Streaming the latest Hollywood or Bollywood blockbuster to your smartphone over a high-speed broadband connection at 40,000 feet could soon be a reality for Etihad Airways passengers. Yahsat, the UAE-based satellite communications company, is testing a new technology on an Etihad Airbus 320 that promises a faster, cheaper onboard internet connection.
As airlines continue to explore ways to differentiate their offering and provide passengers with a wider experience, high-speed inflight connectivity is increasingly becoming a critical point of reference.
Last month, the Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker told the Iata World Passenger Symposium in Hamburg that the future of in-flight entertainment will be a fully connected, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model.
Yahsat’s collaboration with Etihad will trial the Ka-band, which promises to be faster and more reliable than the legacy Ku-band systems. There are already several instances of commercial Ka-band connectivity being used to serve commercial airlines.
“The testing of the new satellite connectivity is a key step for Yahsat,” said Masood Mahmood, chief executive of Yahsat. “It signifies the beginning of our journey towards expanding into a growing global market segment”
Airlines typically work on very small margins, especially for economy travellers. While there is a willingness to pay for some in-flight connectivity, customers are very price-sensitive about spending more than the ticket price for services of any kind on a plane. Therefore, to ensure a good user broadband experience, at a reasonable cost, the economics have to improve. According to Yahsat, the Ka-band technology can reduce bandwidth prices by 50 to 60 per cent.
With Ka-band, speeds of up to 50 mbps are commonplace, allowing passengers to have the necessary bandwidth to stream video and enable applications such as video conferencing.
The lower pricing is a core opportunity for airline and retail commerce, according to a Yahsat spokesman. However, the antenna – its mass, aerodynamics, reliability – as well as aviation regulation, are yet to be tested and will be critical to making the system commercially viable.
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