The Seamless Air Alliance has created what it refers to as the world’s first modular platform for in-flight connectivity. APEX Media spoke with CEO Jack Mandala about why its new SR1 standards, which center on the importance of interchangeability and innovation, represent a real step change for the industry. SR1 also complements the work being done by the APEX Connectivity Working Group.
Can a standard component design give in-flight connectivity (IFC) the boost it needs to become a truly pervasive technology? The Seamless Air Alliance and its member companies believe so, having officially released the group’s first set of technical documents this week. Seamless Release 1 (SR1) aims to provide repeatable and measurable specifications for manufacturers, integrators and airlines to work with as they produce and install the next generation of IFC solutions.
Airline members of the alliance, including Virgin Atlantic, GOL, Delta and others, now have access to the document and can use it as a template for vendor RFPs. Jack Mandala, CEO, Seamless Air Alliance, explained that the new specifications will allow airlines to “future-proof” their installation decisions, and to know that an “investment in a system made up of these components can be nimble, and can provide choices with equipment and service providers moving forward” without requiring a full replacement of the onboard kit.
“An airline can upgrade as soon as they see something that’s new and cool and they want to have it on their aircraft.” – Jack Mandala, Seamless Air Alliance
“This is not a white paper or a best practices document; it is the specifications, the business requirements, the technical requirements, the whole network architecture. It is done in the fashion of specific, unique, testable requirements,” Mandala continued.
Today, an in-flight connectivity solution generally comes from a single vendor, which sources and certifies specific components that all work together and resells the bundle to an airline. With the alliance’s new plug-and-play standards, the goal is to shift the market to allow for a supplier of the smaller components to deliver those directly to an airline, knowing that if they comply with the SR1 standards they will work on board the aircraft.
According to Mandala, thinking of the in-flight connectivity environment as a collection of discrete components rather than an integrated bundle should help speed up the upgrade cycle. “The supplier of any individual component doesn’t have to architect the entire system; it knocks down this artificial barrier that exists today to get to this addressable market. An airline can upgrade as soon as they see something that’s new and cool and they want to have it on their aircraft. The cost of upgrading comes way, way down. The complexity comes way, way down,” he said. “The individual competitors in the market can build and compete on just one functional component of the system. And they have access to the entire market, not just for one vendor or for one airline.”
The standards defined by the alliance in SR1 also help build a framework for airlines to measure the performance of the hardware once it is installed on the planes. This complements the work being done by the APEX Connectivity Working Group (CWG) to define and measure end-user performance on board, according to CWG co-chairs Dr. Stephan Schulte, senior manager, Commercial Fleet Management, Lufthansa German Airlines, and Mary Rogozinski, IFEC consultant.
“The Seamless Air Alliance and the CWG have synchronized their work on a periodic basis,” they said in a joint statement. “While the alliance puts focus on the definition of standards for seamless connectivity, the CWG has developed guidelines to measure, track and sustain both the Quality of Experience (QoE) and the Quality of Service (QoS) of the actual connectivity user. This is presumably in line with the alliance’s, and any other, standardization methods. We look forward to learning more about how closely the alliance’s specification follows the guidelines published and being further developed by the CWG.”
Not every supplier or integrator will support SR1 in every product. Nor will every airline require that each component installed on board meet those requirements, but the opportunity to request that as part of the process marks a significant step forward for the industry.
Hear Jack Mandala talk about the vision of the Seamless Air Alliance.