Network performance isn’t only about bandwidth. Indeed, Panasonic Avionics announcement at CES this week of its “Third Generation Satellite Communications Network” talks a lot about bandwidth and capacity but that’s not the most interesting part of the news. The 3rd generation network brings more than just bandwidth to planes. And the company believes that better management of the bandwidth will go a long way towards improving the passenger experience on board.
Yes, there will be more bandwidth available to aircraft. The 20x capacity increase comes from a combination of a new modem (announced in November 2016 and confirmed in service in November 2017) and access to new satellites launched in the past year. For most of the 1800ish planes flying with PAC’s eXConnect kit installed the modem replacement will bring significant improvement to the passenger experience. Those upgrades are set to run over the next year or two.
The other improvements Panasonic is deploying will be seen even sooner. The company is launching a Customer Performance Center as a clearinghouse for a number of behind-the-scenes improvements to the network operation:
The network is backed by a range of new measures Panasonic has launched to provide higher levels of support to its customers. These initiatives are channeled through Panasonic’s new Customer Performance Center, which drives enhanced network performance, reduced outage times, and faster response and resolution times for all customer inquiries.
The Customer Performance Center offers a range of value-added services including traffic shaping tools, live monitoring and management of the user experience, and Panasonic’s ZeroTouch™ service, which enables real-time content loading, validation and management.
Again, many of these bits are not especially new; rather it is about Panasonic Avionics pulling the resources together under a single product banner and delivering a consistent solution that airline and passenger customers can rely on. Of the services the CPC brings together the traffic shaping tools is an interesting one. It is easy to read that as a means by which to throttle back users consuming more bandwidth but PAC has other goals in mind. Jon Norris, Sr. Director of Corporate Sales and Marketing explains it thus:
A key component of our third generation network is our traffic shaping capabilities. Our vision for the inflight experience has always been to give passengers the bandwidth they need to access the connected services they value the most. It’s not about throttling down power users at all. Instead, it’s delivering enough bandwidth to individual users and making sure that they are able to enjoy a high-speed, reliable connection that lets them use the applications they want — everything from email to streaming video. It’s a really exciting enhancement to our global network.
Panasonic believes the traffic shaping can be used to help throttle background tasks like system updates while not interfering with access to the content passengers actually want. The horror stories of $1200 inflight connectivity bills often come from passengers unaware that a background update is loading. Phone and computer manufacturers don’t have a modern “airplane mode” option that kills those background transfers while letting a passenger still be online. And wifi connections are treated by the operating systems as unmetered.
Neither passengers nor airlines nor the connectivity providers want to be transferring those massive files in the background. The service providers talk about this challenge somewhat often. This week’s announcement from PAC is the first I’ve heard discussing a solution.