Inflight entertainment and connectivity capability quickly went from nice-to-have options to passenger perquisites. Ensuring that customers are "connected travelers" is now routine.

New-generation crossover narrowbody jets have been designed with this in mind. Although each airline has final say on how it delivers its inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) offering, aircraft manufacturers have made sure power for all services will be available.

While some operators of crossover jets may choose an embedded inflight entertainment (IFE) system, use of high-speed Wi-Fi—with similar speed and capabilities as home and office setups—look set to be the more likely option to deliver curated content plus internet and email. Moreover, these solutions will also have to accommodate a higher percentage of passengers making use of the system at the same time.

Mike Pigott, vice president of products and services at Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE), believes satellite-based solutions will better meet potential customers’ needs in this market. GEE is offering Airconnect, a “full-featured satellite-based wireless IFE and connectivity solution,” he says.

“We also look forward to true flat-panel antennas that will improve the flexibility of installation of connectivity solutions for these aircraft,” Pigott notes. “For airlines that want a form of wireless IFE but do not necessarily need connectivity, we also offer the Airconnect IFE Pro system as a full-featured installed wireless IFE solution and our Airconnect Go portable wireless IFE product, which can be put in overhead bins with no installation needed,” he says.

SITAOnAir offers a range of solutions for crossover jet operators, according to Yann Cabaret, the company’s vice president of customer programs. “Our Internet ONAIR portal and Mobile ONAIR services—powered by Link ONAIR, over Inmarsat’s high-speed GX Aviation network—are already bringing next-generation high-speed inflight broadband connectivity to passengers globally on other aircraft types,” he says.

“Internet ONAIR enables passengers to maintain their digital lives as they fly, from streaming video content and surfing the web to shopping and messaging, and offers an augmented ‘look and feel’ for mobile users,” Cabaret declares. 

He further contends: “Vitally, Internet ONAIR is connectivity solution-agnostic—it can be integrated to deliver a seamless digital experience across an airline’s varying platforms and fleet types. It can also be tuned in with airlines’ existing customer relationship management systems for the latest passenger data.” 

Mobile ONAIR, meanwhile, provides a “seamless, secure and reliable inflight mobile connection” for voice, SMS and data transmission. “Beyond the evident capabilities of the solutions, they are also designed to be hassle-free for the operator,” Cabaret adds.

Gogo already has a high-speed satellite connectivity solution—Gogo FLEX 2Ku—available on the Bombardier C Series family. “The aircraft is large enough to fit the Gogo 2Ku radome,” notes the company’s product manager, Karthik Bharathan. “The speeds of Gogo FLEX 2Ku allow passengers to do everything in the air as they would at home—browse, work, stream their favorite content.

“For smaller and regional jets, the solution would be the Gogo ATG-NG (air-to-ground next-generation) network that is currently being tested,” says Bharathan, adding that Embraer E-Jets and the Mitsubishi MRJ do not have a large enough fuselage for Gogo FLEX 2Ku.

“[The ATG-NG] network is the smallest, lightest and most economical solution for aircraft flying in the U.S. and Canada,” Bharathan continues. “Gogo has developed a technology that will deliver a ground-like experience, including the ability to stream video, that is capable of delivering peak-speeds of more than 100 Mbps to an aircraft.”

Bharathan notes that ATG-NG is backward-compatible with Gogo’s first-generation network, which means an aircraft will be able to switch seamlessly between networks, just as a mobile phone on the ground connects to the fastest available network. “This makes the network highly reliable,” he says.

Both the GEE and SITAONAIR solutions are fully scalable. According to Pigott, that capability enables a customer “to install only the wireless IFE elements initially and then scale into full connectivity.” Cabaret, meanwhile, points out that scalability meets growing data bandwidth and demand and also suits varying airline and aircraft requirements.

“GX Aviation provides global coverage and would naturally fit with any regional and short-haul routes that crossover narrowbody jets typically fly. It also provides the ability to augment regional capacity if and when the need arises,” Cabaret says. “From an aircraft equipment perspective, GX Aviation comes with a fuselage and tail-mounted antenna, making it suitable for all aircraft types.

As for the aircraft manufacturers, Daniel Galhardo Gomes, strategy director at Embraer Commercial Aviation, reports that for the E-Jets E2, the company is working to deliver a complete portfolio of IFEC solutions, of different technologies and from multiple suppliers. “The offer of a comprehensive suite of IFEC systems caters to distinct customer needs, allowing airlines and lessors to choose, from among different options, the solution that best fits their business model and market strategy,” he says.

“The IFEC portfolio will include wireless streaming entertainment to personal devices or seat backs, internet via Ka and Ku bands and air-to-ground connectivity, and real-time TV,” Galhardo adds. “In some regions the best fit could be Ku, in others Ka; in the U.S. there is air-to-ground as a good option. And we are studying and following what Inmarsat is developing for air-to-ground in Europe.”

Just as Gogo’s systems are already on the C Series, the E2 family has two suppliers for the onboard wireless IFE: Panasonic and KID Systeme. “For internet connectivity, Embraer has already selected Panasonic’s Ku-band system, and plans to have other suppliers in the portfolio,” Galhardo elaborates. “The E2 development strategy also includes common smart and modular provisions that accommodate future equipment installation, making it easier and faster for customers to install the complete system as required or available, or to reconfigure the aircraft in the future.”

On crossover jets, therefore, when it comes to entertaining the passengers and keeping them connected, right-sizing is the preferred strategy.