In-flight entertainment and connectivity on Southwest Airlines is liable to get a bit of an upgrade in the next couple years. Global Eagle Entertainment, the company behind the carrier’s in-flight internet service signed a capacity purchase agreement with satellite operator SES to upgrade coverage and bandwidth for aviation customers. Three new satellites – SES-12, SES-14 and SES-15 – will be placed into orbit by 2017, significantly increasing the total Ku-band throughput available in the Americas, across the Atlantic and from the Middle East to Asia.
The construction of these satellites has been rumored for some time but SES-14 and SES-15 were only recently confirmed by the company. SES-14 and SES-15 will take advantage of both broadbeam Ku-band coverage as well as High Throughput Spotbeam (HTS) technology to provide faster service at a lower per-bit price than prior generations of satellites. The agreement between Global Eagle and SES will help bring these faster connections on to aircraft around the world. In the Americas that will be in the form of Southwest Airlines, GEE’s primary customer in the region. Air France and Air China are two other customers who may eventually benefit from the new satellite launches and connectivity improvements.
The increased bandwidth cannot come soon enough for Southwest and other GEE customers. The industry continues to struggle in reaching a balance between consumer demand for connectivity and providing that service at an affordable price. During the most recent quarterly earnings report Gogo acknowledged that it frequently sees demand which outstrips supply. Currently the company addresses that imbalance through pricing efforts, driving up costs in hopes of reducing demand. Adding capacity into the market should help reduce strain on the supply side, though there is no indication that the demand side will lighten up anytime in the future.
More and cheaper bandwidth is good news for consumer, airlines and service providers alike. Everyone wins. But it still takes time to get the satellites into the sky. Even this new commitment won’t have an impact for a couple years yet.
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