With less than three weeks to go before the big APEX EXPO gets underway in Long Beach, California, wireless IFE is sizing up to be one of the hottest topics discussed at this year’s event, and will no doubt generate news headlines for securing new airline customers.
Thales is among a number of IFE firms to have quietly sealed deals to offer streaming video to passengers. “We have two airlines we’re installing on in the not-too-distant, one is more of a pilot programme and the other is a full implementation,” Alan Pellegrini, managing director of the Thales in-flight entertainment business, said recently.
Known as AVA, Thales’ wireless solution is considered a derivative of the company’s next generation IFE platform AVANT, “which is a very scalable platform by design so it embodies everything from a full customisable audio/video on demand system to a white version thereof (known as AVANT-Lite) meant to compete with the seat-centric only type systems, and even more scaled down is a server with a Wi-Fi network – that is AVA”, notes Pellegrini.
Thales rival Panasonic Avionics recently secured Qantas as a customer for its own wireless IFE offering, eXW, despite the carrier’s ongoing and successful trial of Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect streaming video system. Panasonic Avionics has secured other undisclosed deals for eXW.
Company CEO Paul Margis notes that when a carrier acquires Panasonic’s Global Communications Suite, which supports inflight high-speed Internet, mobile connectivity, and live television, “most of the hardware is already on there” to support wireless IFE. So for GCS customers, he says, “it’s something they can easily add if they want to”.
But Lufthansa Systems is not letting Panasonic’s win with Qantas take wind out of its sales. Its system will soon be activated on a Condor Boeing 767-300.
Another competitor in the marker is Lumexis, which has fielded “a fantastic response” to its WiPAX wireless IFE solution, says CEO Doug Cline. He notes that WiPAX is capable, for instance, of supporting wireless streaming to 24 embedded AVOD systems, whilst also streaming wirelessly to passengers’ own devices in economy class.
“We can also retrofit into a narrowbody’s existing drop-down overhead system and become the server for those so WiPAX is a triple threat on the narrowbody aircraft and I think the majority of narrowbody installations will look to that kind of triple threat if you will,” says Cline.
He confirms it’s likely Lumexis will make WiPAX announcements at the APEX EXPO.
Most wireless IFE providers (and there are many) say their systems can adequately support about 50 passengers per wireless access point (WAP). An average three WAPs are installed on a narrowbody, whilst a widebody carriers an average five WAPs.