Wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE) is forecast to reach a global base of almost 9,000 aircraft by 2021, a new study predicts.
The technology is seen as revolutionising how passengers are entertained, able to communicate and manage their on-going travel, according to the report by global electronics consultancy IMS Research.
Traditional IFE is usually available in the seat back or from the cabin roof.
However, a new wireless solution is emerging that is removing the need for cabling and the need for ‘fixed’ IFE systems altogether.
Wireless IFE – sometimes known as wireless content distribution – beams media such as video, TV, games and audio around the cabin to be received on passengers’ tablets, smartphones, or airlines’ own handheld devices.
It is seen as an opportunity to create a new revenue stream by charging passengers for access, giving budget airlines like easyJet and Ryanair the ability to offer new, value-added services.
Alastair Hayfield, research director, said: “In-flight Wi-Fi and cellular communication is becoming increasingly common, particularly in the US, and today thousands of aircraft are fitted with equipment that allows passengers to connect to the internet.
“Today US airlines like Southwest and Delta are offering in-flight internet access. However, the aim for many airlines is to be able to offer many other services wirelessly, vastly improving the travelling experience for everyone.”
He added: “The inevitable take-off of wireless IFE has clear benefits to both the industry and passengers alike.
“Until very recently we have all been cut off from the outside world when flying, dependent on a limited program of entertainment, or reliant upon our own media.
“But very soon we will all be able to access not only online content, but be able to communicate with family, friends and colleagues, keep tabs on on-going travel plans – anticipate and contingency-plan around potentially missed flights or delays.”
Benefits include delivering better in-flight customer service by enabling passengers to check on-going connecting flight information, gate numbers, book hotels and theatre tickets, and research and plan other activities.
Airlines will also be able to reduce weight and improve overall economy by removing seat-back systems and wiring.