23 May 2018
| Gareth Willmer
With airlines now carrying a billion passengers annually in the EU, carriers have a huge addressable market for short-haul broadband services. As Deutsche Telekom debuts its offering for the European Aviation Network (EAN), David Fox, vice president for in-flight services and connectivity, gives his take on the size of the opportunity
How essential is it to get Europe’s
short-haul airline passengers connected?
I think it is getting more and more important, because there
is a rising expectation from customers that they always want to
be best connected. It is a developing market that has very
solid growth prospects. The airline market in the EU alone
carried about 1 billion passengers in 2016, and the number is
still growing by around 5% every year.
What are a carrier’s most important
considerations for an in-flight broadband service?
While robust infrastructure is obviously important, making
it a great user experience for the passenger is actually what
will make this successful. You can have the best network in the
world, but if people can’t easily access it you
have an issue.
Also, flight times within the EU are very short when
compared to long-haul journeys. The average flight here is
about 60-70 minutes long, so it’s important that
you get the passenger online as quickly and painlessly as
What is Deutsche Telekom’s aim with its
EAN service and how innovative is it?
We already connect people at home and on the go, and
building the European Aviation Network with our partner
Inmarsat has essentially closed the last gap for our customers.
It is the world’s first fully integrated S-band
satellite and complementary LTE ground network that is
thoroughly dedicated to aviation. It’s also
effectively the first mobile network that covers the whole of
the EU, with a satellite and around 300 LTE base stations
across the 28 member states, plus Switzerland and Norway. With
this, we’re bringing the user experience to
aircraft that passengers are used to getting at home, so
it’s really the first true home broadband
experience in the sky. We’re delivering a
high-bandwidth passenger service of up to 75Mbps to the
aircraft, as airlines using the service do not share network
capacity with other non-aviation customers. The network can
also easily be scaled by adding capacity to the antenna masts
or putting up another tower.
What are the launch plans for the
Last summer, Inmarsat launched the EAN’s S-band
satellite – and Deutsche Telekom announced the
completion of the LTE network in February. From a
network-readiness perspective, the team is good to go and is
already talking to all single-aisle, short-haul operators in
Europe. The first customer is already installing and testing
equipment in its aircraft.
How are you seeking to get customers connected
We’re optimising the portal where passengers
can buy WiFi passes – but I believe that the real
growth potential lies in building carrier relations. DT is
striking deals to open the footprint to customers of other
operators by enabling them to use the in-flight service and
have the service charged to their mobile phone bill.
The traditional way of selling WiFi on board is through a
portal that has a selection of passes and you have to put your
credit card details in, meaning it takes perseverance to get
online and puts a glass ceiling on take-up. But if
you’re a carrier customer, we make it very
We already have 20 million subscribers that can log on at
the click of a button, for example through an app provided by
their service provider.
What extra benefits does this bring to airlines
If you can get customers online faster, then it adds a whole
new bouquet of opportunities because there is a lot you can do
with regard to customer interaction on a connected aircraft.
There are also many potential efficiencies – for
example, if you could get more details and weather information
than with just radar, an optimised flight path brings down the
airline’s fuel bill. Having the aircraft connected
"nose to tail" offers both monetisation opportunities and
How exciting is the future for broadband on
I see a future in which connectivity is completely seamless
– meaning there’s no difference between
using the internet on the ground or up in the air. At the
moment, connectivity services in the air are something special
added on as a premium proposition – but inevitably,
they will make their way into standard subscriber bundles.
Working with other telcos in the industry is key to
homogenising this and making it as easy as possible for