|Issue:||Europe I 2014|
|Topic:||Taking mobile communication to new heights|
Kevin Rogers is the CEO of AeroMobile
Kevin has over 20 years’ experience in the telecoms industry, having started out at Nortel Networks where he rose to Director of Sales for the company’s Canadian operation. He joined AeroMobile in February 2008 from Telenor, where he was Director and Vice President of Group Marketing. Promoted to the position of CEO in March 2013, Kevin is now responsible for driving AeroMobile’s ambitious growth and expansion plans. He has lived and worked in the UK, Canada, USA and Norway and has a Bachelors degree in Physics and an MBA from Kingston University in London.
The demand for constant connectivity is increasing relentlessly, even on holiday, even in the air. It is not just geeks or ‘millennials’ – but the majority of those asked, who wish to use inflight connectivity. This facility is already feasible, since the first call in 2008, and many aircrafts are now equipped to offer it. It is no small feat – the technology is more complex, the service must be certificated and roaming agreements across the globe must be in place. However, the potential of live TV, 24/7 connectivity, inflight entertainment and the latest of mobile innovation is too appealing to resist.
If there’s one thing I’m sure we can all agree on, it’s the fact mobile is on a growth trajectory way beyond any of our wildest dreams. It’s certainly beyond anything I could have envisaged as my 20-something self, starting out in the telecoms industry. We had high hopes, yes, but if you’d told me back then that I would be the CEO of a company that makes it possible for people to use their own mobile phones on an aircraft, I’m not sure it would compute.
What’s been particularly astounding is that most of that growth has happened in the last six or seven years; the launch of the iPhone was the dawn of the smartphone era, and we’ve not looked back since. So most people have (at least) one tiny computer in their pocket, and we’re becoming increasingly addicted to them. The vigorous proliferation of smartphones, and our growing desire to remain connected 24/7, is what’s fuelling consumer demand for mobile networks in places which have traditionally been ‘off-limits’ or unviable.
This year we’ve seen close to an 80 per cent increase in the number of travellers using their mobile phones in the aircraft cabin, and not just because we’ve been adding the service to more and more aircraft (which we have!). If we look at comparable data, year on year, we know more and more people are not only switching their devices on inflight, but actually using them for voice, text and data. In fact, data usage on our network has shot up tenfold in 2013, and SMS traffic has increased by 50 per cent.
There are of course traditionalists who see the aircraft cabin as one of the last vestiges of peace and quiet – somewhere you can actually switch off from the modern world (if you can ignore the background noise of the jet engines), but they are fast being overtaken by a more tech-savvy generation. The ‘millennials’ use mobile technology like it is second nature, and today’s under sevens will be brought up on tablet and smartphone technology – being connected is the new ‘normal’ for these kids, who will be the consumers and business travellers of the future. For these travellers it’s not about voice; they’re much more likely to send a text message or email rather than pick up the phone to chat.
Demand is also being driven by emerging markets, with mobile take-up in the BRIC countries continuing to increase. Asia in particular is proving to be a big growth area with fast adoption of mobile technology and an increasingly affluent and mobile (travelling) population. Several Asian airlines are scheduled to launch inflight mobile services in the coming months, including Thai Airways and Garuda Indonesia, who will join Singapore Airlines which launched last year. Many of these will be new aircraft, with mobile connectivity installed as standard.
It’s no longer about the ‘early adopters’ – the minority of ‘geeks’ who love technology for technology’s sake – the trend has been set and it’s now about meeting the needs of a tech-bred generation. These consumers are hungry for technology, and the more advanced it becomes, the more they use it. Mobile customers are using more and more data, driven by rich content and applications – connections are getting quicker and economies of scale mean data packages become cheaper the more you use.
The intense competition on the ground means operators should be looking for ways to offer added value for their customers. One way to do that is to offer the chance to stay connected in new locations and environments, where other entertainment and connectivity might be limited. Providing a mobile network in a remote or unusual location is no easy feat. For Inflight, there are strict certification rules and procedures of the aviation industry to contend with, as well as logistics of actually providing the service at 30,000 feet.
Satellite technology and regulatory issues associated with inflight mobile, as well as other remote locations, do of course add costs to the service. Providing mobile access in some of the most remote areas of the world, including Inflight, is always going to cost a little more than providing services on the ground. However, costs continue to come down and this gap will continue to reduce.
Networks are available in the aircraft cabin; there are more than 20 airlines flying hundreds of routes every day, all equipped with the technology to facilitate voice calls, texting and data downloads. The first voice call on a commercial flight took place back in March 2008, on Emirates flight EK751 between Dubai and Casablanca (in case you were wondering!).
The good news is the technology exists, and airlines across the world are making investments in the hardware needed to provide inflight communications. Remote networks may be a differentiator today, but eventually they will become a necessity. This requires having roaming agreements in place with operators across 100 countries worldwide, so their customers can use their devices in the aircraft cabin. Passengers are already using the service. Since 2008, over 20 million passengers have connected to Inflight services. In 2013, almost 4.8 million devices were attached, an increase of 40 per cent, compared to 2012.
The vast majority of users on Inflight network stick to sending text messages or checking their emails. Any voice calls that take place are usually very short – just long enough for accessing voicemail. However, there are so many other uses for mobile phones today! There are many exciting developments taking place in the field of inflight entertainment, including live TV and bring-your-own-device options, and it makes sense to have mobile connectivity integrated into that offering.
People are getting used to travelling with their own devices, to accessing Wi-Fi anywhere and everywhere. Some airlines are already rolling out gate-to-gate Wi-Fi and inflight mobile connectivity needs to keep pace – if people are using devices anyway, it means lost revenue wherever there is no mobile connection. From our own research we know that over 70 per cent of UK travellers would use their mobile phones inflight, if they had the option, and 55 per cent claim to keep their phones turned on inflight regardless of whether the service is available. This shoots up to over 80 per cent of under-35s who are keen to make use of inflight mobile. The majority of people questioned said they expect inflight mobile connectivity to become standard in the next few years.
In fact, evidence suggests that more passengers are using inflight mobile connectivity than Wi-Fi, probably driven by its ease of use and established billing process from the passenger’s own mobile operator. Inflight mobile usage tends to reflect the trends we are seeing on the ground, so data and text messaging make up a huge proportion – 80 per cent – of activity on the network. The service is the same as roaming, and we know travellers are becoming increasingly happy to use their mobile phones on holiday, particularly for non-voice services, so we can expect to see similar trends borne out in the air.
Inflight is just one remote network that appeals to today’s travelling and tech-savvy mobile users. Similar technology provides mobile connectivity on cruise ships, passenger ferries and now 250ft under the seabed on the Eurostar, meaning consumers can keep in touch regardless of their location. Those operators and service providers that can keep up with this growing demand for connectivity anywhere and everywhere will of course be the ones who stand to benefit – from being innovative to begin with, but in the long-term through customer loyalty and ultimately satisfaction.