Looking for free inflight internet connectivity? Japan appears the place to be. ANA will add free internet service on the bulk of its domestic fleet in 2018, delivering more connectivity on more domestic routes than any other carrier in Japan. ANA will expand its partnership with existing provider Panasonic Avionics to deliver the service. More than 100 aircraft will be newly fitted with service, covering the Boeing B777, B787, B767, B737-800, and Airbus A321s. Increased coverage over Japan will be aided by the entry in service of Eutelsat 172b, the new satellite where PAC is the anchor tenant
The carrier will also increase stored content entertainment options on board and expand the deployment of ANA SKY LIVE TV. The Sky Live television product offers news and sports focused specifically on the Japanese market and is an exclusive offering for ANA. Adding the live television product is in line with expectations PAC executives outlined earlier in the year to reach some 70% of the connected fleet with a TV product. Vice President, Global Sales & Marketing David Bruner described consumer demand for live content as “insatiable” and believes that the growing scale of deployment will allow for more content at cheaper prices, delivering a positive feedback loop for airline customers.
The carrier will also add in-seat entertainment screens and power ports to its 777 and 787 domestic aircraft. That work will come later – installs are to begin in late 2019 – and will bring the twin-aisle aircraft up to match the new A321neo planes that are being delivered with the entertainment screens today. The carrier will also add USB power outlets on its 767s and 737s; those planes will not receive the embedded IFE screens.
Even with a growing wireless IFE offering ANA’s introduction of embedded screens suggests an impressive resiliency in that market. Many speak about the disappearance of these screens as an eventual certainty – and in some markets they are absolutely vanishing – but the short-haul Japanese arena will see them added. That’s a vote of confidence in a supposedly dying technology.
Rival Japan Airlines already has its domestic fleet fitted and continues to grow its coverage as well. JAL’s service uses Gogo as a provider, with both the Ku and 2Ku hardware in play. It recently switched to a fully free-to-consumers offering after attempting other pricing models for the first couple years of service.
The shift to free service on board is a boon for the service providers. Gogo CEO Michael Small has spent the past 18 months focused on third party paid connectivity (what the airlines are calling free to consumers) as the sweet spot for his company’s offerings. Removing the payment barrier increases take rate dramatically and also lowers some customer expectations. The net result is more connected passengers using more bandwidth and generally delivering higher net promoter score ratings to the airline, all while driving revenue for the service provider. The key is in finding a company willing to sponsor the connection cost to make it free to consumers. In the US market JetBlue has multiple sponsors for its Fly-Fi platform while Gogo and TMobile are tightly aligned, delivering free service for many travelers. Some airlines are also willing to eat the cost for lower bandwidth offerings such as the free messaging solution Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines offer to their passengers.