Monday, February 26, 2018

Seamless Air Alliance - Who Owns the Customer?

Delta, Airbus, OneWeb, Sprint, Airtel, and Gogo announced the formation of the Seamless Air Alliance.  

Equipment, certification, satellite coverage, billing and overall service is included as a one-stop offering.

A participating airline picks parts from a catalog, installs per a cookie-cutter, turns it on, and the passengers connect to the Internet.
Where is the value?

We have equipment standards (form and fit). We have the option to backhaul cellular base stations using satcom IP links. The use of cellular base stations to promote seamless roaming takes the airline out of the equation. Take rates with passive cellular roaming are probably higher than with active purchase decisions.  Airline can still entice passenger with Wi-Fi properties, but how will the passenger find them?

The value to the passenger is presumably lower cost of service, seamless billing and roaming, and higher security.

The value to the airline is lower burden, less risk, greater passenger take rate and satisfaction.  The airline struggles to gain traction for any value-added connectivity service or connected applications, and relies mostly on commodity rev-share.

The value to OneWeb is the channel to market and entrenched clientele.
Greg Wyler tweeted that Hughes had joined the Alliance. 

Hughes offers modem technology to aviation, and has assembled a full aero kit with Gilat antenna, for "home-grown" networks. Their space segment assets are regional US in Ka band. Thales is using the Ka Jupiter network in their offering, pending SES 17 launch. 

It is not apparent how Hughes will leverage their existing capability for Seamless Air Alliance.  It seems more likely Hughes wants a piece of the pie, but they will have to use the Seamless recipe.
OOPS - I had overlooked this -> Hughes is building out the OneWeb ground network.

It's all about that 5G

Inmarsat pioneered aero satellite services including native dial-up service and a set of shared packet channels that supported x.25 switched virtual circuits (1990-1993).

Satellite technology based on native GSM standards was put into service notably with Iridium (1998). Onboard terminals provide dial-up services.  

Satellite technologies have all continued to evolve. Most notably, every satellite network (Iridium Certus, Inmarsat SBB/GX, Ku/Ka, LoS) all provide native shared IP with Quality of Service (QoS).

Inmarsat EAN uses LTE over 2x15 MHz channels, but the service is for delivery of an IP channel.

5G small cell technology and Wi-Fi both serve high density local areas. 

5G has access to licensed cellular frequencies. 

5G may be well suited for inflight cabin use. It is not apparent how Wi-Fi is any less suitable.

Space Segment

By all accounts OneWeb is providing the satellite service.  

OneWeb satellites operate in a bent-pipe manner, with a ground station in view at all times. Extending service to remote areas does require a proximate ground station network.  The ground station network would be useful to all OneWeb users operating in those areas.

Operation in areas where many airplanes congregate may overwhelm OneWeb satellite coverage. Service in the equatorial regions may require an GEO overlay. Presumably OneWeb or Gogo would procure the GEO overlay. The GEO overlay would allow rapid, early deployment; somewhat independent of OneWeb.

Most notable, the space segment service link appears to be a Ku-band play.

Satellite Terminal

The consortium, which ostensibly includes Gogo, is tasked with writing open equipment standards. 

I had presumed Rockwell Collins was building the Aero OneWeb terminal. Frankly, they seem to have very compelling antenna technology. 

I am unsure what the point of the consortium if other than some form of group-buy of a common part number. This is assuming Project Paper 792 satisfies the installation needs (which I believe it does).

I presume the concept is to build a catalog of parts.

Onboard LAN

The Onboard local area network provides the wireless link to the passenger device. 

The alliance is promoting a 5G onboard infrastructure using cellular or unlicensed spectrum.  The concept is to present the airplane as a native cellular service.  While these concepts have been well-known, the tendency for data has been favoring Wi-Fi. 

Wi-Fi is well suited for LAN. 

5G certainly has many benefits, but its benefit when a perfectly good Wi-Fi infrastructure exists is not apparent.

Passenger Account

Fundamentally the point is to connect a passenger device to the Internet. 

5G is a cellular service protocol, that uses cellular licensed frequencies, and that is focused on small cell deployments.  

Wi-Fi is an unlicensed spectrum service that is designed for local area networking.

Authentication of a cellular service is based on cellular standard methods that facilitate roaming.  For example, a SIM card in a cell phone provides the subscriber authentication for the attached device to connect into a cellular network (home or visited) "seamless roaming".

Authentication of a Wi-Fi network operates a wide variety of methods.  Public Wi-Fi may be entirely open. 

Cellular networks provide security that is managed by the service provider.  

Public Wi-Fi networks struggle with antiquated shared passwords or nothing at all. There is room for public Wi-Fi security to improve. 

The use of cellular frequencies for LAN is not necessary, and can be problematic. It is possible to receive terrestrial cell base stations in the cabin, which can cause havoc.

Cellular services can be provided using an IP backhaul bridge. There is no fixed tie between backhaul and local area network; IP is fine.

Setting aside authentication technology, the biggest issue is who owns the customer. In the case of Wi-Fi, the local service provider stands guard, at least initially. In the case of cellular, the local service provider has no position at all.

A cellular roaming service, by its design, lets the passenger roam without even noticing they are on an airplane. The airline has no presence. Forcing a purchase decision before connecting a 5G roaming service detracts from its take rate.

A Wi-Fi service inherently offers a first impression and can be easily referenced throughout the flight.

The Future?

With the consortium providing a one-stop shop, the whole ecosystem collapses a bit. What happens to IFEC (Gogo, Viasat, Panasonic, Inmarsat, GEE)?

What about the other satellite players (Intelsat, SES, Eutelsat, Telesat, and even SpaceX)?

Billing via 5G cellular roaming would yield a simple rev share to the airline.

It in not apparent how an airline adds value or gains customer attention. 

Presumably, the airline would contract for service to avionics and EFB.  

It is not apparent how an airline offers discounted service to preferred passengers using 5G.


What is the Seamless Air Alliance? 
This is an Alliance to accelerate the introduction of technologies on board airplanes to enable passengers to use their connected devices (Smart phones, tablets, laptops,watches, IoT devices), in a seamless way: the passenger will board and all the devices will seamlessly connect without any login or credit cards needed, enabled through your current mobile operators platform. The goal is to create an improved passenger experience to enable the same level of connectivity they experience in their living room, now on board their flight, anywhere they fly. 
When will the Alliance be open for memberships? 
We have announced the initial members and the Alliance will soon welcome new members. Sign up to receive more information here on memberships as soon as it is available.  
What is the role of members? 
Each member will bring their expertise, ideas, and experience to help advance the state of technology for the Seamless specifications or to provide their equipment or services to the ecosystem all as part of the goal of creating a better connected passenger experience.  
Who is eligible to become a member? 
Anyone who is committed to enabling a better connected passenger experience is invited to join.  
How many members do you see in the Alliance? 
The sky is the limit. We envision this Alliance setting the standard for a better connectivity experience for passengers when they fly and working with industry stakeholders who have the vision to make this happen.  
What are the membership levels of the Seamless Air Alliance and corresponding benefits? 
1. Initial members – Airbus, Airtel, Delta, OneWeb, Sprint are all initial members of the Seamless Air Alliance and as such have a seat on the Board of Directors.  
2. Charter members –  Full membership rights including the ability to submit candidates for Board service over time and the ability to chair working groups, Board committees, and Board subcommittees.  
3. Adopter members – Benefits include access to pre-release specifications and certification activities.  
4. Associate members – No membership fee required, primarily for start-ups and individuals to participate and contribute to working groups.  
What are the Working Groups? 
There will be a variety of Working Groups that members will all contribute to and lend their industry expertise to help develop new specifications and recommendations. The Working Groups will focus on technical specifics such as equipment needs, billing and deployment models.
Is there a fee to be a member? 
Various membership levels have fees associated with them. The Associate Membership is free, each of the other memberships will have membership fees normal to this type of non-profit organization. 
What does membership entail? 
The Alliance will have various membership levels. Each level will come with its own set of benefits and rights.  
When will the services be available from the Alliance? 
The goal of the alliance is to develop specifications, not to develop go-to-market plans. Each airline and mobile operator will develop individual deployment schedules based on their company business plans in the coming years.  
Will this reduce overall cost/price for passenger?  
The intent of the Alliance is to dramatically increase accessibility and affordability for passengers.  
Will the quality of service inside the airplane improve? 
Yes, the goal of the Alliance is to deliver high speed, low latency 5G quality access inside the plane.  
What would the customer experience be like on the aircraft? 
Access to the network will be Seamless, meaning any enabled user device will work without any login, sign-on or other activities. The Internet experience itself will be as good as, and in many cases better than, the home experience, including low latency, high speed, and a gate-to-gate continuity of service.  
When will testing start? 
The Alliance is first and foremost focused on developing specifications. Third party companies developing products using those specifications may get their products tested by the Alliance and receive a certification.  
How will this service be different from how passengers experience Internet service today? 
Alliance members will be able to provide seamless authentication without the need to log in, simple and automatic billing, significantly faster speeds, greater bandwidth for applications like streaming movies, and lower latency for the web and interactive applications like gaming.

Stay tuned!

Peter Lemme

peter @
Follow me on twitter: @Satcom_Guru
Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved

Peter Lemme has been a leader in avionics engineering for 35 years. He offers independent consulting services largely focused on avionics and L, Ku, and Ka band satellite communications to aircraft. Peter chairs the SAE-ITC AEEC Ku/Ka-band satcom subcommittee, developing ARINC 791 and 792 characteristics and contributes to the Network Infrastructure and Interfaces (NIS) subcommittee developing Project Paper 848, standard for Media Independent Secure Offboard Network.

Peter was Boeing avionics supervisor for 767 and 747-400 data link recording, data link reporting, and satellite communications. He was an FAA designated engineering representative (DER) for ACARS, satellite communications, DFDAU, DFDR, ACMS and printers. Peter was lead engineer for Thrust Management System (757, 767, 747-400), also supervisor for satellite communications for 777, and was manager of terminal-area projects (GLS, MLS, enhanced vision).

An instrument-rated private pilot, single engine land and sea, Peter has enjoyed perspectives from both operating and designing airplanes. Hundreds of hours of flight test analysis and thousands of hours in simulators have given him an appreciation for the many aspects that drive aviation; whether tandem complexity, policy, human, or technical; and the difficulties and challenges to achieving success.

No comments:

Post a Comment