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Global Eagle Plans Expansion of In Flight Connectivity Across South Asia

By Caleb Henry | January 8, 2014
Row 44 Panasonic China

John Guidon, CTO and co-founder of Global Eagle’s connectivity brand, Row 44. Photo: Row 44

[Via Satellite 1-08-2014] In-flight connectivity continues to become a more regular offering around the world. Global Eagle Entertainment’s recent contract extension with Russian airline UTair is an example of this growth. Furthermore, Global Eagle is planning to continue expanding across Asia and hopes to gain a competitive edge over other connectivity options.

“We’ve been committed to this region now for the better part of two years,” John Guidon, CTO and co-founder of Global Eagle’s connectivity brand, Row 44, told Via Satellite. “We provide continuous coverage across all of Russia, all the way to the East Pacific Coast. And that’s overlapping with our European coverage. I think this is a big part of what made us competitive, and the fact that we are extending further and further into Asia with our partners in Asia, so we can provide not just coverage inside Russia but to Asian destinations outside Russia.”

Through Row 44, Global Eagle connected around 100 new aircraft in 2013, according to Guidon. This brings the company’s total number of connected aircraft to 518. With an existing network stretching across North America, along with much of Europe, parts of the Middle East and the greater share of Northern Asia, Global Eagle is now pushing to expand its coverage further south.

“We are adding capacity in South Asia, primarily Southeast Asia, as we’ve partnered with three highly skilled satellite partners – China Satcom, China Telecom and ThaiCom, each of which are very prominent in their respective parts of Asia and give us pretty comprehensive coverage across all of South Asia to support airlines in this region,” said Guidon. “Our progress in those regions is encouraging, and we can compete quite capably. The response has been good.”

Entering into South Asian markets puts Row 44 in direct competition with Panasonic Avionic, which last month signed an agreement with China Telecom Satellite Communications to bring its connectivity solution eXconnect to the country. According to Guidon, the Row 44 is more than capable of becoming a strong player in the region while competing with eXconnect. His confidence stems from a technology demonstration using Row 44 equipment over a year ago.

“There was a competition of sorts in China that we and other providers went out for,” said Guidon. “We sent out an entire hub, as well as a transportable remote with our airborne antenna on it. We staged a demonstration and within one hour of setting up the network we had the remote terminal online. Then we shipped the terminal about a thousand miles and turned it on in a more remote region; it popped right up and worked fine. It was a demonstration that Panasonic couldn’t emulate. It was a competition and they couldn’t do the job.”

Whether or not Row 44 will continue past Asia in its southern quest remains to be decided. The company’s satellite coverage in the Pacific is absent, leaving a gap over ocean-covering flights.

“We are certainly looking at it very hard,” said Guidon. “We haven’t committed, but we would certainly like to because it would extend our coverage all the way around the world. We’re working on that, but like anything else we need to be efficient with how we execute. We try to put in networks where we believe there is a workable business model that will give our airline partners good value.”

Working closely with airlines is an integral part of Row 44’s strategy. As the company decides where to expand next, it will look to work flexibly with airlines in order to allow them greater decision making on how to provide customers with a more idyllic flying experience.

“One of the ways Global Eagle is very different in the way it conducts itself is that we are making sure that the airlines get what they want,” explained Guidon. “So sometimes people will ask ‘why is it free over here and why is it paid over there and how come you can do it for so little money?’ Just for an example in terms of connectivity, we have free service in Europe on Norwegian Air Shuttle and we have relatively inexpensive service, $8 all day, on Southwest Airlines. It’s just out and out efficiency that ultimately it gives us the freedom to let the airlines make the decision about how they want to offer that service. Obviously we’re pleased to offer the services we offer today, but we are very excited to look forward and keep evolving.”