Airbus ACJs to Receive LiFi-Based IFE Next Year

Credit: Airbus Corporate Jet

Equipment supplier Latecoere is gearing up for the installation of the first LiFi optical data transmission system, claimed to be easy to fit in and future-proof, aboard an Airbus corporate jet next year.

LiFi (an acronym for light fidelity) uses optical fiber and LEDs in a frequency close to infrared. It is comparable to the way a TV remote control works but with bidirectional capability and much greater speed, Eric Proust, director of Latecoere's equipment and systems business unit, explains. It guarantees 100 Mbit/sec. per seat, up from the usual 1 Mbit/sec. with WiFi.

The partnership between Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) and Latecoere Interconnection Systems hinges on a product called the “ACJ Smart LiFi Monitor.”

Smart monitors integrate storage capability and high-performance processing, says Proust. They can operate in network. A movie may be stored on one monitor and shared. Media servers can thus be eliminated from the IFE system's architecture.

The monitor itself offers 4K resolution as well as WiFi, Bluetooth and LiFi connectivity. It includes USBc and HDMI ports. Features include audio-video on demand, casting, mirroring, web browser and live TV.

The user of a smartphone, tablet or computer can thus share content, says Laurent Groux, director of Latecoere's LiFi cabin system unit. Today, the aircraft's servers are still the primary source of content, he notes. The system also offers its own integrated video conferencing for onboard use. Moreover, LiFi's low latency enables applications such as onboard gaming.

Optical fiber and LED transmitters are straightforward to install, Proust says. Fewer cables are needed. No electromagnetic compatibility testing is required.

Moreover, LiFi creates a backbone that can support future needs. Today's satellite communications provide limited bandwidth but in-development constellations and air-to-ground networks will enable speeds in the order of one Gigabit/sec. at aircraft level, Proust expects.

Another strong point is acceptability, as LiFi does not use radio frequencies that users sometimes perceive as a health issue, says Groux.

The first deliveries for installation in ACJs are scheduled for the first quarter of 2022. Corporate jet retrofits are Latecoere's first market. A complete installation, including the backbone and equipment such as monitors, is said to be at least 30% cheaper than a conventional installation.

To create the system, Latecoere has partnered with Signify, a Dutch specialist in lighting that will supply the core of the LiFi system. South Korea's Huneed Technologies has helped develop the passenger distribution unit and fiber optic router.

In October 2019, a demonstration flight took place on an Air France-operated Airbus A321. As Latecoere wanted to highlight the greater bandwidth LiFi can bring to the cabin, the 12 equipped seats were occupied by the finalists of a video game tournament. The “Air France Trackmania Cup” was developed by Ubisoft and the final took place aboard flight Air France 6114, from Paris Orly to Toulouse.

Thierry Dubois

Thierry Dubois has specialized in aerospace journalism since 1997. An engineer in fluid dynamics from Toulouse-based Enseeiht, he covers the French commercial aviation, defense and space industries. His expertise extends to all things technology in Europe. Thierry is also the editor-in-chief of Aviation Week’s ShowNews.