March 21st, 2015
I’m curious about how high-level executives, at any relevant airline, can argue against the bases of what validates the general concept of in-flight connectivity.
Mary Kirby’s post, titled “Norwegian wants to move 737 health data over broadband”, was a generally-interesting read as far as discussing the airline’s intent and experience with their connectivity efforts was concerned.
But what was more interesting were the comments made by Norwegian’s head of business development, station and inflight solutions, Boris Bubresko.
…Boris Bubresko proclaimed that the airline is a “true believer in connectivity”, having already equipped 96% of its 737 fleet with Global Eagle’s Ku connectivity system.
That is an impressive number. Indeed, Norwegian was one of the earlier adopters of in-flight connectivity, where the airline began retrofitting their Boeing 737s with relevant hardware since 2011.
On the #PaxEx front, Norwegian on average sees “about 35-40%” take rates, and predictably higher usage on longer flights. The quality of this free service “depends on what passengers are doing on board. If everyone is doing emails; everybody is fine. If everybody is trying to download a movie; they all suffer,” admits Bubresko.
I’ve flown with Norwegian on several occasions, and I would always try to get online whenever the service was available. A general, non-systematic and -scientific head-count on most of my flights will agree to the 35-to-40% usage rates — mostly consisting users of smartphones, while lesser for tablets and laptops.
As it was free for everyone to use, the quality-of-service would always be questionable…
Thinking back to my most-positive usage experience, a passenger’s best bet would be to stick with apps that go easy on data consumption. Granted there can be a bit of wait time, which is an inherent issue with satellite-based Internet. Twitter, in most cases, would function reasonably well — but not so much for Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, which can hog the connection with endless picture-loading requests!
Hence, Bubresko’s example of a scenario where “everybody is trying to download a movie” would be virtually impossible, because it could never really happen (good luck trying to even get to the page that hosts the video!)
Norwegian is rumored to have only contracted for half a transponder’s worth of Ku capacity [read: not a lot] to cover its connectivity needs, leading to mixed results for passengers.
That figures. But let’s not forget about the free-for-all nature of the service, which lends Norwegian an excuse of not having to meet any (realistic) levels of in-flight broadband expectations (not as if they have made any efforts to established these!)
Almost all passengers in the world have been conditioned with the premise that the Internet isn’t usually available on planes. So, when you give it to them, for free, many would be happy that it’s there for the using — and expectations are non-existent because it’s both nice-to-have and, most importantly, zero-cost.
But Bubresko insists that the conversation should not be about bandwidth. Rather, he says, it’s about “are passengers able to do what they would like to do?”
How is the conversation not about bandwidth when we are talking about connectivity?
It’s easy to say “let’s install Wi-Fi on all our aircraft so that everyone gets to surf the Web when they fly with us!” But without consideration for the overall fleet’s capacity requirements, measures to control data use on a per-aircraft basis, and appropriate service expectations for passengers, asking that subsequent question becomes a truly futile and senseless act.
But if I was to say “I’d like to watch my Netflix”, then how is Bubresko going to respond?
Not about bandwidth? In another world, perhaps.