Qantas is in the midst of equipping its domestic Boeing 767s with wireless inflight entertainment and repurposed iPads, and will have fitted 16 widebodies by March, confirms system provider Panasonic Avionics.
In July 2012 Qantas surprised the inflight entertainment world when it announced the selection of Panasonic’s eXW streaming video service for its entire domestic 767 fleet, despite running a successful trial of Lufthansa Systems’ competing BoardConnect solution.
For the last few months, passengers flying on a 254-seat Qantas 767 have been able to access eXW, dubbed ‘Q Streaming’ by the carrier. “Customers travelling on selected refreshed Qantas 767 aircraft are able to enjoy 200 hours of on-demand inflight entertainment streamed direct to supplied iPads in every seat,” says Panasonic Avionics executive director, corporate sales and product management Neil James, confirming the March timeline for bringing another 15 767s – and thousand of iPads – on line.
Four more Qantas aircraft will be fitted with eXW by the end the year. “Every seat gets an iPad. Even if people don’t want to use it, it’s there in the seat. Qantas wants to be able to say to passengers it offers entertainment in every seat,” adds James.
But why is Qantas offering both wireless IFE and iPads? James says, “For some airlines, there is certain ‘cachet’ around offering iPads, but there is a fiscal and logistical impact of just being able to update the server once and everybody gets to refresh content immediately. Also, if you lock down all the devices to one type, it does make the management of the distribution of content and management of wireless access points (WAPs) and streaming more known and tangible because you’re not catering to everyone’s unique personal electronic device at the same time.”
In that vein, Panasonic is now “pretty convinced that we have some pretty cool technology when it comes to WAP management so we’re seeing superior performance on WAP management and the throughput, and the way we manage the throughput of the data from the WAPs to the passengers”, says James.
“We committed to something quite conservative and we’re exceeding our own expectations both in the lab and in testing we’ve done on aircraft. We have people literally working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to improve that performance and manage the overlapping channels and the re-use of channels. We’re not dabbling in it; we’re in it to provide a superior performance. That’s an area that is a huge focus for us – steering passengers towards WAPs that have capacity and everything else.”
Panasonic has broad experience in WAP management; the company has applied a lot of the lessons learned from its Global Communications Suite (GCS) to eXW. “The same technology is flying around on GCS and always has been,” notes James. “So we’ve been testing the WAP technology for good while. And we have been testing video-on-demand [at our Lake Forest, California headquarters] so all the benefits of what we’re doing here in the lab gets supplied to the aircraft.”
Meanwhile, offering wireless IFE plus iPads at every seat does not provide a substantial weight savings over Panasonic’s lightweight, next generation embedded IFE system eXLite, according to James. “You get to the point where real weight difference isn’t substantial,” he claims, noting that eXLite weighs about 3 lbs per seat.
However, the price point is far different as compared to embedded IFE, which can cost millions of dollars for a widebody aircraft. “If you look at the sheer volume of equipment on board, it will give you some idea of how much cheaper it can be.”
To date, Panasonic has secured multiple customers for eXW. “We have something like 500 aircraft committed to it,” says James. Some carriers, like Qantas, will offer eXW with portable devices, whilst others will offer eXW as a standalone solution, and stream content to passengers’ own devices.
“There is no rules in the market,” says James, adding, however, that most of Panasonic’s eXW customers – indeed “a significant majority of them” – are just wireless.
(For more information about the latest developments in wireless IFE, check out this post.)