APEX2015: Inmarsat says 80% of pax want inflight connectivity

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Leo Mondale, Inmarsat's President Aviation.
Leo Mondale, Inmarsat’s President Aviation.

Passengers want broadband inflight connectivity, they want a good quality of service and its availability will influence their decision as to which airline they fly with.

That was the message from Leo Mondale, Inmarsat’s President Aviation, who delivered details of its latest survey results at an APEX educational session in Portland, Oregon on Monday 28th September.

The full survey results, which was conducted among 6,000 passengers on short- and medium-haul routes in Europe, will be released on Tuesday.

Mondale said that IATA predicts passengers numbers will double by 2034 and there will be a 300% growth in connected aircraft over the next 10 years.

He added its survey shows 83% of passengers expect all aircraft will offer inflight Wi-Fi by 2026. Almost 70% said it would influence their airline decision and 80% said they would use inflight connectivity, with 67% willing to pay for it.

But he said it was crucial the service was good enough.

“Passengers say they want to be able do in the air exactly what they can do on the ground. Tell passengers they won’t have access to broadband and therefore cannot stream videos and the level of interest drops,” Mondale said. “If you don’t offer a service comparable with 4G, do not expect a 4G take-up.”

The survey shows that 80% of respondents said they want to connect their own tablet and 46% would use their laptop.

There were some other interesting statistics from the survey, broken down by age group:

  • In the 18-35 year-old group (the so-called connectivity addicts), 43% said they wanted to browse the web on their smartphone so often per day that they lose track.
  • In the 35-54 age group, 69% have flown with kids who have their own smartphones and 75% would pay for Wi-Fi.
  • And in the 45+ age group, they mainly only want to indulge in three activities, focused on communications and web browsing.

He added that passengers also want their data to be secure with a good quality of service.

“They want to have confidence that it will work,” he said. “They also want to be able to log-on easily, don’t want to register and like the idea of a free trial,” Mondale said, adding that Inmarsat is now pursuing both satellite and air to ground services.

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In a few years time Inmarsat will have at three technology offerings – its L-band SwiftBroadband system, its Ka-band global GX system and its upcoming European hybrid ATG system.

“The easiest way to offer inflight connectivity to more aircraft crammed into a small area is with ATG,” he said. “The system we are deploying in Europe will outperform anything we can offer from space during peak demand times over busy flight areas.”

“You also have to design your network for peak usage,” said Mondale. “Customers are not really driven by data speeds. They want enough speed, but above all they want a consistently good service.”

He said the industry as a whole has to get beyond passengers saying “this connectivity doesn’t work”.

He said that one design feature Inmarsat has adopted from the outset is to use dual receivers in its terminals. “You need to establish the link with the next spot beam during a handover before you stop using the first. It’s common sense,” Mondale said.

He also said that airlines should not look at using just one technology. “You need a detailed roadmap to ensure you don’t end up with old technology – there is a lot of new tech coming down the line.”

He said that all airlines have different passenger profiles, different routes and flight lengths, which can affect their pricing models, adding that selling data by the Megabyte is not sustainable.

“That is not the way passengers expect to buy data. With their own smartphone they buy a bundle each month, but from that point on they just use their device without thinking of what they are using.

“A price per flight model rather than price per data bundle stops big surprises with passengers’ bills,” he said.

He also attacked his Ku-based competitors. “That industry is being driven by video providers,” he said. “Our GX Ka-band system will be able to provide a lower cost per byte than Ku can,” he concluded, which is in contrast to comments made by Panasonic’s Todd Hill at London’s recent Aviation Festival.

Ultimately, it isn’t about whether Ka can deliver more bandwidth than Ku – physics decides that. It is about what established Ku-band satellite operators may charge their customers in the future.

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