A report from Paris-based satellite consultancy Euroconsult says that the In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) sector of the industry is going to enjoy “fabulous growth” although the study admits that predicting revenue patterns is still a challenge.
The study is echoed by London-based Inmarsat, which is boosting its coverage of the globe in order to secure aviation business, in its Inflight Connectivity Survey” published July 25th.
Euroconsult says (in its Smart Plane Indicator survey) that as at 2016 there were some 3600 commercial aircraft equipped with IFEC, and this will grow to some 10,300 by 2020.
Revenues are growing and the number of airlines committed to IFEC has more than doubled in the last 5 years to 72 currently. Europe, as at the end of 2016 had 20 airlines supplying connectivity, the Mid-East 19, Asia-Pac 20 and North America 9 airlines.
That growth in availability is matched by a growth in bandwidth available. While a couple of years ago an aircraft might offer – in total – 10-20 Mb/s, by the early part of this year that had expanded to between 100-200 Mb/s and by June 2017 data-rates were typically 1 Gb/s (per aircraft). “Advances in Modem technology is making it easier to provide near-household level WiFi to passengers,” says Euroconsult.
The study admits that some airlines are still struggling to find a business model that works for them. Some 14 out of 71 airlines offer varying rates of ‘free’ connectivity. It might be free messaging, or free web-surfing, or a fixed amount of bandwidth ‘free’ and then pay-as-you-go thereafter. Many are supplying their Business or First Class passengers with a free service, and some are experimenting with having ad-supported services.
Inmarsat’s survey states that Inflight WiFi is now seen as a necessity, not a luxury. Indeed, Inmarsat adds that simply having connectivity on a flight helps drive seat sales on an airline. Moreover, for those passengers travelling with children WiFi is a “lifesaver”.
“For passengers who have experienced quality inflight connectivity before, Wi-Fi has evolved into a clear decision-making factor when choosing an airline, ranked ahead of loyalty programmes and inflight entertainment. Among these users, 40 per cent rank high-quality Wi-Fi among their top three drivers of airline choice, along with price and flight time slots,” says Inmarsat.