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Yahsat CEO Sets Out In-Flight Connectivity Ambitions

By Mark Holmes | December 31, 2015
Etihad A320 IFC

Photo: Etihad Airways

[Via Satellite 12-31-2015] Yahsat is keen to carve a niche in the In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) market. The Middle-East-based operator, which signed a deal with Etihad Airways in November to trial IFC services, is hoping for more deals in 2016. Masood Sharif Mahmood, CEO of Yahsat, told Via Satellite that Yahsat is in discussion with several airline operators and IFC service providers across the value chain to explore potential partnership opportunities in 2016 and beyond.

While, in some ways, the deal with Etihad is not a surprise given the fact Etihad is based in Abu Dhabi, it will be interesting to see what other deals Yahsat is able to do here, particularly outside of its home market. The company will aim to leverage its current Ka-band coverage spanning across the Southwest Asia, Middle East and Africa regions, in addition to its upcoming Ka-band coverage extending Yahsat’s reach to the Brazilian market and several countries across Africa. The Latin American market could be an interesting one to watch for Yahsat. It is clearly a target for the company.

“Through our third satellite Al Yah 3 we will cover around 95 percent of the Brazilian population,” said Mahmood. “As such, we will be very well positioned to offer in-flight connectivity services for regional flight routes in Brazil in addition to filling a large gap in coverage for international flights into the continent.”

However, the IFC market is one of the most competitive right now for satellite, with a lot of the big players targeting this market. Asked whether Yahsat is entering in the market a little late, Mahmood believes the company can still play a “key role” in this evolving market.

“This is a natural and timely evolution to complement Yahsat’s portfolio of service offerings on its existing and upcoming satellites. The inherent advantages of Yahsat’s Ka-band capacity and coverage, coupled with the right partnerships, can be used to deliver a strong value proposition to the aviation industry,” he said. “The industry will only evolve through strategic partnerships across the various players in the value chain, and Yahsat can play a key role in that ecosystem.”

The collaboration with Etihad Airways is critical for the company’s ambitions in this area. The company is collaborating with Etihad Airways to explore ways to improve the general IFC experience using Yahsat’s Ka-band technology. “In-flight connectivity is an area we are keen to expand into, and with the trials on Etihad’s Airbus 320 we will work together to test various technologies that would enhance the passenger experience particularly around applications such as high quality video streaming and conferencing,” said Mahmood.

The market is an exciting one, particularly for an operator like Yahsat, which is yet really to derive any real revenues from it. In terms of what trends he sees in the market, Mahmood added, “It is a matter of time before connectivity in the air becomes comparable to connectivity on the ground through speed and cost efficiencies. This would allow for a range of new applications such as passengers streaming movies on the plane with access to thousands of titles as opposed to the 100’s they currently have though in-flight entertainment systems. Yahsat is well positioned in terms of capacity and coverage to benefit from this trend and play a pivotal role in that trend.”