‘Seamless Air Alliance’ launched at MWC

Greg Wyler (and SoftBank)-backed OneWeb, which is proposing to launch a massive constellation of 900 broadband satellites, used Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress (MWC) to announce its ‘Seamless Air Alliance’ (SAA) for improved In-Flight Connectivity (IFC).

The SAA concept brings together Sprint (also 85 per cent-owned by SoftBank), Delta Airlines, Airbus (an investor in OneWeb) and Bharti Airtel (another investor in OneWeb) to “empower airline passengers with seamless in-cabin connectivity”.

A statement issued at the show said: “It will also significantly reduce costs for everyone involved while creating a smooth, positive user-experience. The alliance – which aims to attract additional industry operators beyond the five initial members – will eliminate the immense costs and hurdles commonly associated with acquisition, installation, and operation of data access infrastructure by streamlining system integration and certification, providing open specifications for interoperability, increasing accessibility for passengers, and enabling simple and integrated billing.

“What if the best internet you ever experienced was in the air? Keeping this goal in mind, together, we will enable an affordable and frictionless experience for passengers everywhere,” said Greg Wyler, Founder and Executive Chairman of OneWeb. “With the launch of our first production satellites set for later this year, we’re one step closer to bridging the global Digital Divide on land and in the air.”

Equity analyst Giles Thorne at investment bank Jefferies, says “OneWeb has had ambitions in aviation since inception – indeed, our instinct is, given the even distribution of its network globally, it can’t just focus on consumer broadband. Intelsat / Gogo / OneWeb announced a tripartite agreement in March 2016 for capacity on Intelsat’s HTS-GEO fleet (32e, 33e, Horizons) and OneWeb’s HTS-LEO fleet. Where [this] news moves the debate is not from the satellite infrastructure competition perspective but from distribution – in an FT article this morning we learn that ‘The new alliance aims to disrupt [competing services] by allowing customers to roam while in the air using satellite systems with billing handled by their [mobile network operator]’. This is a notable departure from the status quo.”

The bank’s note continues: “The ‘passenger experience’ is something that any airline fanatically curates and cultivates. The airline wants (understandably so, in our view) to control exactly how passengers access the internet and also inject itself firmly into the experience as a means of generating more data on that passenger as well as creating the opportunity to sell that passenger an ancillary service (duty free, drinks, entertainment, etc.). This is the reason why practically all IFC deployments to date have been within the control of the airline. The news therefore that Delta is getting behind the idea of frictionless roaming and airline IFC disintermediation is quite the bombshell. We’d concede that historically, Delta has certainly had the most progressive attitude towards IFC of any US airline (the first airline to commit to IFC across its entire domestic fleet; the first to install IFC on its international fleet; the first to commit to Gogo’s 2Ku technology; and the first to embrace the Gogo Vision service).”

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