Rockwell Collins and two unnamed satellite companies are the latest signatories to the Seamless Air Alliance, a group working to develop a set of standards aimed at making it smoother and easier for airline passengers to access the internet on their own devices.

The Alliance was announced in February by founding members Airbus, Delta Air Lines, OneWeb, Sprint and Bharti Airtel. Inflight connectivity provider Gogo also said in February that it had joined. In early June, the group said it had completed its structural setup and confirmed the addition of Nokia, Air France-KLM, Aeromexico and GOL Linhas Aereas to its membership

Seamless Air Alliance CEO Jack Mandala tells Aviation Week that Rockwell Collins has also agreed to join, along with “a couple of big satellite companies,” the identities of which are not being disclosed at this stage.

“We have had our first member meeting and are signing on big names every day,” says Mandala, adding that each of the three working groups within the alliance has now been assigned a chair.

Delta will chair the operational group, which will focus on developing third-party product specifications and system performance metrics; Airbus will lead the value chain group, tasked with the customer experience side and developing the billing framework, and OneWeb will chair the technical group, which will look at hardware deployment and certification.

 “We couldn’t be more pleased with the rate of membership growth. We have a pretty healthy pipeline of additional members that will be announced shortly,” says Mandala.

In a recently-published white paper outlining its goals and detailing how it plans to achieve them, the Alliance says members will “play a decisive role in enabling travelers to board any flight on any airline anywhere in the world and use their own devices to automatically connect to the internet, with no complicated login process and no paywall to scramble over.”

This will require a new set of standards that build on the existing roaming rules that enable people to use their cell phones in different countries. The difference is that the Alliance is defining the sky as “a new geography that can be covered by a new type of celestial mobile network operator, offering  roaming—in partnerships with terrestrial mobile network operators,” according to the white paper.

A key aim is to standardize the equipment that needs to be installed on aircraft to provide inflight connectivity. The plan is for airlines to be able to leverage different satellite networks— including upcoming low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations—without having to invest in all-new equipment.

“If we get this right, airlines will have a more simplified purchase decision because there will be plug-and-play products to select from,” says Mandala.

He adds that the alliance is keen to leverage existing standards and is “not trying to reinvent the wheel.” For instance, it is “looking at ARINC 792”—the under-development standard for next-generation antennas—and could adopt that “with a modification that allows for LEO [satellite access].”

There are concerns, however, that too much standardization could have a negative impact on innovation. Frederik van Essen, senior vice-president market and business development at Inmarsat Aviation, says that while standardization is “clearly what the airline industry strives for,” there is “still a lot of innovation going on” in the inflight connectivity market, and this could end up being compromised.

“It’s good to standardize on certain things but, given the level of innovation that’s going on, it’s difficult to standardize very far,” says van Essen.

Gregory Montevideo, senior director of connectivity global sales and services at Panasonic Avionics, also offers a note of caution about too much standardization.

“From a technical standpoint, it is possible to standardize the connectivity systems. However, airline operators may need to take on an integrator role relative to the connectivity systems, and may have to forgo some of their service-level commitments,” says Montevideo.

But airlines are showing signs that they are ready for more standardized products in this space. Emirates’ divisional vice president for customer experience, Patrick Brannelly, issued what Mandala describes as “a call to action for standardization” during a keynote speech at the recent Global Connected Aircraft Summit in San Diego.

Brannelly reportedly told delegates that “the era of inflight entertainment vendors controlling system selection . . . has got to end,” describing it as a type of “protectionism.”

Despite his reservations about standardization, Inmarsat’s van Essen does not rule out the possibility of the UK-based satellite company joining the Seamless Air Alliance.

“It’s good that they’re trying to set a standard, and we will keep in contact with them and see where it goes,” says van Essen. “If a specific standard for aviation were to be set, clearly we would like to be a part of it.”

Mandala says the next three months “will be really big for us,” as the Alliance works toward publishing its first recommendations.

“We should have a draft in six months and we will publish the initial version of the spec within a year,” he adds.