Image: Roger Williams

Astronics has torn up the traditional blueprint for in-flight entertainment hardware with its new Edge Cabin Network Platform, launched at APEX EXPO 2019, a new solution wherein content can be stored locally at smart wireless access points throughout the cabin.

Astronics’ new Edge Cabin Network Platform is a scalable in-flight entertainment (IFE) hardware system that’s designed for easy installation in regional, single-aisle and wide-body aircraft.

In a traditional IFE system, a powerful head-end server does all the processing work, stores media content and serves multiple cabin-mounted Wireless Access Points (WAP) that stream programming to passengers’ personal devices. The server is installed in the plane’s equipment bay, needs to be actively cooled with a fan and, if it happens to fail, the aircraft’s IFE goes “dark.”

“What we’ve done is rethought the architecture,” said Mark Schwartz, vice-president, Astronics. “We’ve eliminated the head-end server, taken its CPU [central processing unit] and hard drive space and distributed it into what we call the SmartWAP. They’re not just wireless access points, but they have a processor and hard drive space in them.”

“They’re not just wireless access points, they have a processor and hard drive space in them” – Mark Schwartz, Astronics.

A small content loader is part of the system, and the Edge’s software can be configured by the airline customer to store media on one SmartWAP, duplicate the media on multiple units, or move the media to a specific unit as a passenger accesses a particular piece of content.

Instead of having a single point of failure, Edge’s architecture is self-healing, according to Schwartz. “Since you’re distributing the CPU power and the hard drive space among the SmartWAPs, if one of the units happens to go down, the others can immediately take over.”

Edge has been in development for 10 months and Schwartz says empirical lab testing has shown each SmartWAP can serve between 70 and 100 streaming devices at 720p quality. Final specifications will be established before the platform’s launch customer takes delivery of the first Edge system early next year.

With a cost of ownership that’s 30 percent less than a traditional IFE system and a simple one-night installation, Schwartz says Edge fits nicely into Astronics’ lineup between its high-end Summit line and portable Sierra system. “For hardware, we’ve got you covered from A to Z,” said Schwartz.