Announcements related to inflight connectivity in China are hard to process. Vendors continue to sign agreements and push out releases but forward progress in terms of getting hardware on planes remains stalled. This week Lufthansa Technik (LHT) joined the field with an announcement of an offering for airlines in China. But, like the others, it is unclear what the timeline for implementation will be or where things will go from here.
Claiming it will “bring first ever inflight internet to China,” LHT will partner with Chinese service provider Air Esurfing Information Technology to deliver hardware and modification services in country. LHT will design and certify Ka-band-based connectivity retrofit packages for Airbus A320ceo and A320neo aircraft families and the Boeing 737NG and 737MAX lines. The work also includes delivering the necessary type certifications to meet CAAC rules for the installations.
As an in-flight solution provider on connectivity, the Company’s strategic cooperation with Lufthansa Technik signals a new chapter in our history, as we take a big step forward empowering Chinese airlines with high-speed in-flight Internet services.– Herman Guo, Chief Executive Officer of AirNet, Air Esurfing’s parent company
The 5-year contract will include antenna hardware provided by Honeywell and satellite capacity from China Satcom. Honeywell’s JetWave Ka-band antenna solution currently provides connectivity to Inmarsat‘s GX Aviation network for more than 1,000 aircraft, proving its place in the market. Acquiring Ka-band satellite services from China Satcom is the easy option as that is the only provider with substantial coverage and capacity in the market. Still, the failure of ChinaSat-18 to properly enter orbit earlier this year will restrict the ability for the market to grow too quickly.
Everyone playing, no one winning
LHT is not alone in its plans to grow Ka-band services over China. Viasat signed an agreement in April to use China Satcom capacity for its existing installations (i.e. EL AL’s 787s flying to Hong Kong) and to further develop offerings targeting the local market. FTS also announced a deal in September 2018 to deliver wifi services to a pair of domestic carriers, also using the ChinaSat-16 satellite capacity.
In the Ku-band space Panasonic Avionics (PAC) is a long-time player, covering long-haul aircraft for several Chinese carriers. The company partnered with APT Mobile Satcom Limited (APSATCOM)in its latest efforts to increase capacity for the Chinese market. But PAC’s relationship is not an exclusive one. Gogo announced a deal with APSATCOM last month to expand its 2Ku program sales efforts into China. This is Gogo‘s second foray into the country. And there’s also Global Eagle, with a single 9air plane carrying its Ku-band kit flying around the country. The system proved its technical merits but there is no indication of an expanded installation effort coming any time soon.
Many Asian countries have only recently passed legislation that paves the way for inflight connectivity solutions for its airlines, so the market is now gaining enormous momentum. We are the leading provider of aircraft connectivity solutions in this emerging market, as we have the expertise to provide airlines with solutions for almost every desired combination.– Lukas Bucher, Head of Product Connectivity at Lufthansa Technik
Satellite operators are not alone in planning Chinese inflight wifi offerings. A terrestrial option is also in the works, with SkyFive hoping to lead that charge.
Seeking the end game
There is no doubt that inflight connectivity will eventually be a big business. But the market has seen years of false starts. Government regulation is part of the challenge. So is the limited demand from consumers and the lack of a proven, profitable business model to deliver on the potential for the industry.
More partnerships and opportunities for success should be seen as a positive step, but also not seen as a sure thing for the development of the market. It will happen and vendors must be “in it to win it” as the saying goes. But expecting that any of these announcements will quickly convert to hardware on planes over China is likely to lead to disappointment.
More about the development of inflight wifi services in China:
- Viasat, China Satcom partner for Ka-band connectivity over China
- A setbacKa in China
- Ka-band inflight connectivity to take flight in China
- SkyFive targets ATG network expansion on a global scale
- Panasonic, APSATCOM announce “XTS” satellite plans
- Gogo makes a China 2Ku play