Atlantic Airways

Image via Atlantic Airways

Faroe Islands-based Atlantic Airways will become the global launch partner for AirFi LEO by the end of this year.

Wireless IFE provider AirFi is launching its first in-flight connectivity service. The company will connect to Iridium’s satellite constellation through a low-profile antenna, delivering a very thin satellite link. The solution, dubbed AirFi LEO, allows basic web services at a low cost and without aircraft modifications or certifications. This quick-install solution will fly first on Faroese carrier Atlantic Airways with installations beginning in Q4 2018.

The initial implementation will run on the Iridium GO platform, a legacy offering optimized for SMS and other small message transactions like payment processing. AirFi is working with resellers of that solution to speed time to market.

Eli Atiya, AirFi’s COO, highlights real-time booking, online payments, instant messaging and social media as potential use cases. “There is high demand for basic connectivity across our client base – more so than high-speed internet for streaming or browsing. AirFi LEO delivers an extremely important addition to our portfolio and meets our criteria for safe, rapid deployment.”

“There is high demand for basic connectivity across our client base – more so than high-speed internet for streaming or browsing.” – Eli Atiya, COO, AirFi

Johanna a Bergi, CEO of Atlantic Airways, is keen to target these use cases as well. She notes that the minimal hardware investment dramatically eases deployment and that passengers should find strong use cases, even with the limited bandwidth. “Passengers will be able to message their friends and families at 35,000 feet, check their social media feeds and complete last-minute transactions like renting a car or booking a hotel room, from the comfort of their aircraft seat,” she said. The viability of these services depends on the overall bandwidth AirFi LEO can realize and just how much of each transaction process can be cached on board.

Using the truly global coverage footprint of Iridium’s NEXT constellation is also important to Atlantic Airways given its hub’s northern position on the globe. While geostationary (GEO) satellites do cover the region and routes, the low earth orbit (LEO) satellites remove any chance of a gap on flight routes.

Iridium intends to upgrade the per-channel speed of its network in 2019 as part of its Certus offering, increasing bandwidth to subscriber systems. AirFi intends to take advantage of this capacity upgrade once it becomes available. Even with the boost, however, AirFi LEO will be well short on total bandwidth to the plane compared to other connectivity options.

A previous version of this story implied a direct relationship between AirFi and Iridium to deliver the connectivity service and specific bandwidth performance estimations. Those details were erroneous. We apologize for any confusion.