Delivering big PaxEx improvements over a low bandwidth connection

This small, battery-powered Iridium NEXT modem could help change the inflight ancillary sales market
This small, battery-powered Iridium NEXT modem could help change the inflight ancillary sales market

How can a low-bandwidth inflight connectivity solution deliver a better passenger experience? Lufthansa Systems used the recent APEX EXPO to present lower-speed offering based on the Iridium NEXT platform. The battery-powered modem and window antenna combination can connect to the BoardConnect platform to deliver (VERY) limited bandwidth internet connectivity to passengers such as a messaging-only option. This is potentially useful for an airline that wants to have something on board with minimal investment and without requiring fuselage alterations.

It is something of an unusual use case given that NEXT is not really targeted to passenger connectivity. Iridium CEO Matt Desch specifically stated he doesn’t want to be in that business:

I don’t want to compete against ViaSat or anyone else like that…We’ll be perfect for King Airs and small jets that don’t need a [Global Xpress] system that costs $300,000. We’ll be a $40,000 system doing 700 kilobits per second; that’s fine.

We’re just trying to do our niche really, really well and know that everybody else that’s throwing all this money at [inflight connectivity] isn’t throwing the money at our space because they’re really not going to compete very well with this network on that front.

And delivering a really slow messaging solution is not great for the passenger experience, though free versions have cropped up on Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines and been relatively well received, mostly for the price point. The significantly lower cost of the portable NEXT kit could make that viable as well.

This small, battery-powered Iridium NEXT modem could help change the inflight ancillary sales market
This small, battery-powered Iridium NEXT modem could help change the inflight ancillary sales market

But even if the passengers never directly see connectivity from such a system there could still be significant opportunity for the airlines. As Lufthansa Systems’ Director of Projects & Certification Jan-Peter Gaense explains:

We’re really frustrated by offline payment. Being able to use ground-based payment profiles makes it so much easier. It takes the whole thing out of the PCI scope, reduces transaction costs, reduces fraud.

Read More: Mobile messaging to be free on Delta flights

Delivering real-time payment processing is a massive improvement for airlines, of course, but can the limited connectivity also make things better for passengers? The BoardConnect 5.0 platform is built around personalization and there is significant potential for profit there, even with the lightweight link. But there must be some sort of link. Delivering a real personalization solution in an offline environment is a fool’s errand. And also not nearly as profitable to the airline.

Have an attractive platform, attractive content, personalize it so you can drive good targeted advertising and make your money that way. And offer ancillary services in context, too.

The personalization effort ties in over API to airline logins; we don’t want to create a(nother) profile for you. [The airline profile] drives the whole BoardConnect user interface. You can tie in shopping services, payment services.

Gaense describes a scenario where a passenger can save a movie favorite on one flight and have that same detail available on their next trip. Did the flight land in the middle of a binge watch? Pick right back up when you board the onward connection. That level of personalization takes connectivity, but not the high-speed broadband commonly talked about. There is a market for incremental improvements should airlines not want to commit to the full kit right now.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.