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Retail and Hospitality

Lufthansa offers in flight entertainment

BoardConnect allows passengers to wirelessly access a range of content through their own personal devices.

Lufthansa Systems has launched an in-flight infotainment system that can deliver content wirelessly throughout the cabin, which is then accessible from almost any device.

BoardConnect uses a single Windows Embedded Server and distributes its content through a network of wireless access points installed into the aircraft’s ceiling.

According to Norbert Mueller, senior vice president at Lufthansa Systems, airlines can use BoardConnect to deliver their own branded experience and offer whatever kind of content they want – movies or music protected by digital rights management software, e-books, catalogues and menus.

“Airlines could offer a wide variety of content,” said Mueller. “From the beginning we decided to give customers and ourselves the option to integrate almost any application. If someone comes up with a clever way to entertain or inform passengers, why shouldn’t it run on our platform?”

Passengers access the content either through tablets and seat-back screens provided by the airlines, or using their own laptops, tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices.

Using the system, passengers can watch streaming on-board movies. If an airline decides to provide tablets to the passengers as a service, it may even show ‘early window’ content from Hollywood due to BoardConnect’s approval to serve movies not yet released to DVD.

“Videos shown on flights must be protected with an approved form of digital rights management,” said Mueller. “The BoardConnect system uses Microsoft PlayReady technology to facilitate DRM for video streaming, so all content is more secure.”

Airlines could offer a wide variety of content. From the beginning we decided to give customers and ourselves the option to integrate almost any application

Norbert Mueller, Lufthansa Systems
 
Since the solution eliminates the need for all those cables and screens built into the aircraft, it also makes the plane lighter, which can result in saving on fuel.

Lufthansa Systems estimates that a single Boeing 767 with 260 seats could save as much as 80 tons of fuel per year just by going wireless and eliminating more than 1,100 pounds of classic IFE hardware.

Though the system is simple by design, Mueller says a lot of work has gone into making it airworthy. One of the first challenges was to make the network efficient enough to handle the throughput required to serve potentially hundreds of devices spanning the Windows, iOS and Android platforms, especially considering the bandwidth needed for streaming video.

“At a public hot spot you have maybe 50 people with low bandwidth requirements,” said Mueller. “In an aircraft you have 300 people all using the same wireless network with high-quality content, which requires a lot of bandwidth. We cater to that by fitting several wireless access points throughout the cabin and actively optimising network traffic so there is always ample bandwidth available.”

Another challenge was to build a system that not only works 100 per cent of the time, but that also doesn’t put any extra burden on the crew to keep it operational.

“Our system switches on automatically in accordance with regulatory requirements at the appropriate altitude,” he said. “The crew doesn’t have to start anything or push any buttons, and we’re using a special implementation of Windows Server 2008 R2 for Embedded Systems that makes sure the system is always clean and robust.”

The world’s air-traffic regulatory bodies have also approved the systems. The Federal Aviation Administration in the US and its European and Australian counterparts has already approved the system, and BoardConnect is being tested on passenger flights with Australian and European airlines.

In the future, passengers could see a variety of implementations as airlines explore what works best.

Mueller says the system provides a backbone for IT in the aircraft that could be used in other ways. It could link through Windows Embedded handheld devices, for example, to form an intelligent system that collects operational data to optimise operations, identify cost savings and create other efficiencies.

He said: “If the airline collects information on how much soda was served, they can place an order on the ground or even from the air to optimise their catering processes.”

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