The logic is inescapable. Almost every passenger these days carries on to the aircraft either a laptop, iPad or ‘smart’ phone capable of accessing video. Why then, do airlines continue to spend millions to equip every seat with ‘seat-back’ video screens which are heavy, complex to wire up and extremely temperamental?
The answer, says Inmarsat of London and California-based ViaSat, is to scrap seat-back video and rely instead on a simple ‘in-plane’ WiFi system which could be utilised by all passengers with their own screens.
Inmarsat operates its own fleet of satellites and is already supplying video ‘direct to seat’ with some airlines. ViaSat has recently struck a joint-venture deal with Eutelsat and one benefit could be supplying video and enhanced internet connectivity from its satellites to aircraft.
Inmarsat Chief Executive Rupert Pearce, talking at a recent conference in London, said: “CEOs of airlines have been public about this – about moving toward a bring-your-own-device wireless network,” Pearce said. “That is not a surprise. These IFE [in-flight entertainment] networks are very heavy, cost tens of millions of dollars to certify and they get obsolete. Passengers buy devices every two years with better screens and better colour. The key is when these promised networks arrive and deliver the promised services.”
“There’s only one thing works than having a big, heavy, expensive IFE box on your plane, and that’s replacing it with something that doesn’t work very well. We’ve got to see the ViaSats, Inmarsats, Panansonics and others deliver. When that happens, you’ll see IFE naturally wither away.”