Flying an LCC in Europe no longer means being disconnected while in the sky. IAG’s Vueling operation soft-launched inflight wifi connectivity delivered via the European Aviation Network (EAN), powered by Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom, on five of its aircraft earlier this month. Vueling is the third EAN airline and the first LCC with the service.
Vueling is one of the reference airlines in Europe and we’re delighted that its passengers now have access to our best-in-class inflight connectivity, unmatched by any other solution. We are particularly excited that EAN is now available in the low-cost carrier market for the first time as this represents a wider move towards inflight connectivity amongst innovators in that market.– Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation
The EAN service first went live in Europe on British Airways, with a soft launch in March 2019. Iberia activated the kit next on its short-haul fleet. Similar to the service on its sister carriers British Airways and Iberia, the EAN implementation on Vueling includes three tiers of service for messaging, browsing and streaming content while in flight.
Adding inflight wifi is not a new concept for Vueling. The carrier announced a deal with LiveTV (now part of Thales Inflyt) and Spanish phone provider Telefonica in 2014 to bring Ka-band satellite service to its fleet. A small number of aircraft saw the kit installed and tested against the Ka-SAT Ka-band satellite, jointly owned by Eutelsat and Viasat and providing coverage across Europe.
Alas, whether due to certification issues or economic challenges, the deal was not to be. The service never really took off and was officially scuttled when International Airline Group announced its multi-airline agreement with Inmarsat to deploy EAN.
Our studies have shown that inflight Wi-Fi connection is an important factor that is valued by customers. Vueling is a leading airline in innovation and now the connectivity needs of our customers will also be covered during flights using the European Aviation Network, thus enriching their experience on board.– Calum Laming, Chief Customer Officer of Vueling
The EAN option promises lower costs and a lighter solution for airlines, thanks to the smaller antenna systems in use. It technically is a hybrid satellite and terrestrial network, though the vast majority of traffic is managed through the ground link connected to the Telekom cellular towers across Europe. This delivers more efficient spectrum reuse, translating to much higher total capacity available and lower latency than a satellite network. It is also the subject of lawsuits in multiple countries related to the allocation of the frequencies; closure on that front is not expected for at least a year and likely longer.
The carrier expects to complete the rollout across its 110 aircraft fleet by early 2020, eventually transitioning out of the soft launch mode. The deployment across the British Airways and Iberia planes is expected to be completed in a similar time frame, though BA is more widely deployed today. With the lower aircraft utilization during the winter season the carriers should have an easier time getting the hardware on board and active. Inmarsat boasts of a sub-9 hour installation time, helping drive the value proposition for its customer airlines.