The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has published the report “In-Flight Wi-Fi Connectivity: Improving Passenger Experience, Engagement and Uptake” exploring how airlines, service providers and other stakeholders can make it faster and easier for travellers to get and stay connected onboard aircraft.
The paper covers the top business and technological challenges faced by stakeholders such as airlines, identity providers including mobile operators, satellite and air-to-ground backhaul services, avionics vendors and hub services that facilitate roaming.
The on-the-air connectivity challenge
One major reason is the difficulty connecting to the Internet due to the traditional captive portal method. Passengers must connect to the correct Wi-Fi (network SSID), then navigate to the correct landing page and finally determine which pass they want to buy, and how to register and pay.
In an online journey, each incremental step usually leads to dropouts, and for airlines, service providers and other ecosystem members, every dropout due to this unnecessarily complex connection process are lost revenue.
Airlines have invested in inflight portal services, and an employer’s VPN is a barrier for business travellers consuming these. Once they have internet connectivity, connecting to their VPN will prevent them from being able to access these onboard services.
To regain access, they must disconnect their VPN. This back-and-forth makes them less likely to purchase in-flight services such as inflight food and duty-free — another revenue loss for airlines and other ecosystem members.
The report claims stakeholders can overcome these and other major barriers and improve the process by implementing Passpoint.
Passpoint frees passengers from the hassle of manually entering log-in credentials every time. Instead, the aircraft’s network automatically authenticates and connects them on every flight with an automatic, secure and friction-free user experience.
It also lays the foundation for airlines and other ecosystem members to participate in the WBA’s OpenRoaming federation. By simply adding the appropriate Roaming Consortium Organisation Identifiers (RCOIs) to the network, airlines and other ecosystem members can leverage the enhanced security, privacy, and automatic network-attached experience afforded by Passpoint, which are key concerns for business travellers, with the convenience of OpenRoaming for authentication.
As a federated service, OpenRoaming also ensures that travellers get and stay connected at additional locations throughout their journey to and in the airport, hotels, convention centres and any other public locations, and finally on board the aircraft. Airlines can use this gate-to-gate experience to create new loyalty opportunities for travellers, and new monetization models with identity providers and partners.
Going forward, WBA members have already agreed to move one step further and start developing industry guidelines for users' digital experience when using Wi-Fi networks. This ultimately will unleash a consistent experience across networks with non-fixed backhauls, such as maritime and trains use cases. Ultimately, an integrated and consistent mechanism will be trialled initially by WBA members in real-world scenarios and create the standard for commercial rollout.
“The in-flight Wi-Fi experience must improve to give vacationers and business travellers access to flight information, entertainment, social media and more. But a host of technological and business challenges have prevented in-flight Wi-Fi from living up to its mainstream potential.”
Bruno Tomas, CTO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance said: “Airline travel is soaring, with international traffic up 229.5% over the past year and total traffic up 76.2%, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “That trend means now is the ideal time for airlines to take a fresh look at their in-flight Wi-Fi experience. This report shows how they can use Passpoint and WBA OpenRoaming to eliminate complexity so passengers can take full advantage of all their in-flight services.”