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ARINC poised to announce airborne Internet customer

3rd September 2008 - 00:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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AVIATION communications and IT provider ARINC expects soon to announce at least one airline commitment to its Oi onboard Internet service.

The company said yesterday that discussions with a number of leading international airlines would yield one agreement, possibly more, in the near future. The carriers in question are all equipping their aircraft for Inmarsat’s 432kbit/sec SwiftBroadband service, which will provide the air-to-ground link for Oi’s combination of messaging, email, Web access, and real-time news and sports reports. Large-volume, non-time-sensitive content will be updated on the ground via ARINC’s GateFusion WiFi service

“We have completed the core software development and are now focused on meeting the airlines’ content needs,” senior product development manager Colette Parks said yesterday. “We expect to announce deals with major providers of news and sports content soon, possibly as early as next week at the WAEA show in Long Beach.”

Technical developments include the addition of a real-time credit-card validation capability, imminent agreements for the integration of Oi into hardware aboard airliners and business jets, and work on delivering the service to laptops and subsequently to new handheld devices such as iPhone and the latest BlackBerrys.

ARINC has two other connectivity activities besides Oi – onboard GSM through its shareholding in AeroMobile, and the SKYLink Ku-band broadband service for business aviation, offered in conjunction with Rockwell Collins.

“AeroMobile is going well,” said Dave Poltorak, ARINC VP for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “Launch customer Emirates is equipping fast, with around 20 aircraft completed to date, and as soon as aircraft are fitted they are being switched on. Usage is where we expected it to be at this point in the roll-out, and I see it increasing significantly once the whole fleet is equipped.”

ARINC has detected no loss of airline interest in the AeroMobile offer as a result of the recent gyrations in the price of oil. “Market interest is still tremendous,” said Poltorak, “probably because the carriers see it as a way of making money.” He also sees light on the US horizon, where until recently the regulators and public opinion have professed themselves opposed to onboard mobile phone voice services: “The pressure is now building on the US regulators to reconsider their position - their home carriers realise they need this to stay competitive, and surveys are beginning to show that public attitudes are changing.”

ARINC’s SKYLink service is supported by Californian-based ViaSat, which provides both the aircraft equipment and satellite networking services. The company recently declared an ambition to become a global service provider in its own right, both hosting services like SKYLink and also marketing its own branded offering.

“There’s a big difference between making equipment and delivering service, with all that means in terms of quality guarantees and 24x7 support,” commented Poltorak. “We know how to deliver a service and we do it well. It remains to be seen how this ViaSat initiative turns out, though anything that further stimulates interest in broadband connectivity for business aviation can only be to the good.”

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