“The trial should hopefully shed some light on this and allow us to decide whether a [Inmarsat] SwiftBroadband connection, a Ku-band connection or a Ka-band connection is right for our passengers’ needs,” Virgin customer experience manager Alan Penlington tells the APEX editor’s blog.
Earlier this week, Arinc revealed that Virgin would offer Cabin Connect on its A330s, and said other widebodies would also be fitted. Cabin Connect operates over the SwiftBroadband aeronautical service.
Penlington stresses that the Cabin Connect product “is only being trialled by Virgin on three A330 aircraft, which do all have [Panasonic's mobile connectivity product] eXPhone as well. However until we see the results of the trial we do not know if this will be rolled out any further.”
Cabin Connect has been engineered to ultimately support inflight high-speed Internet via Inmarsat’s Ka-band Global Xpress aeronautical service. Asked if Virgin plans to offer this particular Internet service to passengers in the future, Penlington says: “Again this is what the [Cabin Connect] trial is going to hopefully help guide us with. We know that more and more passengers will want a Wi-Fi product in the air but at the moment we do not know what they will use it for, how much they will pay or exactly how many will bring devices that can connect.”
Virgin has been rolling out Panasonic’s eXPhone mobile connectivity solution on its new Airbus A330s. For Virgin, eXPhone has been engineered to operate via SwiftBroadband, even though Panasonic has pursued a Ku-band connectivity path (A330s are delivered linefit with SwiftBroadband).
Penlington confirms that Virgin will continue installing eXPhone, saying, “Virgin currently plans to offer eXPhone on all of its new and retrofitted aircraft (A330s and the retrofitted LGW 747s).” The LGW 747s are Virgin’s 747s that are based at London Gatwick and have been undergoing refurbishment.
Current take-up of eXPhone “is in line with predictions and is more popular on business routes than leisure routes. Texts are more common than voice calls but we currently plan to continue to offer both,” he says.