Over 23,000 commercial aircraft will provide internet connectivity to passengers by 2027, up from 7,400 in 2017, according to a recent study. For suppliers of in-flight connectivity (IFC), revenues for commercial aviation alone exceeded US $1.2 billion in 2017, and the figure should reach US $8.7 billion by 2027.
Beyond cabin connectivity, the next decade will see the full emergence of the SmartPlane concept, according to the report. Connected aircraft will start to support sophisticated emerging IT functionalities such as IoT, Big Data, analytics and cyber-security.
Up until now, in-flight connectivity has not been seen by MNOs, in general, as a worthwhile revenue opportunity to cultivate. That is perhaps because it was viewed as a niche market with a customer base that was not nearly enough to justify the costs of installing equipment on planes and developing and integrating the satellite-based networks that are needed to provide IFC. As a result, currently the main market players are satellite service providers such as Inmarsat and ViaSat, as well as other non-MNO entities such as Panasonic Avionics, Gogo, Thales InFlyt and Global Eagle.
However, the report at hand indicates that commercial IFC is in fact quite a substantial market sector at the moment, and, more importantly, is poised to grow sevenfold over the next decade. With that in mind, we feel that this market is one that MNOs should not write off. Operators would do well to investigate the possibilities and find out whether partnerships with satellite providers or other technology companies could prove fruitful in getting a piece of this rapidly expanding business.
One reason IFC is growing is that constant connectivity, no matter where one happens to be, has come to be seen as normal, no longer an unusual privilege. With that in mind, MNOs could offer their subscribers special packages or bundles usable during flights, as add-ons to existing plans or service arrangements. While long international flights may have the most demand, in today’s ever-connected world, even shorter domestic flights could see strong demand, and operators may find it easier to provide service within their own countries, especially major ones with nationwide footprints.