Industry juggernaut Panasonic Avionics boasts that more than 500 million people look at its in-seat IFE every year. Add over-head monitors and the number grows to over 1 billion passengers. But not every carrier sees the need for an in-seat or ‘wired’ solution.
WestJet, which has long offered LiveTV’s live television seat-back IFE on its Boeing 737 fleet, is going wireless in a big way, and it has tapped Panasonic to make it happen.
The Canadian low-cost carrier has kept its IFEC decision-making process closely guarded for months, nay years. In its press release today - and accompanying blog - WestJet doesn’t explicitly mention what Panasonic systems it has selected.
But Runway Girl Network can confirm that the company is bringing key elements of Panasonic’s popular Global Communications Services (GCS) to its Boeing 737s, including Panasonic’s eXConnect Ku-band satellite-supported connectivity and eXTV television over IP, while augmenting the offering with cached content streamed from the onboard server (i.e the Panasonic eXW wireless IFE offering).
Lufthansa is an example of a carrier that currently offers eXConnect, with eXTV streamed to passengers’ own devices. Turkish Airlines offers eXTV over in-seat monitors.
Panasonic has forged multiple partnerships with Ku-band satellite providers to offer coverage in virtually every geographic region and most areas where airlines fly revenue service. Yes, there are a few patches missing (see the map below), but the company intends to offer a global solution that will compete with Inmarsat’s forthcoming Global Xpress Ka-band connectivity offering, and regional Ka (from ViaSat, Eutelsat and others) that will be stitched together to offer near global Ka coverage as well.
While WestJet currently provides scheduled and charter air service to 85 destinations in Canada, the US, Europe, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, its partnership with Panasonic positions the carrier to expand on a global scale – at least from an inflight connectivity perspective.
The first WestJet Boeing 737-800 will be fitted before the end of the year. The LiveTV systems will be gradually removed from the fleet. WestJet VP product and distribution Marshall Wilmot tells Runway Girl Network, “We are choosing a conservative approach to [GCS] implementation until we fully understand the documentation and requirements for Transport Canada approval.”