January 30, 2013


The Future of Airborne Entertainment and Communication Systems

In-flight entertainment (IFE) systems are providing great entertainment for long-distance travelling passengers with the help of a conventional wired network infrastructure. But, due to the wired infrastructure, a lot of unnecessary overhead gets added to the aircraft carriers, including weight, more fuel consumption, cost increment, voltage leaks, and low passenger satisfaction level. Due to the advancement in networking and computing, a lot of new consumer devices like iPads, smartphones, notebooks, etc. have come into the market. With passengers user experience pushed to its limits with the wired infrastructure, passengers are in need of a wireless infrastructure inside the aircraft, like on the ground, to use and enjoy a hassle-free entertainment experience.

The urgent need for every aircraft carrier is to upgrade their old wired infrastructure to wireless systems. This will save aircraft carriers millions of dollars per year as well as provide a better customer/passenger experience. This will make the aircraft greener and lighter, leaving behind a smaller carbon footprint.

In the near future, wireless IFE systems will replace traditional seatback and overhead IFE systems. The passengers can surf the internet wirelessly inside the aircraft. Yes! It may be a new user experience for people who always like changes in life.

Currently, companies like Panasonic, Bluebox, Thales, Siemens, etc. are providing wireless IFE solutions to aircraft carriers. Mostly, they are using WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) 802.11n as their technology platform. 802.11n has a lot of advantage over legacy WLAN technologies (802.11a/b/g) such as coverage, data rate, throughput and security mechanisms.

In the future, other possible wireless technologies which can form the backbone of the wireless IFE are:

  • 802.11ac

  • 802.11ad or WiGig (60-GHz MM wave WLAN)

  • Wireless PAN (Personal Area Network) like UWB (Ultra Wide Band)

  • LTE (Long Term Evolution) and LTE advanced

Recently, Qualcomm has proposed 300 Gbps In-Flight mobile broadband technology as the next generation Airplane Gateway systems. It will be a bold next step in the aerospace wireless communication arena, and will take the user experience to the next level.

There are some concerns from the film studios and production houses that are providing videos and movies to aircraft carriers in terms of piracy, because there is a risk of the content getting stored in the personal devices while it is being streamed.  Because of this, there is a demand for better security systems to overcome the potential piracy problem.

Another concern in wireless IFE is power consumption. Whether it is wireless routers or passenger devices, each needs a particular amount of power to deliver or receive and run the media content. For example, suppose there are 300-500 passengers per aircraft, each one has a PDA, and the travel duration is around 8-12 hours. It will become a huge challenge for the airlines to supply power for the entire journey. Significant research collaboration is required to design more efficient power saving mechanisms for devices, processors and networks to provide extra battery life for all electronic devices inside aircraft. Also, there needs to be a thorough assessment of the effects of radiation exposure on human health as well as the interference that any of the systems will cause to the existing airborne communication systems.

Undoubtedly the wireless IFE systems will revolutionize the way in which content is being distributed and viewed inside the cabin. It will primarily offer easier cabin reconfiguration and potential weight savings depending on the configuration. But it is the flexibility and simplicity benefits that are attracting the attention of the airlines. However, the major challenge still lies in getting such systems certified by the FAA and EASA in terms of safety and non-interference with the avionics systems. Whether the wireless IFE system will get the recognition and acceptance from the airlines and passengers, for that we will have to wait and watch…Read more about HCL Tech's Aerospace Design services here