The inflight connectivity community has suffered from years of disappointment as promise after promise from manufacturers failed to yield electronically steered phased array (ESAs) antennae for commercial aircraft. Phasor and others appeared poised to break that streak, with the news at Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg more optimistic than not. An update from one inflight connectivity provider this week calls some of that optimism into question, however.
Massive expansion costs are set to give way to recurring revenue growth. That is the message Viasat delivered as it issued is most recent earnings numbers this week. Even as the company pushes forward with the build-out of its new ViaSat-3 constellation with dramatically more bandwidth and geographic coverage, it hopes to convert the existing capacity into new deals and new subscribers, with a significant push into new inflight connectivity markets, among other areas.
The on again, off again progress on an upgraded terrestrial network for inflight connectivity provider Gogo appear to be back in motion. In the company's most recent earnings call CEO Oakleigh Thorne indicated that the company is "particularly excited by some of the plans we’re developing for our next-gen network," though he stopped short of delivering too much in the way of additional details. Hardware supplier ZTE is out, thanks to questions about the long-term viability of growing the network with a Chinese vendor in the mix. But the program is very much alive, despite skepticism sown in Thorne's early days at the helm.
Inflight connectivity provider Gogo delivered a strong quarter in Q1 2019, topping analyst earnings estimates. The numbers also show a few areas that remain critical for long-term success and are not necessarily moving in the right direction as quickly as could be expected. The company's "growth engine" of global carriers in particular raises questions, some of which the company declined to answer, about where the improvements will really occur.
As the newest supplier in the inflight connectivity market Saudi Arabia's UON by Taqnia Space faces plenty of challenges. It also is arguably the most nimble and adaptable player in the game, with plenty of opportunity to tailor its offerings and business model to airline demands as it looks to grow. During a conversation at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg earlier this month CEO Abdullah Alosaimi offered up some insight on how the company intends to do exactly that.
Last week's anomaly on the Intelsat 29e satellite took the Ku-band system temporarily offline. Further details now suggest that a recovery is increasingly unlikely. While that has a short-term impact on the inflight connectivity market a deeper review suggests that the overall exposure could be mitigated relatively quickly.
Gogo appears to have solved its most significant short-term challenge, with a $900mm debt offering lined up to provide five years of breathing room as the company inches towards a positive free cash flow.
What happens when gigabits of capacity goes offline? Passengers and inflight connectivity providers alike are about to find out. Intelsat 29e, the first of the Epic Ku-band High Throughput Satellites, suffered a fuel leak on 7 April 2019, followed by a second issue on 9 April. The satellite is in "safe mode" meaning all customer-facing services are disabled as the operator seeks to address the problems. This represents a significant hit to Ku-band capacity over the Americas and the North Atlantic Ocean.
Where and when will inflight internet finally take flight in India. A pair of players – Inmarsat and Global Eagle – are leading the charge to deliver connected aircraft in the region. At the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg last week both vendors provided updates on their efforts, with neither appearing likely to fly in 2019.
The only official announcement around electronically steered antennae (ESA) for commercial aircraft this week at Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg came from Gogo. And it probably was the least significant ESA story from the show. Instead, a surprise from a different supplier stole the spotlight.