Connecting Flights and Connecting People

Steve Collar, President and CEO of SES

Being part of a global company, travel takes up almost a third of my working days as I shuttle between various cities and countries. In the past, once I had boarded the aircraft all external communications halted and I went into airplane mode. Not anymore.

Recent technological advancements in inflight Wi-Fi based on satellite connectivity have provided travelling executives and recreational guests alike with a compelling choice: to stay connected or go offline completely.

Air-to-ground systems are not new, and narrowband services have existed for decades. Yet only now that connections to aircraft are genuinely broadband in nature, and performance at 30,000ft starts to approximate the internet experience on the ground, is the market truly taking off.

Until now, the technology simply wasn’t up to it. It is clear from the recent uptake of service that there is high demand for a good broadband experience, but not much demand for a lousy, expensive and frustrating experience. Nothing moves until technology matures to a point where a reliable service can be delivered, and economics improve to a point where customers see value. Only then do we start to see the wide adoption of service. That is where IFEC is today, and I am proud to say that innovation at SES has been one of the catalysts of the ecosystem.

The IFEC industry is facing growing demands from a new generation of passengers carrying smart devices that simply demand a broadband connection and access to either their emails or to Netflix. Brought up on a diet of fibre broadband and high-definition video, they will make up a significant portion of the 7.8 billion air passengers projected by IATA in 2036. The days of seat back entertainment, with the heavy and expensive aircraft interior, are already gone in most short haul aircraft, and soon the same could be true for long haul as well.

High-speed connectivity can also aid airline operations. Sensors on-board new commercial airliners track everything that happens in the aircraft, from fuel consumption and engine efficiency, to door safety and the impact of weather on operations. Yet all this big data generated by aircraft sensors is stuck on-board in the aircraft’s internal, high-bandwidth data buses unless paired with connectivity. Only when enabled by satellite connectivity can it be transmitted externally, and in real-time. This translates into significant savings, as entire operations benefit from more reliable monitoring and management.

At SES, it is our job to make sure that we can deliver connectivity that meets the demands from our customers and their end users.  We saw the opportunity to deliver truly broadband solutions to aircraft and reimagined our satellite fleet, enabling us to deliver both the performance and economics needed to take these services mainstream. Whether a plane is travelling along densely-populated routes, or vast areas of deserts, we have them covered with the right kind of connectivity solution.

Technology has also advanced airborne equipment, and low profile antennas and highly efficient modems have improved the craft’s aerodynamics. This in turn sees returns for fuel consumption, and also optimised bandwidth efficiency.  And we are just getting started.

Our next generation Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites will offer 10 times the capabilities of the current MEO satellites, with unmatched flexibility. Set to be the world’s first multi-terabit system, O3b mPOWER will be fully scalable to meet sky-high expectations for inflight connectivity.  Systems such as these, that drive innovation and develop new markets, are the hallmark of SES. Welcome aboard!

*This article was first published on La Tribune

Do you want to know more?
If you want to learn more about how SES is enabling the next-generation connected aircraft and elevating the passenger experience with secure high-performance networks over satellite, download the SES Networks infographic for the latest insights into how airlines can deliver a premium in-air experience for passengers.

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