of IoT" are seen in blue lettering against a white backdrop. An avionics system is seen above the banner.

Kontron M&A ensures quiet giant has total ownership of systems


Kontron, the German-based multinational company which designs and manufactures embedded computer modules, boards and systems — including wireless access points, servers, modem managers and other avionics for commercial aircraft — has been engaged in strong M&A activity of late. In the last 12 months alone, it has snatched up Telit Cinterion’s cellular automotive IoT product business; Hartmann and W-IE-NE-R, a group of rugged system computing manufacturers; and a majority stake in German electronics service provider Katek SE, which also specializes in clean energy solutions.

The firm intends to leverage the expertise of each new unit to tackle supply constraints, reduce time to market and, crucially, ensure Kontron technology serves as the integral building blocks of every Kontron system, management told RGN at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

Cross-pollination, including in aviation, is already in the works. With vast new manufacturing capabilities secured through the Katek buy, Kontron is also offering its manufacturing services to other companies. “This is a big game changer for us,” said Kontron avionics product line manager Yves Beaumont.

The acquisition from Telit‘s automotive division, for instance, brings with it 5G cellular modem technology. “They are part of Kontron now. So, we are looking forward to working with them and have our own 5G cellular solution inside our products.”

This 5G tech, he noted, will facilitate cabin or cockpit communications when aircraft arrive at the gate. (Incidentally, 5G is also poised to be part of nextgen multi-beam, multi-orbit electronically steered antenna terminal packages, ensuring that gate-to-gate connectivity can be accommodated even if the passively cooled ESA overheats in very hot weather when aircraft are on the ground.)

Strengthening Kontron’s fast-growing high-margin segment “Software + Solutions”, Hartmann designs and manufactures integrated modular VPX computing systems for ultra-high speed and harsh environments including in support of military and defense. “We are currently leveraging that expertise to build our own power solution inside our product,” revealed Beaumont. “It’s in our strategy to have Kontron building blocks inside our systems. So we are reusing what we have in the Kontron family.”

Not unlike the “Intel inside’ program, Kontron has a ‘Kontron inside’ mentality, with an eagerness to own everything that goes into its systems. The firm’s KPSU (Ku/Ka-band Power Supply Unit), which was recently selected to power Hanwha Phasor’s multi-beam ESA, is based on Kontron technology, for instance.

“What’s inside it, the server, all of the switches, all of the processing, it’s all Kontron modules,” noted Kontron VP business development avionics Jon Moseley of the firm’s KPSU. “The power supply will be a Kontron module. The cellular will be a Kontron module. So for us to have total ownership of what goes in there is really important.”

Kontron’s Katek SE acquisition, meanwhile, marks the final stage of its latest M&A round, and represents the largest transaction in the company’s history. It is expected to contribute significantly to the group’s growth and the expansion of its position as a leading IoT provider. Kontron tech will be integrated into Katek products including in e-mobility.

Importantly, however, this acquisition gives Kontron “at least 20 manufacturing sites around the world, in the US, Canada, Europe, and we are now well positioned also to offer manufacturing services to other companies,” said Beaumont. Kontron is already starting to offer these services — so it’s not just building and selling products, it’s also manufacturing them for competitors.

This strategy plays into Kontron’s broader longevity plan which aims to manage the supply chain by both owning what’s inside its hardware but also handling manufacturing. Covid and indeed post-Covid supply chain constraints continue to bite in aviation and other industries, as underscored by Airbus’ reduced 2024 delivery forecast. It is desirable for Kontron to have more control of its destiny, and not be reliant on third parties that may in time become obsolete, causing “untold grief” or perhaps forcing the development of a new product line with new components, subcomponents and subassemblies. “We own it all now,” noted Moseley.

A key supplier in aviation, Kontron is also a partner on several prominent nextgen inflight connectivity projects. It is, for example, now integrating Hughes Network Systems’ JUPITER 3 modem into its Ace Flight 4783-branded MODMAN. Relatively new to the direct-to-airline market, Hughes is already an IFC provider to Delta Air lines.

Kontron modman can accommodate two modems. Pictured here on stand at AIX 2024.

The Ace Flight 4783 MODMAN supports ARINC 791/792 and has the unique ability to support two different SATCOM modems. Image: Mary Kirby

Kontron is also supporting the SES multi-orbit GEO/mPOWER MEO service, including as part of a new 50-aircraft retrofit project that will see the installation of its dual-modem MODMAN and other cabin wireless hardware plus ThinKom Solutions’ ThinAir Ka2517 VICTS antenna. Eclipse Global Connectivity and Display Interactive are also partners on the new program.

Additionally, Kontron is providing the Antenna Controller Modem Unit (ACMU) and PSU for the Sidewinder ESA from Stellar Blu Solutions, which is being acquired by Gilat. The ACMU houses the Hughes LEO modem that will support Eutelsat OneWeb’s LEO service when it goes live including as part of multi-orbit IFC solutions from Intelsat and Panasonic Avionics.

Also in IFC, Kontron can provide its ACE Flight 2780 Auxiliary Modem Unit (AMU) which, as its name suggests, enables operators to add a second or indeed third modem to enable multi-orbit connectivity, even featuring LEO/MEO/GEO in time if required. And its new cabin wireless access point is the first Wi-Fi 7-available cabin WAP on the market, according to management.


Having pursued an open architecture approach, Kontron is also working in lock step with IFC standards body Seamless Air Alliance, which boasts a ‘who’s who’ of members in aviation including airframers, top tier airlines and suppliers. New members include Southwest Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Hughes. And the alliance has a new role as representative of the aviation market as recognized by 3GPP.

Together with and as part of Seamless, Kontron is pushing for a common modem form factor in commercial aviation. And a new White Paper from the Kontron-chaired Hosted Platform working group at Seamless describes an initiative that would enable software developers from diverse backgrounds to participate in the broader aircraft software marketplace.

“The idea is to put together standard interfaces for application developers so all of these smaller, independent software vendors, for them to get on board faster and easier through a standard platform,” Seamless thought leader Peter Lemme explained to RGN at AIX. “We’re moving along towards embracing primarily container technology which is the same technology Amazon Web Services use, so the idea is sort of building a cloud on board the aircraft that application providers can go to, that they know their processing is there, they know how to interface with the airplane, and get that stuff without having to do it on their own every time.”

To accommodate this ecosystem, Seamless is opening up “a special tier of membership to participate in this aspect of what we’re doing for the smaller companies”, Seamless CEO Jack Mandala revealed to RGN.

Kontron, meanwhile, has a footprint in industries outside of aviation including the broader mobility vertical, medical and of course IoT. With its new manufacturing prowess, Kontron executives attended AIX with a strong message: “You know, we’ve got this, we’ve got this product that we’re looking to manufacture.”

And from a manufacturing standpoint, Kontron is here for “anybody else that wants to take advantage of that”.