Wizz Air is working in partnership with connectivity specialist AS-IP Tech (ASIP) to bring ‘WiFi lite’ to its passengers. ASIP installed the first Bluetooth connectivity kit, known as fflya, back in March, and has now completed ground testing of the concept. Rollout to passengers is coming soon.
Window antennas for Wizz
In March this year, inflight connectivity specialist AS-IP Tech (ASIP) installed the first Bluetooth connectivity kit on a commercial aircraft. The kit, consisting of a dual window antenna, is set to provide basic WiFi connectivity for passengers onboard for things like messaging and contactless payments.
The airline testing out the solution is European low-cost carrier Wizz Air. The kit, named fflya, was installed onboard a Wizz Air UK Airbus A321, in cooperation with Storm Aviation and Wizz Air UK Technical Services. AS-IP’s President Ron Chapman commented on the installation, saying,
“A key component of the installation is our revolutionary window antenna system. We wanted a certified system that was simple to install with minimal components. The installation was carried out by Storm Aviation Limited in co-operation with Wizz Air UK Technical services.”
ASIP selected Iridium’s NEXT satellite service to supply its fflya with connectivity. The company stated that it was considered to be the perfect solution for delivering the high bursts of data packages required for messaging and other activities. At the time, ASIP said that the next step would be to ground test the product, something it has now completed.
Ground testing successful
Three months after installation, ASIP has finished the ground testing component of its fflya Bluetooth system. The tests included network performance, functionality and electromagnetic interference elements, and all were completed with great success. Speaking with Runway Girl Network, President Ron Chapman said,
“Notably was the block 1 performance of the new generation Iridium satellites. Not at any point in time during the entire 8-hour test period, did our dual-window antennas not have satellite reception.”
He went on to say that, even during multiple satellite handovers, there was only one instance where the antenna signal dropped below two bars. When the signal did drop below the threshold for successful packet transmission, the loss was only for around 30 seconds.
Even then, the clever antenna switching algorithms used by fflya ensured the service was always online.
Inflight WiFi lite
With ground testing complete, the company is now readying the system for rollout to passengers. For Wizz Air UK passengers, that means connectivity will soon be available on flights. However, this is not WiFi as we know it, as all the bells and whistles are stripped back.
fflya has been specifically designed with low-cost carriers in mind. It’s not a huge capacity, high-speed network, the likes of which are found on full service and long-haul airlines. Rather, this is a needs-based system, providing the most basic connectivity for the most essential and low capacity functions.
For passengers, it means messaging in flight could become a possibility, as the service supports 20 messages per second. Later, when it upgrades to Iridium Certus, it will support as many as 200 messages per second. Text messaging and telemetry will be the primary focus of fflya, as well as the processing of credit card transactions.
For low-cost airlines, fflya is attractive as it does not involve expensive modifications of their aircraft. It claims to be fully self-funding, which means it can be implemented at no cost to the airline. Added to this, being able to process contactless payments and market to passengers through customized apps gives airlines new streams of revenue generation.
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