Connected in High Places
Just a few years ago, many passengers viewed in-flight internet as a rare treat. Now a fast, reliable service is just the foundation of an airline’s connectivity offering. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed more work, social, and leisure activities online, and passengers expect their digital lifestyle to flow from the ground and into the cabin.
At the same time, inflight connectivity (IFC) must justify its investment, both meeting user demands and driving new business towards the operator. This means tailoring the product to different passenger profiles, pursuing monetization opportunities where appropriate, and using connectivity to enhance customer loyalty.
Achieving these goals requires a software platform that is intuitive and flexible; onboard hardware and software that is compatible with electronic devices old and new; and satellite- and ground-based networks that deliver rapid, ubiquitous internet coverage.
In 2020, these three pillars of connectivity were united under a single banner when Virginia-based Intelsat acquired IFC provider Gogo. The deal married Intelsat’s network of more than 50 satellites and ground-based infrastructure to a 2Ku antenna, onboard network and tailored operating system (OS) to create a true vertical solution. As such, it avoids the compatibility issues of IFC packages sourced from multiple technology vendors, while also offering a predictable upgrade path that works across all networks and aircraft types.
Intelsat delivers a configurable portal to the internet that is simple to use and configure. For example, it might offer a free connection to business-class passengers alongside a paid or sponsored service to economy.
For the airline, a powerful content management system makes it easy to modify the look of the portal, while new inflight services via APIs can be delivered through rapid standards-driven integration – avoiding time-consuming software certification.
Intelsat has sought to future proof its solution on the hardware side, too: Its 2Ku antennas link to satellites in both low- and medium-earth orbits, negating the need for expensive retrofits, while the flat-panel design is more fuel efficient than gimballed antenna assemblies.
Completing the Intelsat offering is its 5G network of software-defined satellites and terrestrial relays. These dynamically steer bandwidth as and where it is needed, cutting out network bottlenecks and ensuring fast, uninterrupted internet coverage.
Cabin crew also benefit from a reliable software platform that just works – allowing them to deliver inflight services more efficiently without being distracted by passenger connection issues.
And thanks to regular auditing and testing, the Intelsat OX Platform protects customer data within a secure environment that separates passenger traffic from an aircraft’s other data communications.
Combined, these features form the complete IFC package – one that meets the varying demands of modern internet use, responds quickly to operational requirements, and works reliably with technologies old, new and in development.