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It’s time to future-proof in-flight and at-sea connectivity

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Over the past year and a half, the COVID‐19 pandemic has
highlighted the importance of connectivity wherever you are, as people around
the world continue to work from home and many things, from school to
healthcare, remain virtual. As the travel industry moves toward recovery – with
positive signs such as increasing air ticket prices and cruise booking curves
at record length – it is more important than ever for airline and cruise
executives to look ahead.

Many of the challenges and passenger needs from pre‐pandemic
travel have jumped back to the forefront, such as the expectation for
“home‐like” connectivity in the skies and at sea. At the same time, new
challenges – such as rapidly shifting routes due to fluctuating demand and travel
restrictions – present a renewed need for flexibility and agility.

To rise to these challenges, leaders at these companies must
rethink their connectivity strategies and future‐proof their networks with new
technologies. In a constantly transforming and crowded landscape, air and
cruise lines’ passenger experience and ability to remain competitive depend on
it.

Challenges old and new

While high‐speed, reliable and affordable satellite
connectivity in the air or at sea has always been somewhat of a challenge, it
is especially difficult along far northern routes where traditional
geostationary (GEO) satellites cannot reach or “see,” leading to connectivity
gaps in flights or cruises that traverse over the Polar regions.

Similarly, as travel starts picking up over the coming months, the old issue of
network congestion around airports or seaports will reemerge. Global, seamless,
high‐performing connectivity has become a crucial piece of the passenger
experience for both aviation and cruise, impacting net promoter scores and customer
loyalty. Passenger experience is critical now more than ever.

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In-flight or at‐sea passenger connectivity has historically
been used for entertainment and keeping up with work – and this will remain
important – but moving forward there could be a greater need for travelers to have
real‐time access to health, safety and immigration information for their
destination or accommodations. This further underscores the importance of
incorporating next‐generation networks and delivering a consistent,
high‐performing user experience for every passenger, on every flight or cruise,
no matter how many people connect at once or how remote the route is.

This now‐standard passenger expectation is further
complicated by a newly urgent challenge: the need for flexible and agile route
management as demand (hopefully) continues to rise. As airlines and cruise
companies ramp up operations and need to add or alter routes quite frequently
over the next year and beyond, the networks that serve the aviation and
maritime sectors need to be flexible and agile themselves.

Although we hope travel restrictions will continue to ease across the world,
companies must recognize that the opposite is still a possibility, again
reinforcing the need for a dynamic network that can flex at scale. Regardless of
what the future holds, fluctuation is inevitable, and connectivity networks
must be able to respond nimbly – with enough bandwidth to still meet the
connectivity expectations of every passenger.

New satellite technologies are the answer

When it comes to connectivity, air and cruise lines are
looking for affordability, reliability, speed, security and overall quality, no
matter their fleet size or geographic coverage needs. This is not a new need.
But new technologies, such as Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite networks, are helping
air and cruise companies reimagine what their network can offer passengers and
flight operations more broadly. LEO networks are closer to Earth than
traditional GEO networks, which allows for 35 times faster connectivity – in
other words, faster streaming, downloads, internet and more.

This combined with flexibility and resiliency will be
transformative for aviation and maritime connectivity service providers – and,
by extension, their customers. Initial demonstrations are already highlighting
the benefits of this technology – for example, recent tests with Global Eagle and
Telenor Maritime over Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite showcased hardware that
is future‐compatible with LEO with fiber‐like connectivity performance.

For air and cruise lines looking to address challenges and
passenger needs old and new, LEO connectivity can check all the boxes. LEO
offers a real‐time, always‐on connectivity experience with true global coverage
– so no matter where travelers fly, cruise or sail, they will have the same
home‐like connectivity needed in today’s world. Added benefits with LEO
constellations designed specifically for enterprise services such as scalable,
concentrated capacity around large travel hubs and busy routes can meet
passengers’ increasing demands for high‐speed video streaming, gaming, VPN,
online shopping and more, no matter where they travel.

Further, LEO networks that are built as “mesh networks”
where each satellite is optically linked to adjacent satellites, provide
increased data routing flexibility and resiliency and eliminate single‐point
failures. This will increase the agility for air and cruise lines to
dynamically adjust or alter routes in the coming years.

When looking toward the future, airlines and cruise
operators need LEO network performance and commercial terms that ensure that
their connectivity can dynamically increase and decrease as needed – a critical
point as routes and travel restrictions constantly change. From plane to plane
or ship to ship, these companies need to know that they will be able to provide
the same level of connectivity to every single passenger, no matter where in
the world they are.

As a result, air and cruise lines need providers who can
guarantee committed information rates across their entire fleet, without
introducing contention into the network, which limits the ability for multiple passengers
to connect at once. Identifying providers that can meet these needs now will
ensure companies are well‐positioned to offer exceptional Internet experiences in
the future.

As we move toward a post‐pandemic world, air and cruise
companies need to make sure they are finding ways to offer the high‐speed,
reliable and resilient connectivity that the passengers of today and of the
future require. Future‐proofing networks by exploring these new technologies
now and partnering with connectivity vendors that are installing forward‐compatible
hardware for LEO networks will ensure long‐term sustainability and the ability
to safeguard against – and survive – potential future industry‐changing events.

About the author…

Manik Vinnakota is the director, product and commercial, at

Telesat. 

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