Keeping an open mind about your inflight ecosystem
The increased importance of inflight internet to drive an airline’s digital transformation creates a series of new strategic questions for airlines, including the decision to base your strategy on an open ecosystem.
For inflight internet, an open ecosystem is broadly defined as having the ability to work with multiple vendors to reduce cycle times and create tailored solutions that differentiate the airline and delight passengers.
How an airline approaches digital transformation is specific to its operations and brand. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. However, the right inflight ecosystem offers increased ownership of the passenger experience, greater risk management on technology investments, and the seamless addition of new technologies that drive toward long-term goals.
While buzzwords like “open,” “flexible,” and “self-managed” are touted by most connectivity providers, airline professionals should understand that a truly open approach must extend across all aspects of the inflight ecosystem. It must go beyond portal apps and passenger services to encompass hardware and software, satellite networks, and support.
Let’s look at what “open” really means across the entire inflight ecosystem:
The most important consideration is how much do you as an airline want to tailor the experience you create for your passengers (and employees). Are you an airline brand that prides itself on innovation or are you comfortable using the same services and portal design that other airlines do? There are tradeoffs with both approaches and, with an open ecosystem, you can choose either. Whether you leverage third-party developers or create services in house you can better own the overall passenger experience. But this flexibility may introduce greater complexity, too, as responsibility for managing it all now falls on you.
Many connectivity providers will talk about an open ecosystem in the context of services or portal design and stop there. In an open ecosystem, airlines should have access to standardized, modular hardware that absorbs new technology and works with multiple systems from different vendors.
If your in-cabin hardware must be paired with only one vendor, your ecosystem is not open. Today, it’s possible to integrate disparate IFC and IFE systems, along with other onboard services and future connected aircraft systems. Likewise, an open software platform should enable quick plug-and-play capabilities, simple integration and easy upgradability. When exploring connectivity vendors, it’s important to understand how much time, money and effort on your part will be required to innovate and ensure long-term performance.
In any discussion of an inflight ecosystem, one area most clearly distinguishes open versus closed: the satellite network. Reliance on one or two satellites to deliver coverage and capacity for all flights is, by definition, a closed system. This is the case on the Ka band. The satellites are launched, the ability to change or enhance their capabilities is significantly limited, and you are 100% dependent on the performance of these few satellites for years to come.
The alternative is an open and interoperable ecosystem of satellites on the Ku band. In this scenario, airlines can access dozens of geostationary satellites that cover a high percentage of global flight routes. Risk is minimized since you simply switch satellites should one be damaged or go dark. And because new Ku satellites are routinely launched from multiple providers, airlines continuously benefit from leading-edge performance.
Because an open inflight ecosystem incorporates key technologies from multiple providers—from satellites and modems to portal service developers—it’s important to work with partners who are technology-agnostic and have a proven history of collaboration with related vendors. Specialization in aviation is another important facet of support. Look for partners with the specific expertise and knowledge to exclusively support the airline business.
Understanding the nuances of what an open inflight ecosystem should deliver is the first step to evaluating potential connectivity partners and finding one that aligns with your short- and long-term strategies.
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