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Ar­riv­ing at In­marsat’s re­gional HQ in Dubai Fes­ti­val City Tower, AVB got the chance to meet up with Ru­pert Pearce, CEO of In­marsat, who was in town for the un­veil­ing on the newly-minted of­fice. In ad­di­tion to high­light­ing the drive be­hind the launch of the new of­fice, which aims to cap­i­talise on prospec­tive busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties here in the Mid­dle East, In­marsat also un­veiled the re­sults of its fourth an­nual global In­flight Con­nec­tiv­ity Sur­vey.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, which exam- ined pas­sen­ger at­ti­tudes to­wards in­flight Wi-Fi, there has been a sharp uptick in pas­sen­ger de­mand for in­flight con­nec­tiv­ity (IFC) in the Mid­dle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA) re­gion. In fact, of the 9,300 pas­sen­gers who par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey — hail­ing from across Eu­rope, the Mid­dle East, Asia Pa­cific, as well as North and Latin Amer­ica — the ma­jor­ity (63%) shared that would hap­pily ex­change in­flight ameni­ties for in­ter­net ac­cess.

Other find­ings from the sur­vey showed that 84% of sur­vey re­spon­dents would likely re­book with an air­line, if high-qual­ity in­flight Wi-Fi were avail­able, while 90% of busi­ness trav­ellers re­port that with in­ter­net ac­cess, they would likely be pro­duc­tive in­flight.

An­other 64% of re­spon­dents shared that they have used in­fight Wi-Fi in the last year when they had ac­cess to it.

“What we see with the mil­len­ni­als, in par­tic­u­lar, is that they get sort of sweaty palms when they can’t con­nect. There is al­most a 24/7 de­pen­dency on apps all the time … there is an ex­pectancy of be­ing

able to do things in the air, as you can eas­ily on the ground and not pay­ing very much for it” com­ments Pearce.

“The mar­ket is ripe and ready and the beau­ti­ful thing about it is — it is fu­ture proof. Be­cause all fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will be con­nected,” he adds.

It is not only about stay­ing con­nected with the rest of the world, how­ever. The ad­vent of IFC also cre­ates new op­por­tu­ni­ties for air­lines to bring new con­tent onto the air­craft, such as the stream­ing of live events.

At the same time, pas­sen­gers will also be able to ac­cess their own per­son­alised con­tent. Rather than down­load­ing their favourite TV shows be­fore a flight, trav­ellers will soon be able to use their pre­ferred de­vice to ac­cess their con­tent ser­vice and stream their shows live.

Does this then spell the end of in­flight en­ter­tain­ment? In terms of the larger, long­haul air­craft, cer­tainly not, says In­marsat’s CEO. Ac­cord­ing to his own pre­dic­tions, what we might ex­pect to see in the near fu­ture is a blend­ing IFE and con­nec­tiv­ity run­ning across the same in­fras­truc­ture. By do­ing so, air­lines would be able to al­le­vi­ate the costs of the plat­form and its heavy weight, the lat­ter play­ing a fac­tor in terms of jet fuel con­sump­tion.

In terms of the short-haul air­craft tapped for smaller re­gional trips, how­ever, there is cer­tainly a case to be brought for ward there.

“Putting a big, heavy and ex­pen­sive in­flight en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem on is less rel­e­vant to putting a rel­a­tively light­weight, small con­nec­tiv­ity sys­tem, which al­lows peo­ple to choose what they do,” ex­plains Pearce.

“Cer­tainly, within the short-haul mar­ket, con­nec­tiv­ity will prob­a­bly ex­pe­dite the re­place­ment or the tran­si­tion from IFE, where there has been none or very lit­tle in the nar­row­body mar­ket and IFC will take up that slack quite con­sid­er­ably.”

Given the in­creas­ing num­ber of con­nected de­vices on the air­craft, it is un­der­stand­able for one to be con­cerned with the se­cu­rity aspect. Af­ter all, each ad­di­tional de­vice, which is of­ten not re­in­forced with ca­pa­ble se­cu­rity mea­sures, could po­ten­tially be a new at­tack vec­tor on the shared net­work for cy­ber­crim­i­nals to con­sider.

“I’ve ded­i­cated to In­marsat to be a leader in our in­dus­try in terms of cy­ber re­silience … We believe it is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. Also, as a thought leader, we are try­ing to set global stan­dards for our in­dustr y in terms of rel­a­tive cy­ber re­silience as well,” ex­plains Pearce.

“We also have the ca­pa­bil­ity of de­liv­er­ing cy­ber re­silience as a ser­vice to our cus­tomers, who are of­ten ill-equipped to de­fend their con­nected air­craft or con­nected oil rig, for ex­am­ple. It is an area that we are in­vest­ing very heav­ily in and will con­tinue to in­vest.”

Quickly dis­pelling any con­cerns re­lated to the safety of the air­craft, In­marsat’s CEO adds that the con­nec­tiv­ity sys­tems re­lated to in­flight WiFi for pas­sen­gers and for the flight deck are housed sep­a­rately and do not in­ter­act with each other. This en­sures that should one sys­tem be com­pro­mised, it doesn’t af­fect the other.

Look­ing ahead, In­marsat ex­pects that as the tech­nol­ogy con­tin­ues to be­come more wide­spread, it will un­doubt­edly be­come more eco­nom­i­cally fea­si­ble to im­ple­ment. De­liv­er­ing on cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence will not only be­come vi­able as the cost per megabyte con­tin­ues to drop, but the in­tro­duc­tion of a con­nected ser­vice will likely be­come a ne­ces­sity for air­lines to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from the com­pe­ti­tion.

“The mar­ket right now is pre­dom­i­nately a retrofit mar­ket. But within five years, it will be pre­dom­i­nately driven by line fit. Once it be­comes the norm to or­der a new air­craft ready con­nected, the im­ple­men­ta­tion costs of the air­line go down dra­mat­i­cally and now you’re re­ally talk­ing about the band­width cost,” says Pearce.

“The satel­lite in­dustr y is go­ing through a rev­o­lu­tion at the mo­ment, in terms of ca­pa­bil­ity en­hance­ment and cost per bit re­duc­tions … our ca­pa­bil­i­ties be­gin to look more and more like ter­res­trial ca­pa­bil­i­ties. We are of­fer­ing a 50 Mb/s pipe to­day and I strug­gle to get that in most parts of the world, ter­res­tri­ally,” he con­cludes.

We also have the ca­pa­bil­ity of de­liv­er­ing cy­ber re­silience as a ser­vice to our cus­tomers, who are of­ten ill-equipped.”

Ru­pert Pearce, CEO of In­marsat.

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