BYOD to join mile high club

It is happening in the workplace, and it appears that BYOD could soon reach into the sky.

In-flight entertainment usually takes the form of a small rectangle housed in the back airplane seats. In the past, it used to consist of a crap Adam Sandler film and annoyingly minute cans of lager. But analysts are expecting a boom in the use of personal devices on planes.

Long haul flights these days offer a wide range of films, music and games to stave off the pressing desire to open a window for a quick cigarette.

While wireless connectivity is common on planes, airlines have been missing a trick by wiring up screens to display in-flight entertainment.

Trials have been underway to do away with the seat-back screen, and IMS Research analysts believe that wireless services will become the norm.

With an installed-base of 80 last year, it is predicted that this will rise to 9,000 by 2021.
It would certainly make sense for airlines.   With financial constraints biting into many firms, the ability to get rid of costly wiring would in turn reduce aircraft weight and reduce fuel costs.

Furthermore, airlines such as Ryanair, always on the lookout for a new way to fleece its customers, would be able to create inflight entertainment services that could rake in extra cash.

For passengers it would mean the ease of access to music and video or games on their own devices.

Bring-your-own-device has certainly proved very popular in offices down here on terra firma, and it looks like the trend is set to continue up in the sky too.

“There are a number of factors that are driving the growth in wireless IFE,” IMS Research analyst Rose Yin told TechEye.

“The popularity of mobile devices is definitely one of the crucial factors. For instance, with more and more passengers carrying a wi-fi enabled device on board  such as tablets or smartphones, airlines have been looking at solutions that would utilise those devices.” 

One of the further advantages of wireless inflight entertainment is that the need for actual net connections is reduced.  

With a high cost for passengers and relatively low speeds, hardware and installation costs have meant that airlines are reticent to actually offer internet services despite increases in passengers using mobile devices.

“However, wireless IFE does not necessarily need connectivity, making it much cheaper and quicker to retrofit onto existing aircrafts,” Yin said. “Also, if all inflight entertainment can be streamed wirelessly to passenger’s devices, then it potentially removes the need for traditional wired seat-back IFE systems, which could mean a significant weight savings, in some instances, over a ton, and leading to fuel savings – one of the biggest cost savings.”

There are problems, however. Not all passengers will have a tablet or smartphone with them, but the real sticking point at the moment is the ability to stream to large numbers of users.

“At the moment, one of the biggest concerns airlines are facing is actually the ability to stream content at a high quality to enough devices at one time,” Yin said.  “Although most suppliers claim that their systems have solved the bandwidth issue, many airlines are still not convinced.”

“For example, an airline might fear that if 100 passengers all stream video at the same time wirelessly, many would experience quality issues.

“So, airlines who don’t want to charge passengers will probably be more concerned on the bandwidth issue than the number of devices passengers carry, whilst those who hope to charge might fear the uptake might be low for years to come.” 

The ability to use a variety of platforms could cause headaches too, with some systems only supporting one OS.

But if airlines can get it right then wireless inflight entertainment could soon become the norm.