(Updated with additional information from Arinc about the company’s planned evolution to Global Xpress. Read Virgin Atlantic’s comment here.)
LONDON: Virgin Atlantic Airways is to become the launch customer for Arinc’s Cabin Connect inflight Wi-Fi solution, after agreeing to fit the solution to its Airbus widebodies, Arinc revealed today.
During a press briefing in London this morning, Arinc said it is on track to seal a contract with Virgin Atlantic covering the installation of Cabin Connect across the carrier’s long-haul fleet. The deal is expected to be formally inked at the APEX EXPO this month in Long Beach, California.
With Cabin Connect, Virgin passengers will simply log on to what is, in effect, an airborne hotspot, just as they would in a café or hotel.
Three Airbus A330 aircraft will initially be modified with Cabin Connect and operated on a trial basis over an 18-month period. Rollout across the carrier’s remaining A330s, as well as on its A340s and, perhaps, Boeing 747s, is expected to follow.
The STC process for the first aircraft is well under way, says Arinc satellite solutions and cabin services director Lee Costin.
According to Costin, Virgin aims to offer Wi-Fi to passengers from early January 2013. The airline has not yet decided on price points, but: “Pricing is likely to be very competitive,” says Costin. “I often come away from discussions with airlines and find that the prices they’re suggesting are cheaper than the Wi-Fi deals in my hotel.”
Arinc has entered the cabin connectivity market somewhat later than its rivals; it launched Cabin Connect at last year’s APEX show on the back of Inmarsat’s decision to provide attractive pricing for its SwiftBroadband (SBB) aeronautical service. SBB will support Cabin Connect; the service already supports inflight mobile and Wi-Fi solutions offered by long-time provider SITA/Airbus joint venture OnAir.
With satellite providers delivering cost effective, high-quality service and considering the relative maturity of the market in terms of technology and customer perception, airline customers have communicated to Arinc that the time is right for Cabin Connect, says Costin.
Virgin in 2010 signed a deal with Panasonic Avionics to equip its new A330s with the manufacturer’s eXPhone mobile communications service (the hardware is provided by AeroMobile, which is majority-owned by Panasonic). A number of aircraft have already been fitted with eXPhone.
Should Virgin ultimately want to offer a higher speed inflight Internet solution, Arinc says it will be ready to support Inmarsat’s Ka-band service, Global Xpress (GX), which is expected to be offered in 2014 and boasts far higher speeds than SwiftBroadband. “We are in dialogue with Inmarsat regarding Global Xpress and the markets we will serve. Cabin Connect supports evolution to GX. The cabin interface conforms to both Arinc 781 (SBB) and Arinc 791 (GX),” says Costin.
The Cabin Connect hardware consists of four Kontron access points plus servers. The first Virgin A330 will be fitted with Cabin Connect in stages while the aircraft is down for scheduled minor checks. Subsequent installations will be handled more efficiently. However, since the A330s are delivered linefit with SwiftBroadband, it’s easier for the carrier to initially offer Wi-Fi on these aircraft versus its older A340s and 747s. Costin reports some difficulty in “getting into the A380″, where OnAir is already well established.