Inflight connectivity provider Row 44 has tested managing bandwidth allocation internally as a possible lever for its airline customers to pull as passengers’ expectations for Wi-Fi access push the limits of available bandwidth onboard aircraft.
Management of bandwidth allocation is rising in prominence as more passengers opt to connect inflight for both business and pleasure. Recently, Row 44’s rival Gogo altered its pricing policy for a portion of US transcontinental flights that have the most pressing bandwidth constraints.
In internal tests, Row 44’s approach to managing bandwidth entails building algorithms that determine which activities are the most bandwidth intensive, explains company CEO John LaValle. “What we’re doing is looking at what people are doing on planes and we’re trying to allocate bandwidth for specific functions, and providing more bandwidth for people who are making general use of the Internet such as email and loading web pages…and providing less capability to people who are doing things like getting on a plane and updating all their Microsoft software,” he says.
The algorithms prioritise certain actions, so those that are not as bandwidth intensive are performed more quickly, says LaValle. Certain higher-bandwidth activities could be blocked, “and if people can’t do those things they’ll naturally gravitate to some of the less bandwidth intensive things”.
Obviously passengers would be advised about the bandwidth allocations if Row 44’s airline customers opted to use the formulas the company has devised for managing bandwidth dispersion. “We would clearly provide an open, above board, or as I like to say ‘on the picnic table in the sunshine’ disclosure for people so they know what they are buying,” LaValle remarks.
None of Row 44’s customers, including its largest carrier Southwest Airlines, have opted to use the algorithmic methods for managing bandwidth. LaValle says before carriers decide to manage bandwidth in that manner “we have to educate the flying population as to what we are doing. It is really not our decision anyway. We can point out to them [airlines] how we can make the user experience more efficacious, but really the airline has to make the ultimate decision,” he explains.
Unlike Gogo, which supplies its own branded connectivity service to airlines, Row 44’s solution is sold wholesale to carriers. “They [airlines] decide what the price is. They decide how they want to market it. They decide the look and fell of the splash page,” states LaValle.
Asked to elaborate on long-term options for increasing bandwidth to support inflight connectivity, LaValle explains it is a delicate balance between how much bandwidth is necessary and the price. Row 44 procures all its Ku-bandwidth through Hughes, which is also a shareholder in the company. “There is always bandwidth available, it is just a matter of what you are willing to pay for it,” says LaValle. “We look very carefully at what each fleet needs and we try to match our purchases to those needs with some cushion for unexpected activities on the plane.”
LaValle characterises the recent pricing changes adopted by Gogo as “being very progressive and forward thinking about what they’re trying to accomplish, and we’re doing the same thing…we may approach it from different ways”.
Both Row 44 and Gogo are attempting to solve “what is a very dynamic problem”, with respect to bandwidth, says LaValle. He concludes the change by Gogo in pricing strategy to manage bandwidth “is very creative, and I’d be very interested to see how customers respond for it”.
As for Gogo’s offering, Row 44’s CEO says he has used the service, “and it is fine. I think ours is far better”. However, he says he is grateful for the competition from Gogo. “They run a fine company, and I’m really glad they are there. Because the fact they are there makes us work that much harder to be successful and delight our own customers.”