by Panasonic Avionics / in Technology
Connectivity has become an essential part of national and international productivity, and residents of leading connected economies are the core of our air travel market. Ensuring that they stay connected throughout the journey requires a sturdy seamless network across continents.
The world’s most advanced technology markets also happen to be key travel markets — North America, Europe and Asia/Pacific — according to data from the World Economic Forum’s Networked Readiness Index (NRI). For instance, Singapore, the nation with the highest NRI ranking, is also home to one of the world’s leading airport hubs, Changi, which also happens to be a common thoroughfare for passengers from Australia and New Zealand, both of which have high NRI scores.
Meanwhile, Nordic countries like Finland (read our case study about Finnair here) have developed strong air routes to Asian high-NRI markets such as Hong Kong and Japan. And of course, the most valued route in the world — transatlantic — connects top-NRI countries of the U.S., U.K. and Europe.
The overlap between these popular travel routes and the world’s most advanced technology markets sends a clear message: Those who travel these routes are accustomed to high levels of connectivity. The digital sophistication of these economies may raise travelers’ expectations of continuous internet access — meaning having high-speed internet on board aircraft will become more than just a nice-to-have feature.
Not only do these NRI-leading economies reflect today’s leading markets, they are also the building blocks for aviation growth in the coming decades.
Both Airbus and Boeing projections for the top 20 fastest-growing passenger flows over the next 20 years reflect flight routes between top NRI countries, with high demand and expectations for inflight connectivity.
This present and future interconnectedness reveals the importance of truly global coverage, with broadband capacity sufficient to meet the demands of these passengers as they travel for business around the world today, as well as a technology roadmap that will grow the network infrastructure with changing passenger and operational expectations.
Of the few connectivity providers in aviation, Panasonic Avionics is the one that had to start with a global network at its launch almost a decade ago because its first customer was operating globally. Hence, they had to develop a multi-layer network of global connectivity infrastructure, designed to meet the needs of present and future travel markets.
The first-generation high-speed network already covers 99.6 percent of commercial flight hours, with sufficient broadband capacity to support a wide variety of passenger internet activities onboard.
The second-generation high-throughput network (HTS), which will cover 86% of flight hours, lends extra capacity to world regions where more advanced digital economies would lead to a more frequent use of internet access onboard.
As the World Economic Forum (WEF) indices show, there are hotspots around the world where a larger proportion of the population already have very high expectations of bandwidth and have likely developed “always on” habits on the ground. As these habits are set to spread throughout the rest of the world, connectivity providers in aviation need to be ready.
Panasonic’s third-generation network layer, Extreme Throughput Satellites (XTS ™), is currently being developed. Extended HTS Broadbeam coverage is also on the roadmap. And to keep up with the rapid pace of change in what WEF describes as “the Fourth Industrial Revolution” brought about by the rise of digital technology, fourth- and fifth-generation XTS infrastructure is also being planned.
The importance of Asia, and China in particular, to the future of air travel and to inflight connectivity requires special mention.
Six of the top 10 fastest growing airports in the world, as ranked by the air travel intelligence company OAG, are in Asia. And 13 of the top 20 fastest-growing traffic flows over the next 20 years connect in Asia; nine of them are flights to, from and within China. Many of these routes also connect high NRI rank countries.
Connectivity is already critical to passenger satisfaction in Asia, and as connectivity helps fuel market growth in the region, its importance will intensify.
Because there are so many individual jurisdictions at play in Asia, flying in international and regional airspaces can result in disrupted passenger connectivity. Ensuring seamless global coverage between these markets is critical.
“We recognized at the beginning that’s not an acceptable situation,” explains David Bruner, Vice President of Global Communications Services at Panasonic. “We had to have global coverage over the entire infrastructure. We never saw any option other than to be ubiquitous.”
Achieving ubiquity required close negotiations with the Chinese government on fly-over rights, a process which took seven years to achieve.
“We started on an international and global scale long before any of our competition, and now we’re gathering the fruits of that labor. We may have blazed a trail for our competition, and the job for them may be an easier task than it was for us, but I think that comes with the territory,” Bruner says.
Offering passengers seamless coverage, wherever their travels take them, is a strong brand differentiator.
IATA’s most recent Global Passenger Survey (GPS) — carried out through a collaboration with PricewaterhouseCoopers — shows that 16 percent of passengers rank Wi-Fi as a significant factor impacting their passenger satisfaction, making it the third highest priority for passenger satisfaction.
Connectivity also enables airlines to satisfy the top two passenger priorities: attentive crew and timely e-notifications of flight details. Crew equipped with connected tablets can offer more personalized service and connected passenger devices can receive timely messages on the status of their flights and baggage en route.
IATA also finds that the offer of free inflight Wi-Fi can get 26 percent of passengers to switch airlines. Taking operational benefits into consideration for the overall business plan for connectivity or just with the right ancillary business partner model in place, airlines can offer free Wi-Fi or very affordable Wi-Fi without sacrificing profits. Finding the right balance for the connectivity business case will be one of the key tasks for the aviation community in the coming years.
For the present and future digital landscape, flexibility and adaptability to changing consumer habits will matter most.
Just as networked readiness on the ground shows how prepared each country is to benefit from digital transformation, networked readiness in the sky can reflect an airline’s likelihood to benefit as well.
In the sky, as on the ground, networks are vital. Access to seamless, robust global inflight connectivity coverage is more than a competitive advantage for airlines. To meet today’s and tomorrow’s passenger and operational demands, a smart, sturdy and seamless infrastructure is the most essential part of The Connected Aircraft story.
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