In this article from our archives, we talked to Lufthansa’s Product Director about the airline’s first incursions in providing satellite-based In-Flight Connectivity (IFC). With the Paris Air Show 2017 going on this week and since the Global Connected Aircraft Summit happened just a few weeks ago, it’s interesting to contrast how things have changed. This story was originally published in January 2010.
The success of Lufthansa Airlines’ project to re-launch FlyNet, its on-board broadband Internet service, with Panasonic is a key element of the airline’s product strategy, Lufthansa Product Director Bernhardt Seiter told Via Satellite. FlyNet, which uses Panasonic Avionics’ global satellite communications suite of voice, video and data services, aims to provide connectivity services to passengers while transmitting airline operational data in real time at speeds of up to 50 Mbps to the aircraft.
Several satellite companies have a hand in Lufthansa’s in-flight entertainment vision. MTN Satellite Communications is providing the solution with Ku-band satellite network services, EMS Technologies’ Defense & Space Division is contributing an advanced dual-panel, satellite-tracking antenna and iDirect is supplying the satellite IP router technology as a core component of the Panasonic eXConnect in-flight satellite transmission platform.
In the following interview, Seiter discusses his hopes for FlyNet in 2010 and the importance of using this satellite-based solution in giving Lufthansa an edge over other airlines.
Via Satellite: What is your service launch target date?
Seiter: We intend to launch these services in the second half of 2010. We will have several technical tests in the first half. The roll out will happen this year.
Via Satellite: What are your roll out plans?
Seiter: We will have the long-haul fleet aircraft already equipped with the Boeing antenna online again in the first year for this service. We need to have consistency across the fleet. We already have a unique advantage in that we already have 70 aircraft, which is about 75 percent of our long-haul fleet, already equipped with such a service. So, this can be easily migrated to the Panasonic service. In around 6-9 months, we can get these aircraft back online. Then, we can go to the remaining part of the fleet, and install the service on these. Another major factor of our assessment would be coverage. We have reached agreement with Panasonic over the issue of reach. The North Atlantic will have priority, as it is the most important region for us. So, this is where the rollout will start. Then we will go into Asia, the Middle East, and then South America and Africa. At the end of the day, the service will be available on all of our routes.
Via Satellite: What lessons did you learn from your experience with Boeing Connexion?
Seiter: We had Boeing Connexion online between 2004 and 2006. We felt this was a great USP for our customers, particularly business travellers, who do not want to be offline anywhere in the world. We were very sorry when Boeing stopped their services here in 2006. Based on our three year experience with Connexion with Boeing, what we really learned that many business travellers and corporate travel managers, this is a very important USP in terms of competition. We had many passengers at that time for Lufthansa. So, that is really the best reference a product can have. It helped our passengers save time.
Via Satellite: Satellite plays a key role in this solution. What were the key decisions when evaluating the technology?
Seiter: We come from the user side, and we felt that we clearly need broadband services. We need to make these available to customers. We don’t believe in any narrowband solutions because at the end of the day, our customers told us they wanted to have the same experience that they did in any other hotpot in the world, a hotel or an airport, etc. You can only achieve this hotspot experience if you have broadband Internet. If you go to broadband for long-haul traffic, then you need satellite. For solutions in Europe or just North America, there are potentially other solutions, but as soon as you go over the ocean, you need satellite. You need satellite communication. Panasonic has come up with a very clever technical solution integrating several infrastructures already available on the aircraft. We are contributing the installation and the downtime on these aircraft. Panasonic has a lot of experience in the IFE (inflight entertainment) business, so this will enable us in the future to bring a combined solution to the customer using the combined infrastructure we have on board the planes.
Via Satellite: What is the biggest challenge to success for Flynet?
Seiter: The major challenge of this service is make sure it is like any other hot spot service. However, it is the fastest and highest hotspot anywhere in the world. This is quite a technical challenge to make sure users can use this service without any disturbance or interruption, keeping in mind the signal at around 36,000 kilometres (or 22,000 miles) up in the air. There are a number of technical challenges. To get this broadband experience to customers, is a major challenge, so we are having extended tests next year. The other challenge is then to have a rapid installation across our fleet. We have a very aggressive installation program, which we have to manage over the next 18 months to achieve our goals. Thirdly, we will also spend a great deal of money in terms of marketing the service. We want to really try and make this service popular with our customers.