PHILIPPE CARETTE

Surfing the web at 35,000 feet

Surfing the web at 35,000 feet

Development of the Aegean Airlines inflight Wi-Fi service was based on the European Aviation Network (EAN) platform designed by Inmarsat, Deutsche Telekom and other technology companies.

In an interview with Kathimerini, Inmarsat Aviation President Philippe Carette says that the EAN platform “combines dedicated satellite coverage with an integrated 4G LTE ground network, both of which work in unison across land and sea, without any dropouts or handoffs.”

Carette points out that airline passenger surveys conducted amid the coronavirus pandemic show that Greek travelers cite inflight Wi-Fi as one of the top three factors that contribute to the enjoyment of a flight.

What is behind the EAN technology and how does it work in aviation?

EAN has been designed from scratch by Inmarsat, Deutsche Telekom and leading partners such as Nokia, Airbus and Thales to deliver the fastest inflight Wi-Fi service across Europe, one of the world’s most congested airspaces. The technology behind EAN is truly unique, as it combines dedicated satellite coverage with an integrated 4G LTE ground network, both of which work in unison across land and sea, without any dropouts or handoffs. This ensures a best-in-class experience that allows passengers to seamlessly browse the internet, check social media, stream videos and audio, shop online, enjoy real-time interactive gaming and more during flights, just like they do on the ground.

How does EAN fit into Aegean’s innovation culture and customer-centric strategy?

It has been a pleasure working with the Aegean team and experiencing firsthand their culture of innovation and customer centricity, as well as their strong technical capabilities and skills. I truly believe EAN fits perfectly with this. In terms of innovation, the fact that EAN combines satellite coverage with a LTE ground network makes it truly unique and a game changer, not only in Europe but on a worldwide basis. This was even acknowledged by the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), which selected EAN as winner of its prestigious Best Inflight Connectivity Innovation award for marking a paradigm shift in the airline passenger experience, with incomparable speeds, uninterrupted coverage and significantly lower latency than any other inflight Wi-Fi network in the continent.

In terms of customer centricity, it’s clear that passengers have become more reliant on connectivity during the pandemic, either to stay in touch with friends, family or colleagues, or to keep entertained and updated with the latest news about their flight, destination and more. It’s interesting to note that EAN has been experiencing record passenger take-up rates. In fact, over the summer last year, when flights resumed to some degree, take-up rates soared by up to 10 times the usual rate during certain weeks. Aegean has recognized the evolving needs of its passengers and taken a proactive step by offering high-speed inflight Wi-Fi powered by EAN, which can easily be accessed via a passenger experience platform, developed by Display Interactive. We are confident there will be strong demand, especially as during a soft launch of the service aboard Aegean aircraft, passenger usage not only met our targets, but exceeded them.

Do you think the on-board internet will affect travel habits and increase people’s appetite for travel, and assist in a faster recovery post-pandemic?

Throughout the pandemic passengers have become accustomed to accessible, fast Wi-Fi from their homes, and now, as passengers begin to return to the skies, they are expecting this same service at 35,000 feet. Now, more than ever, delivering exceptional customer service and passenger experience has never been more important for airlines. In fact, according to our latest Passenger Confidence Tracker, which is the world’s largest airline passenger survey, since the pandemic started, Greek passengers cited inflight Wi-Fi as being one of the top three factors that contribute to the enjoyment of a flight (39%), following free baggage (47%) and service experience (43%). On top of this, Greek passengers feel that inflight Wi-Fi is more important now than at the start of the pandemic when it comes to choosing an airline (37%) – highlighting the significant role inflight connectivity can play in increasing appetite for travel post-pandemic.

What are Inmarsat’s future endeavors with EAN?

Since entering commercial service back in March 2019, EAN has been made available to more than 45 million passengers on more than 380,000 flights, and we’re delighted that feedback from airlines and their passengers has consistently been extremely positive. If additional capacity is needed in the future, we can simply add new towers or terminals to the network. This can be done in months rather than years; the process is extremely quick and cost-effective. Given the sharp rise in passenger usage that we have experienced since the pandemic started, this incredible scalability means EAN can easily keep pace with growing long-term demand as needed in the future.

What are the disruptive technologies that you see coming in in-flight connectivity? 

Inmarsat is investing more than ever to cement our leadership in the inflight connectivity market for decades to come. This is evident across the markets we serve, including aviation. Last year, we unveiled plans for Orchestra, the communications network of the future. In the largest ever transformation of our current world-class services, Orchestra will bring together existing geosynchronous (GEO) satellites with low Earth orbit satellites (LEO) and terrestrial 5G into an integrated, high-performance solution. These networks have never been combined at scale before, so the ability to create a unified connectivity service that draws on the benefits of multiple technologies together is a very unique proposition for our aviation customers. This is the future of connectivity and Inmarsat is perfectly positioned to bring it to the world, thanks to our proven technology expertise, financial strength, and customer and partner base.