Emirates has confirmed plans to offer Panasonic Avionics’ Global Communications Suite (GCS) – including live television – on its widebodies, in a unique turn of events that will see inflight connectivity rivals OnAir and Panasonic work together.
A single Boeing 777 was installed with GCS “before Christmas” and Emirates is “monitoring the service, which includes four channels of live TV, Internet, and phone with GPRS (from Panasonic partner AeroMobile)”, Emirates VP corporate communications product, publishing and digital events Patrick Brannelly confirms to the APEX editor’s blog.
“The aircraft equipped is one that literally operates everywhere – North and South America, Africa, Europe, the Far East and Austral-Asia,” he notes.
Asked if Emirates intends to offer GCS across its fleet of well over 100 777s, should the trial succeed, Brannelly says, “Yes, and more.” Indeed, the carrier hopes to start taking delivery of Airbus A380s line-fit with the solution from the second quarter of 2014. As such, the arrangement between Emirates and Panasonic is mammoth in size.
Brannelly says that live TV is “the big attraction for us”.
Airlines have been particularly eager to bring live television to their aircraft in advance of the 2014 FIFA World Cup games. And Panasonic’s so-called eXTV solution will provide Emirates passengers with Sport24, as well as BBC World News, BBC Arabic, and Euronews.
Emirates currently offers OnAir’s inflight Wi-Fi service on its A380s; the service operates over the Inmarsat L-band-supported SwiftBroadband link. However, Panasonic’s GCS is supported by Ku-band satellites, which requires the installation of larger antennas on Emirates’ aircraft.
It is not immediately clear if Emirates will ultimately retrofit its OnAir-equipped A380s with GCS; the decision may very well be taken when delivery of A380s with GCS begin.
Even so, OnAir will continue in its role as Internet Service Provider (ISP) despite the fact that Panasonic’s Ku-band hardware will drive the service.
“OnAir is ISP so passengers can have one ISP across multiple sectors. That’s important for when we have 24-hour pricing,” explains Brannelly.
An OnAir spokeswoman says, “OnAir’s main role is to provide inflight connectivity solutions to airlines, as well as owners and operators of VIP jets. We fulfil that role in two ways. The first is as a direct service provider to the airline. We are responsible for the whole solution, including the radio link, the airborne system and of course the connectivity services.
“We also act as a neutral service provider, working through an IFE vendor, in this case Panasonic; but we also work with Thales. In these instances, we are responsible for the Wi-Fi connectivity service only. Our aim is simply to enable airlines to provide the connectivity services they want.”
[Editor's note: This story will be updated as and when further details are available. Image courtesy of AirTeamImages.]