In-seat entertainment screens are not dead; they just need a bit of disruption. That’s the message Gogo, Delta and Bombardier are sending with the launch of Gogo Vision Touch, the new wireless IFE solution that will fly on Delta’s CSeries aircraft beginning with deliveries in 2018. The service combines Gogo’s wireless network infrastructure and content serving with commercial-grade tablets installed in the seat-back to deliver a solution the companies believe is lighter, cheaper,easier to upgrade and easier to support.
And, not surprisingly, Gogo Vision Touch appears to be more about inflight connectivity than it is about entertainment systems.
A couple airlines, Delta in particular, have questioned, “Do I really need to have an IFE and a IFC system on the same plane? Or could I make one system that does both?” That’s what we’re doing here.
All about connectivity
For Gogo this is not just about delivering a new technology platform. The company believes that the industry is primed for disruption and that the Gogo Vision platform can help drive that transition. The technology already mostly exists. Gogo Vision Touch uses existing server infrastructure technology on board while adding additional components to maintain an isolated network. The dedicated wifi infrastructure improves the reliability, redundancy and security of the system while also avoiding interference with the regular connectivity and streaming media solution.
All of the seatback screens are on one network, one set of WAPs, their own hardware architecture. You cannot see that wireless network; your device talks to a separate network.
The dedicated network and tablets also enables an especially compelling feature: Early-window content from the studios. Concerns about piracy and content rights typically restricts newer releases from being made available to streaming platforms. Because the tablets and the infrastructure are owned and managed by the airline that restriction is removed on the Gogo Vision Touch platform.
The initial system deployment is all about the content stored on board. Gogo’s servers will hold media options and ensure that it is available on the tablets as passengers consume it. But the roadmap for the product suggests that airline-supplied content may be a shrinking part of the equation. Gogo’s SVP Dave Bijur explains that ultimately the airline may just provide the display and connectivity infrastructure, not the content being consumed.
The roadmap is that because these tablets are on the internet is that the content could come from the internet. Wouldn’t it be cool if you sat down at a seat and you could access your Netflix account on the screen. It is not so much a technology play. It is more of a connectivity and service play. Ultimately it is about changing the business model that’s not working for the airlines.
Shifting costs, responsibilities
Yes, streaming content means spending more in bandwidth. But the idea is to offset that increased cost by reducing the airline-paid content licensing fees paid to studios. The content costs shift to NetFlix or Amazon Prime – and really to the passenger and their subscriptions – from the airline. And rather than delivering the content the airline simply delivers the pipe.
This is hardly a new concept. JetBlue, ViaSat and Thales teamed up to offer support for streaming content on board under the “Bring Your Own [digital] Rights” moniker a couple years ago with Amazon Prime streaming on board with the Fly-Fi inflight connectivity system. Gogo’s announcement this week still only talks about delivering that as a future product, not something ready to fly today (or even when Gogo Vision Touch launches next year).
But the bet on IFE/C evolution seems clear: in-seat screens are not disappearing but the on-board content store is losing relevance. From Gogo’s perspective the implementation of 2Ku is a critical component as the company can now deliver sufficient (and hopefully cheap enough) bandwidth to the aircraft to support such an approach. The Gogo Touch Vision solution will be installed at the Bombardier factory along with the 2Ku hardware.
One technical challenge that remains for the new Gogo Vision Touch solution is regulatory certification for the use of commercial tablets in the seats rather than traditional IFE screens that are designed to withstand various safety certifications, including the 16G HIC test. Details are limited right now but that burden is being shouldered by Delta, not by Gogo. No doubt that the partnership there eases Gogo’s efforts to bring this new system to life.