Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Choosing an Airline Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP)

Airlines have been providing passengers radio communication services at their seat since 1937. 

In 2017, airline passengers yearn for free and compelling Wi-Fi Internet access. What should an airline consider when choosing an inflight Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP)?


Satellite and Line-of-Sight (LOS) radio networks power inflight broadband connectivity. These are complex systems with many tandem components. Wireless network performance varies considerably based on range and orientation. Airborne antennas are inherently complex. Operating at frequencies as high as 30 GHz requires very special considerations. Airplane types differ with inherent capabilities. Not everything works as well as one might expect.

Each inflight WISP flavors with their mix of service capabilities with a Wi-Fi system, applications, interfaces, modems, antennas, and satellite transponders. Airline equipment installation is a complex undertaking that involves significant logistics and planning, where the paramount desire is to minimize aircraft downtime and cost of maintenance. Industry standards and characteristics, airplane manufacturer/installer choices and options, WISP equipment configurations, and future equipment installation provisioning collectively lead to significant trade-offs in near-term and long-term costs and system capabilities. 

Coverage and capacity are essential for a viable service. Airlines loathe to commit partial fleets to route specific equipage. LOS is well-suited to aircraft limited to operating in a limited region. Satellite is well-suited for any route structure. Airlines expect passenger satisfaction from WISP product offerings on every route, at all times of the day, every day, and especially in the future. Airlines need means to assure that a WISP can and does satisfy passengers.

Passenger demand is a function of performance and price, where airlines can only engage a meaningful percentage by going free. A complex mix of product offerings, including messaging, television broadcasting, Wi-Fi streaming of cached titles, Wi-Fi streaming of personalized linear feeds, and multi-level Internet access; can serve the greatest number of passengers with the lowest overall costs.

Costs are a mix of capital and operational, where repeated capital investment may be needed to maintain reasonable operational margins. Operational costs can be scaled to match the ebb and flow of demand as it changes over regions and over time.

WISP overtures to the marketplace are inherently self-serving. One WISP may confuse the marketplace with assertions over another WISP network capabilities and performance. 

Peter Lemme publishes on satcom.guru to provide airlines and others information to educate and to promote new technology or trends. Satcom.guru tweets and posts shine a spotlight when marketing gets it wrong, or when an issue needs a broader perspective. Collectively, a better educated marketplace will make for a better marketplace for everyone.

Peter Lemme chairs the SAE/ITC AEEC Ku/Ka satcom subcommittee responsible for ARINC 791 and Project Paper 792, characteristic for equipment and equipment installation and is a significant contributor to Project Paper 848, specification for Secure Broadband Air/Ground Internet Access. Peter volunteers his time to the industry to promote satellite communications and to drive the industry towards the greatest opportunities.

Totaport, the consulting company, offers airlines expert advice and analysis of passenger connectivity service. With Peter Lemme in the lead, Totaport brings a deep technical understanding of every aspect of aviation connectivity equipment, networks, and applications; combined with commercial sensibilities; powered by a portfolio of customized tools and models; and draws from a cadre of expert associates to supplement any aspect, from computational fluid dynamics to industry pundit.

Totaport expertise quickly brings to light those areas that are most important to an airline, and cuts through the marketing to reveal the true discriminating aspects between WISPs. Airlines can benefit from engaging Totaport to assist with soliciting WISPs and to help assess their offerings. Totaport stands as the expert advocate for the airline, to fairly evaluate any WISP in a consistent manner.

For more information about engaging Totaport on any aspect of Airline Internet access, please contact Peter Lemme, peter@totaport.com.

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