Why reliability is king

Discover why inflated claims of speed and capacity are no match for verifiable reliability

“Terribly sorry…”

Janet had been looking forward to the meal on her flight. She was travelling with an airline that prides itself on its ‘celebrity chef’ menus and the accompanying fine wines, specially chosen for optimum appreciation at altitude. Having tucked into a selection of hors d’oeuvres that lived up to the promise, Janet is halfway through a delicious main course and savouring every morsel when suddenly, mid-bite, a flight attendant appears and takes away her tray. Janet is taken aback.

“I’m sorry, madam,” says the smiling attendant. “Our meal service has been temporarily suspended. But don’t worry, it will be back later. Not sure when.”

Meanwhile, John has settled down to get some early shuteye and has wrapped himself in the luxury, duck down duvet that features heavily in the airline’s latest advertising campaign. But no sooner has he drifted off to sleep than he wakes to find the duvet is being forcefully dragged from his body.

“Terribly sorry, sir,” he’s told. “We’re leaving US airspace, so the duvets won’t be available for a while. Maybe we can find you an old blanket somewhere…”

Sounds far-fetched? Of course it is. Surely no airline would make promises to its customers and then break them in that way. Except when it comes to onboard Wi-Fi, that is. While they go to great lengths to ensure that passengers’ eating and sleeping experiences live up to expectation, many airlines fail to ensure the same standards when it comes to broadband.

It’s all very well to brag about high capacity and high speeds, but if your service is unreliable or inconsistent, then you’re taking a whole lot of risk on board.

In flight meal

Thwarted expectations

What do airline passengers value most when it comes to inflight Wi-Fi? Overwhelmingly it’s reliability. A survey of 9,000 passengers in 27 countries around the world, conducted in 2016 by GFK for Inmarsat, found that three quarters wanted a consistent signal, whereas less than one in five thought speed was most important. In Inmarsat’s latest survey, more than two thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to rebook with an airline if high-quality Wi-Fi was available, and more than half said they would rather not have inflight Wi-Fi at all if the service was poor.

High quality inflight connectivity now comes high on the list of essentials when choosing an airline - 55% of passengers stating that in-flight Wi-Fi is crucial, and 54% stating they would rather have no Wi-Fi on board, than a poor-quality service.–  passengers are increasingly expecting to be able to stream video during a flight, shop online, or even book a car or hotel for when they arrive at their destination. So if the service doesn’t live up to these heightened expectations, their dissatisfaction is correspondingly increased – especially when they’re usually paying a premium for the service in the first place.

“I’m not sure if the hamsters are having a hard time keeping up or the four planes I’ve been on this week all still have dial-up modems, but c’mon people. It’s a crime to charge for this.” That was one passenger’s recent verdict on the offering of a connectivity provider that at one point in the past even had a lawsuit filed against it by a leading airline keen to find a better solution elsewhere. It’s not hard to find similar comments online.

And it’s hard to underestimate the effects on airlines of these moments of disappointment. Risk number one: disgruntled passengers take their custom elsewhere, which hits ticket revenues. Risk number two: there’s a reputational hit as well. Generally customers will hold the airline responsible when their Wi-Fi isn’t working, rather than the service provider. So an airline can become synonymous with bad Wi-Fi – and consequently with unreliable tech in general. That’s not a good look in the aviation world. And it can take a long time to rebuild trust.

What’s the problem?

So why aren’t all airlines getting it right? Because many do not have truly global, dedicated coverage. Instead, their providers rely on leasing capacity across a patchwork of satellites from multiple operators, the vast majority of which are dedicated to services other than aviation. The nature of this stratospheric quilt means that as planes try to disconnect from one satellite network and connect to another, airlines risk those signal drop-outs that are so frustrating for passengers.

If one of the satellites fails for some reason, in theory others will fill in the gap: the process known as redundancy. But that’s not always the case. Outages have occurred when satellites providing coverage suffer terminal problems, resulting in Wi-Fi outage for passengers.  

And what of the future? Yet more risk. Will these airlines be able to increase capacity in order to meet demand while other companies are jostling for space on the same shared satellites? With a first come, first served model like this, someone usually has to miss out. Even if new satellites are promised, there’s the risk there won’t be the money to build and launch them in the absence of a fully-funded technology roadmap – something that Inmarsat already has. Air traffic is projected to double by 2035, when there will be the same number of passengers in the air each year – seven billion – as there are people on Earth right now. That’s a lot of capacity that will need to be filled.

Passenger using her mobile in flight

Say goodbye to risk

The key to passenger satisfaction is to provide access to a truly global, proprietary satellite network that matches demand as it rises, growing and evolving in response to passenger needs. Not only does this eliminate the kind of outages that are so costly to airlines in both monetary and reputational terms, it also means passengers have uninterrupted access to online ancillaries – a rapidly growing market. According to Inmarsat’s Sky High Economics report, created in collaboration with the London School of Economics, broadband-enabled ancillary revenue will reach an estimated $30bn for airlines by 2035. This figure includes potentially lucrative deals with partners, advertisers and sponsors, who will not wish to be associated with sub-standard onboard connectivity.

Unlike some other providers, Inmarsat owns and operates its entire satellite network and has a fully-funded technology roadmap for the future. That means it will be able to control the allocation of bandwidth for years ahead, and customers won’t have to worry about making empty promises about the service they are offering.

And that’s why airlines big and small, including Lufthansa, Qatar Airways and Norwegian, are choosing Inmarsat’s GX Aviation solution. “Rich content without restriction” is how His Excellency Mr. Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, describes what his passengers can now experience. And that’s no empty promise.

Always-on reliability

In a business world that is currently being disrupted in every sector by technological transformation, risk is generally seen as a good thing. But the aviation business cannot tolerate risk. Innovation in this industry has been built on solid, safety-first foundations, and Inmarsat knows this better than most: the company has three decades of aviation sat com experience and has helped to transform the industry.

That’s why your passenger experience won’t be at risk. And your investment won’t be at risk. And your reputation won’t be at risk.

You can rely on Inmarsat for that.