Move over WiFi; LiFi is now flying. Delivering on a promise made during the Paris Air Show Air France and hardware supplier Latécoère operated the LiFi (Light Fidelity) system on board a commercial flight this week, bringing a new means for high speed data transmission into service.
The Latécoère team installed its LiFi hardware on a dozen seats in the cabin of an Air France A321 for the flight between Paris and Toulouse. During the flight the companies, joined by Ubisoft, sponsored the finals of the Air France Trackmania Cup, an eGaming tournament that launched during the Paris Air Show earlier this summer. The LiFi system delivered high bandwidth and low latency communications to the seatback entertainment systems. This allowed the gamers to compete against each other during the flight for the title and a trip to the Ubisoft headquarters in Montreal as a grand prize.
We are very proud to be the first airline to launch a Li-Fi equipped aircraft and to organize an in-flight video game competition. This world first is the result of a great collaboration between Latécoère, Ubisoft and the Air France teams. I am convinced that this experience will pave the way for new inflight entertainment experiences for our customers, especially with regards to gaming.– Antoine Laborde, Air France’s Innovation Manager
LiFi moves to the next steps in aviation connectivity
This first inflight demonstration should be seen as an advanced proof of concept rather than the delivery of a new communications product on board. Still, it serves as a strong jumping off point for the next steps of what could prove a revolution in the data transmission world. At the beginning of the week Latécoère announced a deals with lighting company Signify and aerospace supplier Huneed Technologies to scale up LiFi systems manufacture to commercial levels.
Signify launched its Trulifi systems earlier this year and now boasts approximately 100 installations worldwide, but all on the ground. This partnership hope to bring that into the skies as well.
Trulifi combines energy-efficient LED lighting with a reliable, secure and high-speed two-way wireless connection. The system boasts speeds up to 250 Mbps for both downlink and the uplink. “Through this partnership, Signify and Latécoère will transform the cabin experience for passengers by providing them the latest technology in connectivity,” said Olivia Qiu, Chief Innovation Officer at Signify. “Trulifi offers enormous potential and our ambition is, in addition to aircraft, to provide this technology to other forms of public transport as well.”
The Trulifi platform will serve as the base for the new commercial efforts. Latécoère expects the initial aviation implementation to connect the embedded entertainment systems to a head-end unit. The LiFi system reduces the need for copper cabling to each seat, reducing weight and the associated carbon emissions on board. It also reduces interference with consumer devices that might be connecting to WiFi systems on board. Less contention for spectrum delivers a better user experience for everyone.
This first flight equipped with our Li-Fi technology is an important step in the roll-out of this technology in the aeronautical market. We are convinced that Li-Fi will revolutionize in-flight connectivity within the next 5 years. I am particularly pleased with the work carried out in collaboration with the Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance teams, who carried out the certification work on the solution and its integration into the cabin in record time.– Yannick Assouad, CEO of Latécoère
Beyond the fixed seat systems Latécoère SVP Innovation Serge Bérenger expects that LiFi will soon extend to personal electronic devices. During the product unveiling at the 2019 Paris Air Show Bérenger explained his expectations that the PEDs will soon have the necessary LiFi hardware included, driven by 5G data needs, “The objective of 5G is to guarantee a quality of service as opposed to 4G, which is a promise of bandwidth… The next generation of PEDs will be Li-Fi-ready, because it is necessary for 5G, and once they are, we can take full advantage of this infrastructure with no changes on board.”
The passenger distribution unit and fibre optic router hardware for this new push will be manufactured by Huneed Technologies. The Korean company has significant expertise in tactical communications and aerospace equipment, making it a strong partner for the project.
Major LiFi deployment challenges remain
Despite the optimism of Bérenger and Assouad the future of LiFi in consumer devices remains far from a sure thing. Even as the transceiver and modem hardware shrinks, so does the willingness of consumer device manufacturers to experiment with new technologies. And, while line-of-sight light-based solutions are a good option for communications with hardware when that visibility can be ensured (i.e. fixed positions), the frequency with which PEDs find themselves in a pocket, in a bag or simply wearing a protective cover make the light option a harder sell.
There’s also the part where the airlines still have to provide a strong and reliable connection from the aircraft to the ground for true connectivity. This LiFi trial and the associated gaming took place wholly on board the aircraft.
Even if it never extends to consumer devices the opportunity to pursue a different data transmission medium is a boost for the inflight entertainment and connectivity business. Creativity like this is what will drive the industry forward.
More from the 2019 Paris Air Show
- Airbus A321XLR: The future of single-aisle long-haul travel
- IAG makes a MAX move in Paris
- SmartSky boosts sales channel with Honeywell Aerospace VAR deal
- Different business models, same aircraft model: American, Frontier and JetBlue take on the A321XLR
- Boom’s supersonic timing slips
- Mitsubishi’s SpaceJet buys Bombardier’s support
- LiFi takes flight with Air France, Latécoère