As British Airways brings the Inmarsat European Aviation Network (EAN) service online we are learning more about the service levels on offer and how the company is positioning the product on board. With some flights passing out of the coverage area there is a need to manage expectations. Moreover, with the vast majority of the traffic carried on the terrestrial network, how will the companies manage the service on flights mostly connected by satellite? Tiered service levels appear to be a major part of the solution to that problem.
As previously reported, British Airways offers two tiers of service on the EAN network, Messaging and Streaming. The streaming option, dependent on the Air-to-Ground portion of the network, is not always available. On a recent flight from Lanzarote, Canary Islands to London the EAN service remained unavailable for the first hour of flight. That’s no surprise given that the route passes well outside the coverage area of the S-Band satellite that supports the EAN network.
What is slightly surprising, however, is that once in the coverage area passengers were only offered the Messaging service, not the Streaming option. Given the limited bandwidth capacity on the satellite it appears that EAN will only offer the messaging services package while on that link. There are other indications of this configuration in some of the marketing collateral on board, including mention of a “limited” connectivity level where only messaging services will operate.
This particular flight passed over Portugal for approximately an hour, a portion of the flight where the terrestrial network should have been available to the aircraft and able to support the higher bandwidth demands of the Streaming service. But with less than half the trip covered by that higher bandwidth availability it appears that British Airways and Inmarsat are looking to properly manage expectations. That limited availability of the full network capacity appears key to what is offered on the service.
Properly managing consumer expectations is a difficult balancing act for providers. Rather than sell a product that won’t work or that will drop out of service soon after the purchase the companies are not offering the option at all. While that may prove disappointing for passengers expecting the higher performing service, only a limited number of routes are affected. By only selling the product that can be consistently delivered British Airways and Inmarsat can avoid the inevitable complaints and refunds processing that would ensue otherwise.
Inmarsat has not been shy about admitting that the satellite-based portion of the network is woefully underpowered to deliver high-speed service to the aircraft flying in the region; that’s why the terrestrial network exists. Choosing to throttle performance for all users on those few routes will likely make for a better overall passenger experience, even if it creates some confusion for passengers on board at the time.