Oct. 14--In-flight broadband connectivity is part of the next phase of service offerings being considered by airlines in Thailand and elsewhere in the region.
People's growing desire to be connected at all times, a sharp drop in connection fees and the emergence of on-board WiFi service providers are expediting the introduction of in-flight broadband here.
The service is available now on about 3,000 aircraft worldwide, while an estimated 15,000 aircraft will offer it by 2021.
While legacy airlines in the region are keen to make in-flight connectivity part of their premium service offerings on medium- or long-haul flights, low-cost carriers are also eager to include broadband as an added paid-for product.
Unlike North America and Europe, where in-flight connectivity is becoming more common, this region has yet to embrace the service.
Garuda Indonesia is one of a handful of regional airlines to offer in-flight connectivity on a commercial basis on board all the Boeing 777-300ER flights it operates on medium- and long-range routes. It launched the service on Oct 2.
Thai Airways International (THAI) plans to make the service available on a fleet of 13 new jetliners _ six A380-800 superjumbos and seven A330-300s _ operating on medium- and long-haul flights.
Asia-Pacific airlines are considering the issue more seriously with the entry of what is claimed to be the region's first provider of in-flight connectivity solutions _ an alliance between a Thai and a US firm.
The iPSTAR satellite, the world's first internet protocol satellite, offers broadband and mobile backhaul services to operators and service providers in 13 Asia-Pacific markets. THAICOM PLC
Thaicom Plc, the SET-listed satellite communications provider, and Global Eagle Entertainment Inc (GEE), a leading US-based provider of satellite-based in-flight WiFi and device-based entertainment for airlines around the world, recently teamed up to introduce the service for airlines in Thailand and the surrounding region, from India down to New Zealand.
The partnership will build a satellite network infrastructure throughout the region that offers airlines a menu of services that include global satellite connectivity, network security and policy compliance management, customer billing, customer services, content delivery, and WiFi and internet service provider support.
These services can be used individually or in an integrated way to help airlines maximise the productivity of their in-flight connectivity.
Thaicom chief executive Suphajee Suthumpun described the partnership as a significant milestone for the company as it marks its entry into the in-flight connectivity market.
GEE chief executive John La Valle sees Asia-Pacific as a major growth market for the company, which he says can deliver greater value to airlines and a better experience for passengers through its robust content and connectivity service.
Row 44, a GEE subsidiary, will provide its satellite-based in-flight connectivity platform, including hardware and software, programme management and the development and operation of services to increase passenger loyalty and airlines' revenue.
The partnership is capable of providing in-flight broadband for airlines as soon as early next year after preparing services for a while, Ekachai Phakdurong, Thaicom's vice-president for corporate affairs, told the Bangkok Post.
With its total solutions offerings, Thaicom can deal with sticky issues involving state regulations and regulatory processes such as those THAI has experienced over the past two years, he said.
The flag carrier's plan for in-flight broadband has been bogged down by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, which insists there can be no spectrum for aircraft without a public auction.
Thaicom has a 30-year domestic communication satellite operating agreement with the Information and Communication Technology Ministry.
Its iPSTAR satellite, the world's first internet protocol satellite, offers broadband and mobile backhaul services to operators and service providers in 13 Asia-Pacific markets.
The Thaicom-GEE partnership is in talks with several airlines in Thailand and elsewhere in the region, both full-service and budget airlines, about offering in-flight broadband services.
Low-cost carriers appear to be enthusiastic about offering internet access as connectivity will allow passengers to obtain a range of online content that will provide a better flying experience, said Mr Ekachai.
Paid-for connectivity will create a new stream of ancillary income on top of items such as meals, refreshments, duty-free goods and excess baggage charges while allowing passengers to keep busy.
The service is becoming more and more affordable to the extent that passengers would not feel robbed, said Mr Ekachai, who added that charges will be determined by the airlines.
Etihad Airways, for instance, charges US$25 for a 24-hour connection pass or $14 for one hour, with broadband available for flights from its Abu Dhabi hub to several destinations in Europe including Brussels, Frankfurt and Paris. The charge is waived for Etihad's first-class passengers.
United Airlines' pricing is based on travel segments from take-off to landing and varies based on the type of plan and the length of the flight.
In-flight WiFi can only be accessed for internet browsing, social networking, email and instant messaging when the aircraft is cruising above 10,000 feet. Passengers may not access the connection while the aircraft is taxiing, taking off or landing.