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A Review of Norwegian Air Shuttle In-Flight Connectivity

Another meeting in Europe, another flight, and another opportunity to test in-flight connectivity (IFC) for ourselves. This time, the flight was with Norwegian Air Shuttle, a carrier that is fast gaining a reputation for its customer experience, and the destination was Portugal.

The IFC for Norwegian is provided by Global Eagle Entertainment (Row 44) and at the time of writing is installed on all of its Boeing 737 aircraft. The first thing to note is that Norwegian has already drawn its line in the sand, in terms of its position on IFC; providing the service free of charge to passengers.

The service was activated as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off. Connecting via my smartphone, the service was initially very quick (a sign that I was perhaps too eager to log on). The first point of call was to log into Facebook, an application I perceive to be low end in terms of bandwidth consumption. I was able to use the site almost as quickly and seamlessly as I am on the ground. This was also the case for Twitter, which I used to post the tweet and image below.

tweet-min

When instant messaging, I encountered no issues uploading and downloading written messages and sending images only added a small amount of time to the messaging process, taking 40-50 seconds to upload and 30-40 seconds to download. But uploading a 10 second video clip, 1MB in size, took just shy of 5 minutes, which was possibly asking too much of the service. Nevertheless, it did send, which could well be viewed as a feat in itself.

Streaming video content via YouTube also proved to be a little difficult, although this could be attributed to more people using the service by this point and the fact video streaming is a high bandwidth application. A number of my attempts to stream video content resulted in an error message being shown (see first image below) but persistence paid off and I was eventually able to stream one or two videos, including an Olly Murs music video (see second image below). Funnily enough, when the video began to stream there was no issue with lag or loading messages, suggesting the service was able to cope.

image1-min

image2-min

It is the ability to carry out what I consider to be high bandwidth applications that is what I will take away from my experience of this service. I should add that I don’t know what the take-up rate was on the flight, but the fact I was able stream video content on YouTube and upload a video of my own really went above and beyond my expectation. Yes there were some niggles on the way but these were isolated and perhaps beside the point.

In a competitive sector, such as the airline industry, value added services, such as IFC, are becoming more and more important. Linked to this point, in a recent survey we carried as part of our IFC report, airlines indicated the number one reason for providing IFC was to differentiate themselves from or to keep up with the competition.

The IFC service on board Norwegian Air Shuttle went beyond my expectations as a passenger. I am undecided as to whether this wow factor came from me knowing too much about the limitations of IFC and therefore managing my own expectations and I question whether the everyday passenger will feel the same. But my thoughts are yes they will and the reason is that surfing the web in flight full stop is still very much a novelty outside the US. Just look at Twitter to see the posts from 36,000ft for evidence of this point. However, the novelty factor will gradually wear off and so all step levels of the IFC supply chain need to continue to push the boundaries until the experience of using the internet in-flight is akin to that of the experience on the ground. The IFC on board Norwegian Air Shuttle is certainly an indication that the industry is on the right path.

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Another meeting in Europe, another flight, and another opportunity to test in-flight connectivity (IFC) for ourselves. This time, the flight was with Norwegian Air Shuttle, a carrier that is fast gaining a reputation for its customer experience, and the destination was Portugal. The IFC for Norwegian is provided by Global Eagle Entertainment (Row 44) and at the time of writing is installed on all of its Boeing 737 aircraft. The first thing to note is that Norwegian has already drawn its line in the sand, in terms of its position on IFC; providing the service free of charge to passengers. The service was activated as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off. Connecting via my smartphone, the service was initially very quick (a sign that I was perhaps too eager to log on). The first point of call was to log into Facebook, an application I perceive to be low end in terms of bandwidth consumption. I was able to use the site almost as quickly and seamlessly as I am on the ground. This was also the case for Twitter, which I used to post the tweet and image below. tweet-min When instant messaging, I encountered no issues uploading and downloading written messages and sending images only added a small amount of time to the messaging process, taking 40-50 seconds to upload and 30-40 seconds to download. But uploading a 10 second video clip, 1MB in size, took just shy of 5 minutes, which was possibly asking too much of the service. Nevertheless, it did send, which could well be viewed as a feat in itself. Streaming video content via YouTube also proved to be a little difficult, although this could be attributed to more people using the service by this point and the fact video streaming is a high bandwidth application. A number of my attempts to stream video content resulted in an error message being shown (see first image below) but persistence paid off and I was eventually able to stream one or two videos, including an Olly Murs music video (see second image below). Funnily enough, when the video began to stream there was no issue with lag or loading messages, suggesting the service was able to cope. image1-min image2-min It is the ability to carry out what I consider to be high bandwidth applications that is what I will take away from my experience of this service. I should add that I don't know what the take-up rate was on the flight, but the fact I was able stream video content on YouTube and upload a video of my own really went above and beyond my expectation. Yes there were some niggles on the way but these were isolated and perhaps beside the point. In a competitive sector, such as the airline industry, value added services, such as IFC, are becoming more and more important. Linked to this point, in a recent survey we carried as part of our IFC report, airlines indicated the number one reason for providing IFC was to differentiate themselves from or to keep up with the competition. The IFC service on board Norwegian Air Shuttle went beyond my expectations as a passenger. I am undecided as to whether this wow factor came from me knowing too much about the limitations of IFC and therefore managing my own expectations and I question whether the everyday passenger will feel the same. But my thoughts are yes they will and the reason is that surfing the web in flight full stop is still very much a novelty outside the US. Just look at Twitter to see the posts from 36,000ft for evidence of this point. However, the novelty factor will gradually wear off and so all step levels of the IFC supply chain need to continue to push the boundaries until the experience of using the internet in-flight is akin to that of the experience on the ground. The IFC on board Norwegian Air Shuttle is certainly an indication that the industry is on the right path.

When Will Latin America Embrace In-Flight Connectivity?

Come the turn of the year, passengers flying on one of over 4,000 connected commercial aircraft will have access to in-flight connectivity (IFC). However, unless you’ve flown a domestic flight in the United States, chances are you’ve not yet experienced the wonders of the web at 35,000 feet. Thanks mainly to the continued dominance of Gogo, North America currently accounts for about 75% of total global installations. Fear not, other regions are playing catch up and the airline cabin – the last bastion of quiet in a world awash with chatter – really does now stand on the brink.

Europe, which is home to almost 350 connected aircraft today, will get a get a huge boost when Inmarsat provides inexpensive S-band capacity to the region in 2016. In Asia Pacific, growth is likely to be even more rapid. With many airlines in China and India yet to play their hands (or still in the trial phase), there is plenty of untapped potential. In the Middle East, penetration is now second only to the United States. But what of Latin America I hear you ask? Apart from TAM, which has 31 aircraft offering in-flight GSM mobile phone service, there has been precious little news emanating from the region. Aeromexico, which is installing Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band technology on its new 787s as well as 2Ku from Gogo, contributes to North America’s installed base as far as Valour Consultancy’s statistics are concerned.

In 2012, Panasonic signed a long term contract for multiple transponders on the Anik G1 and Telstar 11N satellites to expand its aeronautical broadband service over Latin America and the North Atlantic. SES-10, meanwhile, is planned to launch in 2016 and will provide significant capacity expansion over Latin America. Both deals imply that there is a demand for Ku-band based IFC in the region but apart from the aforementioned airlines, there’s been an almost collective hush regarding roll-out plans from other big players there such as Avianca, LAN, Gol, Azul, Copa Airlines and Aerolineas Argentinas. The latter has, however, been carrying out line-fit installations of Panasonic’s eXW wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE) system on eight new 737s.

So when will we hear more? Given that Honeywell and Inmarsat have been pretty coy on customers for GX Aviation (Air China, Air Canada and Vietnam Airlines are the three that have been announced), it might well be that airlines in Latin America have been waiting for the arrival of less expensive capacity before taking the leap into the world of IFC. It is anticipated that the cost of global Ka-band capacity will be somewhat lower than Ku-band capacity, which is currently believed to be in the region of $0.10 to $0.20 per megabyte (new HTS Ku-band satellites will reduce this cost, however). Airlines located here could certainly be considered less “cash-rich” than some of the airlines based elsewhere and less able to absorb the fairly hefty costs involved. A relative lack of competition among carriers compared to Europe and North America could be another factor behind the slower roll-out of IFC. Indeed, our recent survey of airlines indicated that a desire to keep up with the competition was, more often than not, front of mind when deciding to invest in connectivity.

Another factor that may have dissuaded airlines in the region from making an IFC decision thus far is a lack of adequate satellite coverage. While SwiftBroadband coverage is almost global, it provides limited bandwidth. Panasonic likes to mention that 99% of all commercial aircraft fly routes served by its Ku-band satellite coverage. However, there is a rather glaring hole in coverage over the South Pacific. Obviously, connectivity service providers need to purchase capacity in those areas that have the air traffic to demand that capacity and the South Pacific is not the most heavily travelled air corridor in the world. That said, the likes of Qantas, LAN, Aerolineas Argentinas and Air New Zealand all operate long-haul routes in this region. Until GX Aviation comes along, none of these airlines can operate a high bandwidth service for the entirety of a flight from say, Auckland to Santiago or between Sydney and Buenos Aires. Air New Zealand has actually cited a lack of full satellite coverage on certain routes as the reason why it opted not to select line-fit IFC on its new Boeing 787-9 aircraft.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that there is IFC being provided on flights to and from Latin America by airlines based elsewhere. As it happens, I did have the opportunity to give Iberia’s new system a try on a flight from Lima to Madrid earlier this year (a review of this system will be posted soon). But…Iberia’s installations are counted in the European region in our statistics due to the location of its headquarters. That said, carriers based in Latin America will doubtless start revealing their plans soon. As such, we expect the penetration of connected aircraft in this part of world to increase from about 2% in 2014 to 27% by 2024. In terms of average annual growth in installed base, this represents the quickest growth rate of IFC equipage in the world over this time frame.

Valour Consultancy’s recently-published and very comprehensive report on the future of IFC on commercial passenger aircraft contains an unparalleled insight into how this market will unfold in various parts of the globe. It also tracks installations by frequency band (air-to-ground, L-band, Ku-band, Ka-band and combinations of), fitment type (line-fitment v retrofits) and aircraft type (narrow-body, wide-body and regional jet). Further information can be found on our website.

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Come the turn of the year, passengers flying on one of over 4,000 connected commercial aircraft will have access to in-flight connectivity (IFC). However, unless you've flown a domestic flight in the United States, chances are you've not yet experienced the wonders of the web at 35,000 feet. Thanks mainly to the continued dominance of Gogo, North America currently accounts for about 75% of total global installations. Fear not, other regions are playing catch up and the airline cabin – the last bastion of quiet in a world awash with chatter – really does now stand on the brink. Europe, which is home to almost 350 connected aircraft today, will get a get a huge boost when Inmarsat provides inexpensive S-band capacity to the region in 2016. In Asia Pacific, growth is likely to be even more rapid. With many airlines in China and India yet to play their hands (or still in the trial phase), there is plenty of untapped potential. In the Middle East, penetration is now second only to the United States. But what of Latin America I hear you ask? Apart from TAM, which has 31 aircraft offering in-flight GSM mobile phone service, there has been precious little news emanating from the region. Aeromexico, which is installing Panasonic Avionics' Ku-band technology on its new 787s as well as 2Ku from Gogo, contributes to North America's installed base as far as Valour Consultancy's statistics are concerned. In 2012, Panasonic signed a long term contract for multiple transponders on the Anik G1 and Telstar 11N satellites to expand its aeronautical broadband service over Latin America and the North Atlantic. SES-10, meanwhile, is planned to launch in 2016 and will provide significant capacity expansion over Latin America. Both deals imply that there is a demand for Ku-band based IFC in the region but apart from the aforementioned airlines, there's been an almost collective hush regarding roll-out plans from other big players there such as Avianca, LAN, Gol, Azul, Copa Airlines and Aerolineas Argentinas. The latter has, however, been carrying out line-fit installations of Panasonic's eXW wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE) system on eight new 737s. So when will we hear more? Given that Honeywell and Inmarsat have been pretty coy on customers for GX Aviation (Air China, Air Canada and Vietnam Airlines are the three that have been announced), it might well be that airlines in Latin America have been waiting for the arrival of less expensive capacity before taking the leap into the world of IFC. It is anticipated that the cost of global Ka-band capacity will be somewhat lower than Ku-band capacity, which is currently believed to be in the region of $0.10 to $0.20 per megabyte (new HTS Ku-band satellites will reduce this cost, however). Airlines located here could certainly be considered less "cash-rich" than some of the airlines based elsewhere and less able to absorb the fairly hefty costs involved. A relative lack of competition among carriers compared to Europe and North America could be another factor behind the slower roll-out of IFC. Indeed, our recent survey of airlines indicated that a desire to keep up with the competition was, more often than not, front of mind when deciding to invest in connectivity. Another factor that may have dissuaded airlines in the region from making an IFC decision thus far is a lack of adequate satellite coverage. While SwiftBroadband coverage is almost global, it provides limited bandwidth. Panasonic likes to mention that 99% of all commercial aircraft fly routes served by its Ku-band satellite coverage. However, there is a rather glaring hole in coverage over the South Pacific. Obviously, connectivity service providers need to purchase capacity in those areas that have the air traffic to demand that capacity and the South Pacific is not the most heavily travelled air corridor in the world. That said, the likes of Qantas, LAN, Aerolineas Argentinas and Air New Zealand all operate long-haul routes in this region. Until GX Aviation comes along, none of these airlines can operate a high bandwidth service for the entirety of a flight from say, Auckland to Santiago or between Sydney and Buenos Aires. Air New Zealand has actually cited a lack of full satellite coverage on certain routes as the reason why it opted not to select line-fit IFC on its new Boeing 787-9 aircraft. At this point, it is worth mentioning that there is IFC being provided on flights to and from Latin America by airlines based elsewhere. As it happens, I did have the opportunity to give Iberia's new system a try on a flight from Lima to Madrid earlier this year (a review of this system will be posted soon). But…Iberia's installations are counted in the European region in our statistics due to the location of its headquarters. That said, carriers based in Latin America will doubtless start revealing their plans soon. As such, we expect the penetration of connected aircraft in this part of world to increase from about 2% in 2014 to 27% by 2024. In terms of average annual growth in installed base, this represents the quickest growth rate of IFC equipage in the world over this time frame. Valour Consultancy's recently-published and very comprehensive report on the future of IFC on commercial passenger aircraft contains an unparalleled insight into how this market will unfold in various parts of the globe. It also tracks installations by frequency band (air-to-ground, L-band, Ku-band, Ka-band and combinations of), fitment type (line-fitment v retrofits) and aircraft type (narrow-body, wide-body and regional jet). Further information can be found on our website.