Uncluttering the IFE

Uncluttering the IFE
22.03.2019 Zaif Khan

The aerospace industry is at a remarkable period in time. On the one hand, there is a vast backlog of aircraft that are waiting to be delivered from airframers, pointing towards an unprecedented boom in the industry. On the other hand, increasing competitiveness is lowering the margins and augmenting the need to reduce operational costs and build a loyal passenger base. Continuous innovations in cabin and flight systems have brought along some savings, but there’s an entirely new field of personalized cabin services through which the industry can generate substantial ancillary revenue.

Utilizing such new avenues of income require disruptive changes in technologies. Connectivity in the cabin being one such change as the passengers are keen on becoming more connected and want to use their own devices, but at the same time do not want to give up seat back screens. This is evident with the industry research survey as well; in 2018, the global passenger survey revealed that 54% of the passengers would choose to watch digital content on a seatback device, as opposed to 36% preferring their own device.

This presents a big dilemma to the industry – whether to shift to wireless IFE and get rid of the big and clunky wired seatback in-flight entertainment  (IFE) screens or keep relying on them, facing tons of effort in their upgrades, upkeep, and maintenance. Being a passenger experience (PaxEx) driven industry this decision doesn’t come easy. And then there is also the need to integrate connectivity for passengers and modern avionics. All this adds more layers of complexities to not just the hardware, but also the systems software architecture.

Going wireless – Complexity or Solution?

A possible solution that resolves these pains is the wireless seatback in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) system. However, there is a lot of skepticism around it, such as:

  • How can wireless seatback serve on a high capacity long-haul wide-body fleet?
  • How data and content can be delivered to the vessel and then to all the seats without network issues?
  • How can a seamless ecosystem be created along the seatback screens and own devices?
  • How can early-window content be secured?
  • Does it require specialized seatback hardware?

While designing and creating the digital architecture for a WSB IFEC, Axinom addressed all of these industry concerns, requirements, and trends. A major focus was to make the system standardized, easy to implement and adopt, while still keeping PaxEx at the centre.

Standardization – Costs and sustainability

An integrated, agnostic approach towards hardware and operating systems, utilization of standard digital protocols, containerized deployment and orchestration using Docker and Docker Swarm, enables the use of commercial off-the-shelf hardware solutions for seatback devices and flexibility in choosing the software components. As a result, the industry is witnessing a new level of autonomy in building IFEC solutions.

Some of the benefits that the industry can immediately realize by the adoption of such an IFEC solution are wire-harness weight savings, cost-effective upgrades, quick system updates, reduced content cycle times, easier replacements and fixes in case of system failures, cloud capabilities, and future system enhancements and expansions.

The Digital Framework – An Ecosystem

The wireless seatback IFEC is built on a highly capable technology stack that takes care of the entire digital media workflow, from ingestion to security. Also providing seamless delivery and synchronization capabilities across multiple communication pipes. It integrates a number of unique and innovative features that enable the industry to personalize the passenger experience and leverage on integrations to capitalize ancillary revenues.

The robust backend built on Axinom products of media ingest and processing (Axinom VIP), content management (Axinom CMS) and content protection with multi-DRM (Axinom DRM), powers the process of media ingestion, encoding, protection, management, packaging and publishing of content sets. These content sets are then synchronized, and distributed to the on-board server and further to the seatback screens using Axinom CDS (Content Delivery System). The highly automated on-ground infrastructure gives the industry full control over the distribution process and parameters, such as which flight path or fleet gets what content, who gets access to the system or the offloaded data and much more.

The whole on-ground infrastructure is complemented by an equally capable on-board infrastructure that provides control over data transfers using multiple communication pipes such as satcom, cellular, wifi, or physical storage, based on criticality, economy, and availability. The system acknowledges the sophisticated nature of the transfers and hence, providing important features of interruption management, incremental updates, and real-time sync capabilities.

A crucial piece of the puzzle working behind the scenes, and supporting standardization, is the Axinom IFS (In-flight services). It handles device management for public announcement (PA) through ARINC integration, provides verification of access and entitlement for content security, and also querying, filtering, and adaptive streaming of the content to the client devices. It also handles numerous integrations for provisioning seamless connectivity options for passengers using personalized captive portals, use of own devices through custom apps or QR code, online or offline advertising, e-commerce, destination-related services and much more.

To address the issue of network congestion the system leverages on Axinom’s hybrid storage technology that connects server-based and seat-centric approaches to reduce network usage by pre-populating the most common, or early window content on the seatback devices. Consequently reducing network congestion, and providing fault tolerance in case of a network outage, so that all seatback devices can operate independently using the pre-placed content while staying disconnected.

Axinom – Building Digital Aerospace Solutions

Axinom has been in the aerospace industry since 2009, building digital solutions for wireless IFEC for many of the biggest organizations in the market. The industry insights and experience, a highly capable technology stack, team of expert developers, and strong industry collaborations allowed Axinom to conceptualize, and conceive a digital wireless seatback IFEC system. The system is already seeing adoption in the industry, for wide and narrow-body aircraft applications.

The products span  media ingest and processing (Axinom VIP), content management (Axinom CMS), content protection with multi-DRM (Axinom DRM), content delivery and synchronization (Axinom CDS), in-flight services (Axinom IFS), and tailored client applications for passenger, seatback, or crew devices based on our Frontend SDK.

For more information, get in touch

Aleksandra Sõsun

Director Aero Business Development