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27 October 20140 Comments by Jon M

Aeromobile interview (part 1)


Aeromobile is a British company that, finally, provides GSM mobile connectivity on commercial passenger flights using satellite technology. Their services allow you to make calls and texts whilst in flight and even use mobile data to connect to the internet.

The viability of this technology was first demonstrated in September 2004 but they have actually been providing in-flight mobile communications since 2008. Already since 2012, there were over 12 million users of the AeroMobile service. In fact, it really seems to be taking off with a 30% increase in the availability of AeroMobile in-flight roaming in the first half of this year.

Aeromobile is currently available on Aer Lingus, Air France, British Airways, Emirates, Etihad, EVA Air, KLM, Lufthansa, Qatar, SAS, Singapore Airlines, Transaero and Virgin Atlantic and a roll-out is planned for Garuda Indonesia, Thai Airways and Turkish Airlines over the next year.

We wanted to learn more so got together with Jack Gordon, Marketing & Revenue Development Director at AeroMobile for an interview.

Hi Jack, thanks for chatting to us. Can you tell about the genesis of Aeromobile as well as who’s funding it, who runs it and what sort of experience do they have?

AeroMobile’s in flight network enables passengers to use their mobile phones to talk, text and browse the internet during a flight, just as they do on the ground. Revenues are generated through roaming agreements with network operators all over the world. With more than 275 active roaming agreements in place with mobile phone operators in over 128 countries worldwide, not being connected while travelling will soon be a thing of the past!

AeroMobile’s management team has extensive experience in the telco and aviation industry. CEO Kevin Rogers joined AeroMobile in February 2008 from Telenor, where he was Director and Vice President of Group Marketing. Jack Gordon, Head of Revenue & Development has 15 years’ experience in the telco industry, spanning both handset manufacture with NEC and mobile operator with Telefonica O2.

John Little, AeroMobile’s Chief Operating and Technical Officer, brings over 30 years of experience including Director roles at ARINC and Tenzing Communications. He was responsible for the original concept of AeroMobile from planning, to EASA safety approval and technical implementation.

AeroMobile is a subsidiary of Panasonic Avionics, a world leader in state-of-the-art inflight entertainment and communication (IFEC) solutions. The AeroMobile system is available as part of its Global Connectivity Suite or as a standalone product.

So it sounds like you guys know your stuff. How did you come to be the first company providing this sort of service?

AeroMobile was formed from the success of a project within ARINC (now Rockwell Collins) to develop an in-flight mobile service prototype that would operate over existing and future satellite technologies. Existing seat back phone technologies did not offer an easily usable or affordable service so there was a clear need to move to on board mobile technology. It was obvious that we had to work on a system to allow the passengers’ own mobile phones to be used in flight.

A small project team developed a prototype that was demonstrated to a number of airlines at a conference in Seattle. This demonstration proved what many airlines and sceptics thought was impossible – that a mobile phone service could operate in flight using satellite technologies. This sparked a great interest in the system.

It was from these early beginnings that AeroMobile Communcations Ltd was formed. The first mobile service on a commercial flight was in March 2008 on the Emirates EK751 from Dubai to Casablanca. Since then, AeroMobile’s fully developed and certified system has been installed in many airlines around the world and over 20 million passengers have successfully connected to the AeroMobile network.

Even though they make no scientific sense, we’ve long been told that it’s not safe to use mobile phones on aeroplanes. There’s even a special mode on most mobile to cut off all wireless communication. Please can you go into some detail about how would you respond to safety concerns about airborne cellular connectivity?

Using your mobile phone in flight on the AeroMobile network is safe; the system has been thoroughly tested and is approved for use by aviation authorities around the world, including the FAA and EASA.

Do you have a target market in mind for this service and your pricing structure?

A SITA 2014 Air Transport Industry Insights report recently revealed that 97 per cent of passengers bring their own mobile device (laptop, mobile or tablet) on board. This reflects the needs of the modern, connected passenger – and, broadly speaking, it’s this demographic we’re targeting. Whether it be a business traveller staying in contact with the office or a holiday maker texting or tweeting a selfie to envious friends and family, the service allows passengers to stay connected inflight.

Pricing for the service is just like roaming abroad and charges will appear on the customer’s mobile phone bill, so no credit card or onboard payment is required on the flight.Receiving a text message is free of charge.

Cost is a key factor for our customers and we are constantly looking at how we can reduce roaming costs to make inflight connectivity even more attractive to passengers.

So what do you make of it? Would you pay to use your mobile phone on flights? What do you think about Aeromobile? Let us know if you have any questions you want us to put to them and stay tuned for part 2 of this interview.

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