Over the past few years, you may have noticed talk of being able to use your mobile phone on a plane. Despite what seems like many years of discussion on the topic, you might not realise that some airlines have already installed special mobile network technology onboard, enabling you to get online before you reach your destination.
One company in particular, Aeromobile, is leading the way when it comes to rolling out the technology. We spoke them recently to learn more about how the system works and to discover how people are reacting to and using the service. AeroMobile is a UK-based mobile service provider for the aviation industry, providing services so that airline passengers can use their own mobile phone for calls, texting and mobile data whilst inflight.
It’s important to realise that this is pretty much as seamless as it gets: you turn on your phone at cruising altitude, select the Aeromobile network and then use your phone (or other devices) just as you would when abroad. There are no credit cards to swipe or cumbersome seat-mounted handsets – it all just works as you’d expect on your own mobile.
Aeromobile leads the way in onboard networks
Aeromobile has been developing their solution since 2008, and today a number of airlines have fitted the equipment necessary to allow passengers to use their phones, tablets, and laptops. 2015 has been a particularly exciting year for Aeromobile, as the first Airbus A380 (an Etihad Airways A380-800) was full line-litted with the mobile network. It’s surely a sign of things to come, as the successful deployment means that we’re increasingly likely to see more A380’s (and many other planes) fitted out.
In terms of the airlines, it’s now not about do they need the technology and connectivity onboard, but more like how and when they will offer the service. It’s a huge step change in the industry. In a couple of years’ time, having the ability to use your mobile in the air will be as normal as having the Internet in hotel rooms – Jack Gordon, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Aeromobile.
Even though it might not yet be on the radar for some passengers, the airlines are investing in the technology in order to provide a richer, more convenient experience in the cabin. Of course, some people might prefer to escape the constant mobile phone communications, but for the vast majority of travellers, being connected means that they can have a more pleasant trip when they land. Imagine being able to send that text you forgot, or clear out your inbox before you land!
Aeromobile is owned by Panasonic, which is already a market leader in in-flight entertainment systems (with perhaps around 75% – 80% of the market). Providing cellular connectivity is a natural extension of that, and of course they already have a great relationship with the airlines. Panasonic Group’s Global Communication Suite can therefore offer inflight entertainment, live TV and mobile connectivity to the airlines?
How does it work?
At the moment, Aeromobile provides a 2.5G network to anyone that wants to use it on the plane. In future, 3G and even 4G should be available, but for the moment 2.5G is more than sufficient for most of the activities you’d want to do such as email, texting, games and apps. It’s unlikely that users would want to stream video for the reason of cost (the service is charged like a roaming service and also the fact that planes already carry a great selection of onboard entertainment.
As shown above, connectivity is basically delivered by satellite in constant communication with the mobile equipment installed in the aircraft, and all content is ultimately transmitted via satellite.
Aeromobile is a boon for business travellers and holidaymakers; instead of rushing to finish things off at the airport, they can send texts, check email and use the Internet in the air, as easily and seamlessly as they would on the ground – Jack Gordon, Director of Marketing and Business Development, Aeromobile
When the aircraft is on the ground, the system is automatically turned off, and likewise turns on at cruising altitude. This means that travellers must turn their mobiles off when taking off and landing, as directed by the cabin crew. But minutes into a flight, all you have to do is turn on your mobile, select the Aeromobile network (just as you would when abroad) and start using the service. As an operator in its own right, the process is immediately familiar to most users. You may also receive a text message with the rates, and of course this might vary based on your network plan at home, and any special promotions that you’ve signed up for.
The beauty of the service is that your home operator bills you as normal for roaming charges, and there is of course no registration and setup necessary. In other words, the retail side of things is handled by your own operator.
Where in the world is Aeromobile in 2015?
Aeromobile looks set to go from strength to strength, and is already proving popular with passengers all over the world and on more than 15 airlines.
Here is an interesting breakdown of statistics from 2015:
- 49 per cent of all texts are sent from European network operators
- 22 per cent of texts are sent from UK network operators
- 19 per cent of texts are from Middle Eastern operators
- 14 per cent from US operators
- 6 per cent from African operators
- 4 per cent from Asian and Indian operators
Some of the airlines where is Aeromobile is available include: British Airways, Eva Air, Qatar Airways, Malindo Air, Alitalia, Aer Linguns, Air France, Emirates, Etihad, KLM, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Transaero, Virgin Atlantic, and Lufthansa.
By the end of April 2015:
- Over four million passengers connected to Aeromobile – an eight per cent increase compared to the same time last year
- More than eight million SMS have been sent and received so far in 2015; an increase of six per cent
- Data remains the most popular service and its popularity continues to grow. Average data usage on our network is up 38 per cent on last year.
These stats show just how popular inflight connectivity is, and it’s only a matter of time before almost every airline offers such a service.
AeroMobile services continue to be installed on aircraft across the world, and the company has recently celebrated the launch of Malindo Air and Alitalia’s first connected aircraft.
The fact that you can get connected whilst in the air is an amazing concept, and now it’s more convenient and simple to use than ever before. It’s fast becoming the norm, and in future will be something that we are likely to take for granted. As far as business travellers are concerned (especially where their company pays for the charges), it’s revolutionising flying and ultimately making the whole journey from start to finish more productive. Even for holidaymakers and casual flyers, there are times when being able to fire off a few emails or use your apps can make the difference between worrying about something you forgot to do and having a pleasant, relaxing flight.
I for one am looking forward to using the Aeromobile service the next time I fly!
Mobile Industry Review would like to thank Aeromobile, especially marketing director Jack Gordon, for providing the information and insights discussed in this article.