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Panasonic Avionics Exec Hints at Upcoming Satellite Capacity Deals

By Caleb Henry | February 24, 2014
David Bruner Panasonic avionics

David Bruner VP of global communications at Panasonic Avionics.
Photo: Panasonic Avionics

[Via Satellite 02-24-2014] Panasonic Avionics is pushing to complete the most robust satellite network specifically designed for in-flight connectivity services. The company wants to supply all the equipment to airlines for a complete end-to-end solution exclusively using Panasonic equipment. David Bruner, vice president of global communications services at Panasonic, recently hinted at new ways the company is planning to fully optimize its coverage.

“You’ve seen us commit on [Intelsat’s satellites] IS 29 and IS 33, and it is highly likely that in the next couple of months we will have the next two announcements that will complete the footprint around the world with high capacity spot beam service overlaying today’s traditional Ku footprints,” Bruner told Via Satellite. “It is a really long-term plan to revolutionize the business. 2015 has the debut of IS 29, 2016 [of] IS 33, and then the other two ‘missing pieces’ of our puzzle come in 2016 as well.”

These “missing pieces” stem from anticipated demand for capacity. By working with customers such as China Telecom Satellite Communications and more recently Transaero and WestJet, the company is building up a backlog to support new satellite projects.

“First thing was to build global coverage, which we have today,” said Bruner. “Ninety-nine point six percent of all airline flight hours are covered by our network. Now what we are doing is going back and adding massive capacity in areas that have the air traffic to demand that capacity and purchase that capacity at really attractive prices.”

According to Bruner, Panasonic uses models to predict exactly where most of the world’s air traffic will be traveling. These models target concentrations of high flight activity for additional capacity to cover the most aircraft. The company’s model is accurate down to the hour of the day in order to allocate capacity on an as-needed bases when peaks occur.

“Capacity is, or will be, critical, but the ability to provide global coverage is also paramount,” said Chris Quilty, senior VP at Raymond James & Associates. “While there is a niche market for regional services, airlines will likely favor the satellite networks and service providers that can best enable them to leverage their significant hardware investments.”

Currently, Bruner says, the most heavily-trafficked routes are the continental United States traversing to Europe, across the North Atlantic to Western Europe. However, “the world is changing,” he says. “You are also going to see massive growth in the Southeast Asia to North Asia routes within China specifically. There should be significant growth in Western Europe even though their economic conditions are not as strong as other areas. It’s just a fact that the number of people and aircraft that are there are going to warrant continuing growth.”

Another geographic area of growth for Panasonic is the Middle East. An increase in aircraft and, consequently, flights to and from the region is spurring the need for additional capacity in the region. Newly acquired satellite capacity is being directed to the Middle East as well as other high-traffic areas.

“Not all aeronautical operators have traffic in those areas, but we do because we have a very strong customer base,” said Bruner. “So we are putting capacity for Middle East to Europe and Middle East to Asia.”

Other markets are more competitive and have more providers offering services. With so many flights traveling from North America to Europe and vice versa, Inmarsat, ViaSat and GoGo are all following suit covering these popular routes. Panasonic will have to compete with them directly to make sure the capacity it allocates will be used. Bruner expects Panasonic’s full solution, complete with all the moving pieces for in-flight connectivity, to give the company a competitive edge.

“[It is] a service that would compete with the kind of footprint Inmarsat has had for many years, but they never had the bandwidth,” said Bruner. “And this bandwidth will far exceed what’s coming in Global Xpress, which is not nearly enough capacity to support our aeronautical demands, let alone maritime or land-mobile. Our focus is on massive capacity in the areas where we need it.”

Regarding ViaSat, Bruner said the age of its constellation might be a detractor. Wild Blue 1, the company’s older satellite covering North America, was not designed specifically for in flight connectivity, so its services must be repurposed to meet this growing demand.

“They have to use a network that was optimized for broadband to home,” said Bruner. “Our service is optimized for aeronautical service. We don’t do broadband to home or anywhere else, so we can manage our network and our capacity to meet demand.”

As prices come down, the focus for in-flight connectivity providers will be on turning sales into profits. The demand for these services has grown rapidly, and it will not be long before broadband, video and cellular service are expected rather than celebrated. Making sure the service is lucrative enough to validate the purpose of creating it is critical to reaching that stage.

“Today, nobody makes a profit in aeronautical communications,” said Bruner. “There’s revenue, but not a profit. In order become profitable you have to be able to continue to improve the network performance efficiency so you can squeeze more cost out of the network. We still have to deliver a service to consumers that is economical … in order to do that, you have to keep driving down your costs. What we think is important to ultimate success in the marketplace will be your ability to operate extremely efficiently.”